Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Super Watch: The Death of Superman (2018)
Format: Amazon Streaming
Before going on further, I suggest jumping over to a post I wrote up back in May about how this story has been told in one way or another a few too many times. Frankly, if all DC Animation has to say about Superman on the 80th Anniversary of his first appearance is that - aside from Superman's origin, all they want to talk about is "the one time he died, but no he didn't", then maybe they need to have a seat again around the writer's table.
That said - this is the story they chose to tell, and while we're not going to pretend we haven't seen this sequence of events alluded to, remade, and generally trod over repeatedly. At some point you start thinking about even Shakespeare less about what's the content of the play and more about how it's executed *this time*.
Here in 2018, what did WB Animation have to say?
I confess, it's been a long time since I watched Superman: Doomsday, which I remember looking better than the story working - but that was the WB's last animated attempt at the story, so far as I know.
If I had one word to describe this movie, I'd pick: uneven
I'll be honest, I was concerned when Andrea Romano retired from WB, and if this movie is any indication, that wasn't an irrational concern.
You know how when you watch anime with English voiceover, it's pretty clear the actors are just reading lines and there's no connection to match the energy of what any of the other characters are saying? And it sounds a whole lot more like someone reading something off a script so they can get done and go get coffee? Yeah, WB Animation never used to have that. Now it does.
And the thing is - this is all pretty reliable talent who've been doing this a while - but there's just no connection, except in the scenes between husband and wife team, Jerry O'Connell as Superman and Rebecca Romijn as Lois.
If there's one voice miscasting - and I have no problem in general with the actor - Rainn Wilson as Lex is a very odd choice, indeed. I don't require Clancy Brown, but Wilson isn't even how I think of Bronze Age Lex, let alone modern Lex.
Animation wise - I'm just not a fan of what DC has been doing since they ended the Bruce Timm era. Some of it looks okay - but the moment a character moves or turns, you can see how that they don't know how to work their own models. Superman's nose floats all over his face. Limb movements are odd. Much like the 90's era X-Men cartoon, there's simply too much detail for what they're trying to do at 8 frames per second. And, for whatever reason - the animation is worst at the very beginning of this film as Superman interrupts Intergang and Bruno Mannheim taking the mayor hostage. It just doesn't look like well processed animation and the sound almost feels like it's been sped up - everyone is delivering their lines in short, choppy, near emotionless sentences.
But as the film progresses, it does gather strength and steam. Peter Tomasi - who knows his Superman if the last couple years of the comic Superman is any indication is able to pull the story from original comics out of their continuity-bogged existence and drop a story on the masses that makes sense as a stand-alone, even if you barely understand the Justice League as a concept and have no idea which version of/ place in continuity we're playing with when it comes to the arc of the Superman/ Lois romance.
My understanding is that the DC animated films share a continuity, maybe with Young Justice, but I checked out after Flashpoint Paradox and Young Justice was shuttered. Luckily - none of that matters, really.
This is Superman on the verge of a breakthrough with Lois as he reveals his identity to her in an effort to drop the barriers that are keeping them apart as a couple. Of course, reading reviews, there are a whole lot of people who sound like a six year old clamoring for Superman to get past the mushy stuff/ ie: character development and reason the story has any resonance at all beyond "wow, fights is exciting". And that's too bad - because I think Tomasi actually did a great job with those scenes for the most part.
Now, why the hell Clark reveals his identity in an open restaurant when anyone could be in earshot and he can't predict Lois' reaction is utterly beyond me and - frankly- a weird choice. Especially if you've ever read Mark Waid's Irredeemable. But despite the location, the scene is handled well and the best for the voice actors.
We get into the actual fight, and the movie really does shine. For as turgid as DCEU's final fight scenes feel, I'd argue the mission statement of this movie was to show the live-action people how it's done. Including using what Stuart and I were wondering if it weren't rotoscoping of DCEU films to regenerate some scenes for the better. You pay for admission, and you will get the best animated fight scene in any of DC or Marvel animated film to date. And I know that's why the film is apparently flying off the shelves. (Good for you, DC Animation!)
Smartly, Doomsday is not treated as a character. He is treated as I assumed he was intended to be used in the original comics - he's just a force; a big, ugly thing with no discernible weakness, where Superman's lifespan of having to pull punches and not work *that* hard to take down physical threats works against him. Because Doomsday is near mindless rage, there's no plotting against him. Because he's an unstoppable force, there's no containing him. And the movie plays that incredibly well in dynamic action.
The inevitable death feels earned, even if Doomsday's demise feels a bit like "wait... that killed him?" by film's end - but the one, death dealing punch from Superman in the comics had no more logic behind it. But we aren't here to parse that, we're here for the resonance of a hero fallen in battle to save the world and everything that means to the characters around him.
I'd love for DC Animation to get down the animation well enough so that the slow scenes are as important to them as the slugfests. They used to know how to do this, but it feels this eluded them this go-round. Further, I'd like to see them step up the editing and direction on voice acting, but I'm not sure they, themselves, feel this is an issue or this would have been a different final package. Luckily, the fight scene animation did save the day, paired with Tomasi's excellent reworking of the source material. So...
Worth a check out for a few reasons, but they have a lot of room to improve. But there is a sequel coming in short order, so... save your clams for that one, I suppose.