Lex Let Out a Monster
There are few SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. storylines more famous than "The Death of Superman". The storyline was originally proposed as something to space out the comics. Superman was to marry Lois Lane, but DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. wanted to delay that by a year or so, just so that the comics storyline could coincide with the same event in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (which was a very popular show at the time). As a joke, writer Jerry Ordway suggested they kill Superman, and when that idea took hold, the storyline was born.
At the time, people went wild over the idea that Superman would die. It was in the news, people actually mourned. Superman was an icon, and DC was killing him. Of course, with hindsight we know that was only part of the story as the "Doomsday!" part of the arc then led into "Funeral for a Friend" and, finally, "Reign of the Supermen!" You will note that Doomsday is only the first part of that whole arc, and then the aftermath was more concerned with who would replace Superman (spoiler: it was Superman). It was kind of a cheat, but it sold a lot of comics at the time.
Since then there are been a few attemtps at adapting the storyline into other media. There was a video game, The Death and Return of Superman. There was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which gave up on the titular fight so Superman could get owned bu General Zod / Doomsday. There was even a pretty decent two-part adaptation as part of the DC Animated Movie UniverseWhile DC Comics was amping up production on this big "MCU-killer", the DC Extended Universe they were also quietly putting together another shared movie continuity, the DC Animated Movie Universe. This series was more closely related to the comics, directly adapting a number of famous storylines to, arguably, better effect than the live-action movies could., The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. All of them do what they can with the story but, for the most part, they all lack an essential element: Superman's sacrifice is about more than just his death; it's about what it means after.
The original arc was so powerful because, as Superman battled Doomsday, all the other heroes came to help fight, and they were all defeated, one by one. They didn't die, but they could have. Thus, when Superman went in for the final battle, it was pretty clear that only he could do it. When he died, his sacrifice was to save everyone else, to save his friends and colleagues. It had weight and impact. The following stories after, about the world mourning for their lost hero, made it seem like Superman was really staying dead. He'd done his job, and the world had to move on. And then, yes, other Supermen showed up, and the original flavor guy eventually was resurrected, but there was power to the arc in Superman's actions.
It's that weight that the 2007 adaptation, Superman: Doomsday is lacking. For starters, the only hero in the film is Superman. The film streamlines it all down to a fight between the Man of Steel and his biggest foe, for the fate not of the world but just Metropolis. And then, when Superman dies, the film wastes no time in teasing that he's coming back. It lacks the ability to give his death any weight, all because they decided to adapt the whole "Death and Return" into a single, 77 minute film. It makes for a very weak affair.
The movie starts with Superman (Adam Baldwin) and Lois Lane (Anne Heche) dating, but in secret. She wants him to reveal who he truly is (even though she basically already know), and he worries that revealing the truth will put Lois in danger. He might have finally told her, but then a danger comes for Metropolis. Lex had a secret crew digging deep into the Earth (for reasons only Lex really understands) and what they discoered was a secret alien craft that had creashed many decades earlier. They open the craft, unleashing a monster that he been sent by the Kryptonians to hide it away, and the monster is basically an unbeatable weapon hell bent on eradicating all life.
The monster makes it way to Metropolis and Superman springs into action. He flies in to fight the beast, and they have a big and mighty battle. As you would expect from this story, Doomsday is killed, but at the cost of Superman's own life. A funeral is held, but soon after Superman appears in the sky again... except he's not really acting like himself. That's because he's a clone, created by Lex Luthor, and the billionaire wants to use this new clone to control the world. If only there was a hero powerful enough to stop this new clone and truly save the world. You know... like the real Superman...
It seems like the goal of the film was to present the basic bones of the "Death and Return of Superman" storyline, start to finish, but without all the crazy comic book stuff that came as part of it. Thus, Doomsday shows up, and then dies in the first twenty minutes (making the name of this film something of a misnomer), Superman died, Lex makes a clone, the clone goes bad, and Superman comes back to fight himself. Did many of these things happen in the long comic arc? Yes, but in a more colorful, and more meaningful, way.
There's a lot lacking from this film. No Superboy. No Cyborg Superman. No Steel. No Eradicator. There's no long period of mourning by other heroes. Hell, there's barely any time to process Superman's death before some version of him, in his classic suit, is back to fight crime and protect Metropolis. I can understand the desire to do an adaptation of this story, but if you're going to cram it into such a short film you have to accept that the impact of the story is going to be compromised. It certainly was in this case.
On top pof that, the film feels pretty cheap. The art is flat and basic, reminiscent of the DC Animated Universe art style but without its creative flair. Honestly, if they had just copied that art style and made it part of that universe, I feel like the film would have looked and felt better. At least then they could have included other superheroes, since they existed in that universe, and it could have built on the years of familiarity people had with the DCAU to give this adaptation some real weight. But they didn't, and that hurts the film as well.
About the only thing I truly liked about this film was the voice acting. Adam Baldwin gives a solid performance as Superman, managing to nail the perfect sound of a hero for the role. He doesn't really have to play Clark Kent (that persona is barely in the movie at all), and I might have liked to hear more of that to know how could could have been as Clark, but his Superman is great. Heche is solid too as Lois Lane, playing her as the head stroing, spunky reporter you expect. And, of course, James Marsters (who famously played Spike on Buffy) is always great. Lex may not be his most charismatic role, but the actor does solid work playing the heavy here.
I really wish they could have found a way to add some dramatic heft to the film. It's lacking something, that reason to really care about Superman's death, especially when not five minutes later a version of him is up and moving around again. That feels like a fake out, a cop out even, when the important story was that the hero gave his life to save the world. If you skip past that you've ruined your tale, and that's what this film did. It's a big wiff from the production team, leaving Superman: Doosmday as an empty film with little reason for its own existence.