Chalk it up to my respect for DC Comics, my fond memories of one of their most daring classic tales, or my general appreciation of things like cohesive plotlines, natural dialogue, and well-defined characters, but I didn't enjoy ‘Superman: Doomsday’ much at all. From its sloppy truncation of its source material to its complete disregard for everything that could make its story more compelling, the straight-to-video production is too short to flesh out its various subplots, too unfocused to effectively deal with its characters’ conflicts and relationships, and too hurried to elicit the desired response from its target audience. Think I’m being too harsh? Brace yourselves and read on.
Cramming the events of “The Death of Superman,” “World Without a Superman,” and “Return of Superman” comic book issues into a 78-minute flick, ‘Superman: Doomsday’ attempts to tell the tale of an intergalactic menace called Doomsday who arrives on Earth and battles the planet’s mightiest hero, Superman (my own personal hero, “Firefly” alum Adam Baldwin). When the Man-in-Blue is killed, Metropolis mourns his passing and attempts to cope with its loss -- Lois Lane (Anne Heche), Jimmy Olsen (Adam Wylie), Martha Kent (Swoosie Kurtz), and even Lex Luthor (James Marsters) grieve in their own ways, leaving little doubt as to the enormous impact Superman had on the world. When the hero is suddenly resurrected, the city and his friends are overjoyed. However, his strange behavior forces Lois to ask some difficult questions and discover what really happened to Superman.
The problem with ‘Superman: Doomsday’ is two-fold. First and foremost, the story is a convoluted mess, dumping a ridiculous number of storylines, subplots, characters, and seemingly random developments into an obnoxiously short runtime. Instead of streamlining the events to focus on a singular conflict, the filmmakers have attempted to keep as much as they could at the expense of the tale’s pacing and structure. Despite its title, Doomsday is merely an afterthought and Superman is relegated to a supporting role, one that doesn’t carry the necessary weight or resonance one would expect from such a tragic death.
Less detrimental (but still distracting) is the fact that the various voice actors seem to have been awkwardly jammed into their respective roles. I've read a fair amount of praise for the voice talent in this one, but it just didn't work for me. As much as my feelings for 'Serenity' demand that I enjoy anything Adam Baldwin does for the rest of his career, the intonations of his voice and everyman-lull of his delivery simply didn't pair well with Superman's boy-scout visage and persona. The rest of the cast was just as problematic for me. Marsters inadvertently transforms Luthor into a cerebral sleaze, Wylie and several other supporting actors offer little more than stocky line readings and trite characterizations, and Heche is far too timid and reserved to make Lois… well, Lois. Don't get me wrong, most of the actors do a good job with what they're given, but some casting changes would have helped improve the project ever so slightly.
As it stands, I could go on and on about the clumsy, haphazard dry-heave that is ‘Superman: Doomsday,’ but I don’t want this review to devolve into the mad rantings of a fanboy. Suffice to say, comic purists will be unsettled by how aggressively Bruce Timm and his team have trampled on a beloved storyline, those fresh to the tale will be disappointed with the film’s patchwork plot and underdeveloped characters, and most everyone will be left wondering how the filmmakers weren’t able to make such stirring events register on screen. Despite the appearance of a genuinely threatening creature, the manipulations of an evil mastermind, the drama of Metropolis' loss, and the reactions to an iconic hero's return, ‘Superman: Doomsday’ is, simply put, a painful flick that doesn't measure up to DC's other animated productions.
’Superman: Doomsday’ is the latest DC animation project to earn a striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer from Warner Brothers, and it’s another one that renders every stroke and splash of the animators’ crisp lineart and vivid palette with precision. Colors are vibrant and bold, blacks are deep and inky, and contrast is bright and fitting to the source material. As is typical of 2D animation, some distracting banding and minor aliasing does pop up from time to time, but it doesn’t substantially detract from the transfer’s overall impact. Likewise, minor animation mishaps and lineart inconsistencies are more noticeable when viewed at such a high resolution, but any flaws should be taken as a testament to the transfer’s detail rather than the revelation of a more sinister technical issue. Better still, the image is crystal clear and doesn’t suffer from any significant artifacting or noise.
As it stands, ‘Superman: Doomsday’ will make an attractive addition to any comic or animation fan’s home video library. I doubt many people will enjoy the film itself, but everyone can agree that this is yet another release that proves 2D animation can look great in high definition.
Whether it should be attributed to the film’s limited sound design or the disc’s lackluster audio presentation, ‘Superman: Doomsday’s standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track failed to engage or excite me. Dialogue is crisp and nicely prioritized amidst the occasionally chaotic soundscape, but the front-heavy soundfield lacks the LFE oomph and rear speaker support I’ve come to expect from other comparable high definition releases. Ambience is light and stagey, interior acoustics are underwhelming, and directionality is fairly loose. Worse still, while channel pans are thankfully smooth, the majority of the blasts and environmental destruction that occurs on screen sounds dull and flat.
Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t any glaring technical deficiencies to point to, but the mix sounds suspiciously similar to its standard DVD counterpart. While I don’t think a lossless track would have helped the film’s stilted sonics, it would have been nice to know for sure. Hopefully, Warner will catch up with every other BD studio and pair TrueHD or DTS HD MA tracks with every release.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Superman: Doomsday’ includes most of the special features that appeared on the previously-released DVD (minus an interactive game), and even offers Supes fans some exclusive goodies in the form of two newly-produced behind-the-scenes featurettes and four bonus episodes of ‘Superman: The Animated Series.’ As usual, the video content is presented in standard definition.
Unless you live and breathe all things Superman, it’s tough to recommend ‘Superman: Doomsday’ to anyone. The Blu-ray edition is an easier sell since it boasts an impressive video transfer and a nice collection of supplements (including more than two hours of exclusive features), but its lackluster Dolby Digital audio track will prevent it from standing out in a crowd of better releases. All in all, I would suggest you rent ‘Superman: Doomsday’ before you give a purchase any serious consideration.