The citizens of Metropolis and the world respect and admire Superman, his fight for truth and justice is one he’s winning, and he’s the cornerstone of the Justice League. He’s the embodiment of being a hero, and gives hope to all. But when a meteor crash-lands on Earth, an unstoppable creature called Doomsday is unleashed. As Doomsday wreaks havoc, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake, the Justice League are unable to stop it and the world’s greatest superhero must make the ultimate sacrifice.
While the world reels from this monumental loss, it’s possible that Superman may have found a way to return. Four people – the headstrong Superboy, the kind-hearted Steel, the protective Cyborg Superman and the efficient Last Son of Krypton – arrive in Metropolis at the same time, all determined to protect its citizens. But which of them is the real man of steel, and can Lois Lane discover the truth before it’s too late? And which is worse, a world without a Superman… or a world with four of them?
Just to make it clear, these aren’t spoilers because the title says it all: Superman dies, and Superman returns. And if this sounds familiar to you, it should because they finally did it. They finally stuck the two films – The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen – together to make one gigantic film. And, like the Dark Knight Returns adaptation, technically that’s how it should have been all along. But is it better for it?
Well… not really.
In this case, the whole is certainly not greater than the sum of its parts. It’s unfortunate, because The Death And Return Of Superman could very well have been the greatest Superman film of all time. In fact, for that first half of the film, it almost is. That’s because The Death of Superman itself was so damn good.
As those who read my reviews of the original films’ individual releases may know, I gave The Death of Superman a glowing review. While the action was impressive, with possibly the best fight scenes of any DC animated production, it was the emotional core of the film that really hit every note perfectly. It got everything right that Zack Snyder got wrong, in making the audience actually care about the man of steel by presenting Superman as the superhero we should all love and respect. And so the first half of this now-complete film works brilliantly.
It’s the second half that lets it down.
Reign of the Supermen, by contrast, originally had a couple of great moments but it felt like a disappointment. It veered too far from what it should have been, and was a superficial adaptation of the source material. It lost track of characters, let storylines fall through the cracks, missed important moments, and ultimately failed to deliver on the emotional setup of what had gone before.
With the two films now edited into one complete tale, the vast difference between them becomes even more obvious.
The time jump forward from Superman’s funeral to the emergence of the four new “Supermen” is jarringly abrupt, while the debut of the new characters feels rushed and it becomes hard to connect with them. The mystery of their identities isn’t given any time to simmer or make an impact, which in turn diminishes from Lois’s quest (and journalistic ability) to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, the plot becomes less about the impact that Superman has on those around him, and more on ham-fisted fight scenes. Superman’s actual return is underwhelming as a result, sadly overshadowing the brilliant work done upfront.
Also, because the time jump is so clumsy, the “death” of the Justice League so soon after Superman’s death feels like a “so what?” moment. There’s no impact to them going, and the world’s apathy at their passing seems wonky.
The real irony here is that, back in the original comics, the build-up to Superman’s demise was actually less engaging than the events which followed. But here it’s the other way around, and in botching the second half of the story the film squanders the goodwill set up by the first half. The end result is that The Death And Return Of Superman has less of an impact by its conclusion.
On the positive side, that first half is easily one of the best representations of the entire Superman mythos that a viewer could ask for. Every character seems accurate, from the lovable lug Bibbo and grizzled cops Turpin and Sawyer to a far more human Justice League. And, as stated in earlier reviews, the voice casting is spot on… except for Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor, who sounds like a whiny, petulant man-child.
There’s still a lot to recommend here, but this is definitely a film of two halves – which is to be expected. For those who haven’t seen both of the earlier versions already, this is absolutely worth watching just to get the entire story. But for those who have, it may be better to keep the two earlier film versions separate. At least that way the second won’t taint your love of the first. As a complete package, The Death And Return Of Superman is good but it isn’t super.
The Death And Return Of Superman
The Death And Return Of Superman is a film of two halves that doesn’t quite deliver.