Reign of the Supermen brings the latest adaptation of the iconic arc to a fitting enough close, carrying on solid work by last year’s The Death of Superman.
Reign of the Supermen is a DC Universe Animated Original Movie. Check out the full archive by clicking these words.
As most of the DC animated films tend to, last year’s The Death of Superman prompted some strong reactions – not necessarily from critics, who tend to be a bit more measured about such things (although often staggeringly wrong), but from established fans of DC in general and Superman stories in particular, who claimed it was both the best and worst of DC’s up-and-down partnership with Warner Bros. As always I was rather uninterestingly in the middle. I liked it well enough, and I admired it, and I conceded it was almost certainly shaping up to be the best adaptation of an arc that has been adapted several times to varying degrees of success, even within this very catalog. But something about it didn’t click with me, and something about Reign of the Supermen, the concluding half of the two-parter, didn’t click with me either.
That isn’t to say I didn’t like it – I did. It also isn’t to say that it’s bad – it isn’t. But it feels surprisingly routine for a story of this magnitude, and while it does a decent job of examining what Superman means both to the people of Metropolis and within the broader DC canon, the presence of so many potential successors to the Man of Steel leaves the finished result a bit cluttered and unfocused.
What I did admire, though, was how Reign of the Supermen really honed in on the perennially overlooked and undervalued character of Lois Lane; she’s more central to this portion of the story than even Superman is, and most of it is refracted through the prism of her relationship to the hero. Rebecca Romijn plays up all the aspects of Lois – the dogged determination, the intelligence, the humanity – to great effect, and she makes a fine centerpiece to a story that quickly starts spinning a lot of plates around her.
Several of them belong to the various titular Supermen who emerge in Superman’s absence (he spends much of the movie chilling in the Fortress of Solitude with a pair of tasteful shades). But the only contenders who really make an impact are Superboy (Cameron Monaghan), a cloned composite of Superman and Lex Luthor’s DNA with a tight fade and a rebellious streak, and Cyborg Superman (Jerry O’Connell, who also voices regular Supes and Clark Kent), a slightly off-kilter imposter with a body-horror look that is slightly undermined by a comb-over.
Because Reign of the Supermen exists in the same New 52 continuity ushered in by Justice League: War, we also have to make room for the other members of the Justice League (voiced by the usual heavy-hitters, including Nathan Fillion and Jason O’Mara as Hal Jordan and Batman, and Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman), more scheming by Rainn Wilson’s Lex Luthor, some incidental everyday citizen shenanigans, the usual warm-hearted cameos from Martha (Jennifer Hale) and Jonathan Kent (Paul Eiding, who will always be Colonel Campbell from Metal Gear Solid to me), and some changes to the original arc that better suit all of this. Then there’s the love-it-or-hate-it art style that I’m still not sold on, but it’s a preference thing. (The actual animation is, as ever, pretty good.)
Reign of the Superman has an expanded runtime of 90-ish-minutes to compensate for this, and while Jim Krieg and Tim Sheridan’s script makes a great deal of effort and Sam Liu’s ever-dependable direction helps to offset some of the inevitable clutter, it all still feels like a bit too much. The film’s a fine addition to DC’s animated stable, but the limitations of the format (even after having been cleaved in two) keep it feeling restricted and occasionally frustrating, despite some moments of real visual panache or sharp character work. This one might end up just as divisive as its predecessor, but when the next film returns to Batman (apparently in April), people might look back on the two films more fondly as a welcome break from the catalog’s overreliance on the Dark Knight.