Warner Bros. Animation have been producing DC animated movies for about fifteen years, starting with Superman: Doomsday, which is of course based on The Death of Superman. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag as far as areas of focus and quality. The last one they put out, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (holy unwieldy film name, Batman!) wrapped up their quasi-New 52 continuity that outlasted the New 52 comic line by about half a decade and had already become a mess by incorporating non-New 52 stories into it and not doing them half as well as if they’d just been more faithful adaptations. This is kind of a “fresh start”, with a film focusing on Superman/Clark Kent and his various adventures.
I either paid no attention to the puff piece preview for this movie or wiped it from my mind, so all I’ve really got to go on from the poster is that Supes will face Lobo and Parasite. I was struck immediately by the animation being refreshingly different from the style they’ve used the last few years, a little closer to Batman: The Brave and the Bold than Young Justice with more of a stylistic look with line art and shading, as opposed to the more angular Japanese look. Eyes are big and bright without being ridiculous. The characters look like they’re a little further forward than the backgrounds, somewhat like the long-forgotten Secret Saturdays.
It’s a story where they try to work with a theme or a message, which is the idea of being an alien or being different or alone in the world (or universe). Young Clark Kent is a bit of a wuss and bursts into tears watching a quasi-Twilight Zone programme with an alien in it who his friend calls a freak before growing up to be a junior reporter, then a junior superhero (using an airman’s jacket and goggles as a disguise before his famous cape and costume), then finally someone who’s confident within themselves. It’s a good story, but a bit dry.
Lois Lane is in as a trendy young journalist who would jump over her mother to get the scoop. Perry White, with no neck, is blustering and annoying. Lobo turns up early as an antagonist, which changes somewhat through the film. I’ve never been massively keen on the character whether it’s the look, the attitude or the voice, and actually wish we could see the New 52 version getting some use at some point, although it’ll never happen. Martian Manhunter hangs around in the background at first, looking like an MIB, then goes to his alien form, which is creepy and floating, with a vertical mouth. His superhero form is quite bizarre, with heart-like buttons on his cape and red bands and gloves going across him.
The most interesting character in the film is veteran-turned-janitor Rudy Jones, who becomes Parasite in a horrible accident. It’s really unfortunate and he’s definitely a sympathetic character, even as he breaks down and kills unwitting victims as he absorbs their life. It’s laid on a bit thick with his pregnant wife and daughter, who recoils in horror when she sees him, missing him after he’s “gone”. In a bit of a lame ending, Superman defeats the monster he becomes by appealing to his better nature rather than anything more visceral.
Lex Luthor is around too, very much as a background character for 95% of the film, but gets pulled into action later in one of those battles where forces are combined but nobody trusts one another. Zachary Quinto is alright playing him, but doesn’t sound like he’s straining himself and was doubtless in and out in an hour. The rest of the cast are pretty unremarkable, although Neil Quinn from Scrubs makes a good Pa Kent.
It’s a weird one to summarise, because I enjoyed it a lot more than the mess of a series of films they’ve been trying to commit to for a few years since Justice League: War, but it’s a very muted return. Not a knock, but there are patches of the film where there’s no incidental music in the background for some quiet, contemplative scenes focusing on the conversation, but it comes across as a bit dry and boring. Definitely worth a watch, but probably not worth that many watches.