Following Superman’s sacrifice to defeat Doomsday, the world reels from the superhero’s death. Several different versions of the hero pop up on Earth to take his place, including Superboy, Steel, Cyborg Superman, and Eradicator.
The Death of Superman was an animated feature which really gave the DCAU a huge creative kick up the ass. Following a huge string of hits it was important for the studio to continue to push the boundaries of its storytelling and that’s exactly what Death did.
The first part of this epic storyline was able to take the classic comic book and update it in to the current animated universes’ contemporary aesthetic. Bringing in more modern character designs but also referencing events from previous movies.
Not since The Dark Knight Returns has DC attempted to adapt a more high-profile storyline from its history. With that in mind there was a lot riding on the release of Reign of the Supermen.
Given that both films will be released as a double-length movie later this year there’s no real time spent on recapping the first movie before we get down to business. Right off the bat we’re introduced to Eradicator and Superboy, the first two new Supermen.
Superboy (don’t call him that!) appears really accurate to his comic counterpart. Voiced by Gotham‘s Cameron Monaghan he’s likeable despite being cocky with a dash of arrogance. Monaghan is almost unrecognisable, it’s a brilliant performance which is lightyears away from Jerome and Jeremiah.
Charles Halford plays Eradicator. His characterisation is obviously much more cold and calculating. Given the characters origins it’s perfectly in keeping with the original story. There’s a no-nonsense attitude towards him which left me wondering if this is what Clark could have ended up like if he hadn’t landed with The Kent’s.
No stranger to the DC Universe, Cress Williams portrays John Henry Irons/Steel. We were introduced to his character in the part one but his role is dramatically increased in this movie. He forms a great second-string partner for Lois and is integral to the films overall arc. After Superboy he is the most interesting of the Supermen.
Jerry O’Connell pulls treble duty in this movie, playing Clark, Superman and Cyborg Superman. There are different approaches to each voice which help to make each character distinctive. Clark has a warmth and a nervousness to him which evokes Christopher Reeves Clark whilst his Superman has all the strength we’ve come to expect of the Man of Steel.
His portrayal of Cyborg Superman is cold. It’s not hard to sense that there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface. You can also hear that O’Connell loved the opportunity to play someone with much more nefarious plans.
Rebecca Romjin as Lois Lane and Rosario Dawnson as Wonder Woman are two of the stand-outs who round out the cast. Much of Reign lands on Romjin’s shoulders, with Clark out of action it’s down to Lois to be the audience’s conduit in to the story.
The first act of the movie focusses on the emotional impact Clark’s death has on Lois. There’s more emotional content in these two movies than in the average DC animated movie. It feels more in line with the live-action movies in terms of its humanity and impact on the audience.
The story of both Death and Reign is cleverly designed to show more of the world of Metropolis. Through characters like Cat Grant and Bibbo Bibowski we find more emotional connections with the movie. It’s a huge leap forwards in storytelling for this series of movies.
It feels very much like the consequences are real.
Rainn Wilson also returns as Lex Luthor. There’s some awkward humour around his character which is an interesting take on the character. Rather than the full-on crazy version, or the more super-intelligent portrayal this Lex is somewhere in the middle-ground. Wilson plays him with the gravitas it needs even when he is the butt of the joke.
The Death of Superman featured two directors: DC veteran Sam Liu and Jake Castorena. Speaking at San Diego Comic Con in 2018 Liu explained that bringing in Castorena meant that the film was able to feature more tightly choreographed fight sequences. That’s evidenced by the quality of the climactic battle between Superman and Doomsday.
For Reign only Liu was tapped to direct so I was intrigued if there would be a shift in the quality of the fights. Whilst it’s true that Reign does feature fewer complex fights the quality of those we do see is still top notch.
There’s nothing on the same scale as the battle which killed off the Man of Steel but then nobody was expecting there to be. As Reign hurtles towards its conclusion the fight sequences take on different characteristics to those of its predecessor.
The final fight between Cyborg Superman and the reborn Clark is more a battle of wits and emotions than a pure slug-fest. It plays to Liu’s strengths whilst still proving to be a visual spectacle.
The melee of action featuring the Justice League members plays out more like a typical DC movie but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Reign of the Supermen also features some classic fan service. Those longing to see the black suited Clark, complete with trademark mullet will be incredibly happy with the third act of this movie.
It’s honest to the source material without ever feeling like its pandering to its audience. It’s entirely unapologetic in embracing the kitsch of the 90s comic and the final product in incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Composer Frederick Weidmann also does an outstanding job with the score. Following on from The Death of Superman the score is sweeping and epic throughout. It’s a standout in the animated world of DC and deserves a listen when it is released.
Reign of the Supermen is another triumph for the DCAU. It evokes the nostalgic 90’s feel of the original comic whilst updating it for a contemporary audience. An engaging voice cast leads this action-packed story to a satisfying conclusion.
Reign of the Supermen stars Jerry O’Connell as the Man of Steel. Joining him are Cameron Monaghan, Cress Williams, Patrick Fabian, Rebecca Romijn, Nathan Fillion, Rainn Wilson, Toks Olagundoye and Nyambi Nyambi.
The movie hits digital platforms on January 15 and DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital HD from January 28, 2019.