You know, it feels good to get excited for DC’s original animated films again. Heck, it feels good to be excited about all their movies, but we’ll stick to their animated stuff for now. Reign of the Supermen is the DC Universe’s latest offering and is a follow on to The Death of Superman (you can read my review of that film HERE). Can Reign stand in the same spot as its predecessor? Can it climb to the same highs that had me calling Death one of my favourite DC films in recent memory? No, not a chance, but it gives it a darn good try and I appreciate that. Considering the storyline and all the elements that this film had to juggle, this could have ended a lot worse than it actually did and I had a lot of fun with this film. It’s still going on my list of favourite DC animated films, just nowhere near as high as The Death of Superman.
Let’s break this down though and the best place I can think to start with is the story, so what is it? The film starts six months after The Death of Superman (and you should really watch that film before watching this one) and while a lot of people are still mourning Superman, as well as the ‘missing’ Clark Kent, life goes on. Also four new ‘Supermen’ have turned up to try and fill the void left by the Big Blue Boy Scott. We’ve got Superboy, a genetic clone of Superman, and others, that while strong is also way too cocky and with a bit of an ego problem (not surprising when you consider who his other ‘dad’ is). Next is Steel, an ordinary man who wears a robotic suit with a rocket-propelled hammer (I don’t care what anyone says, ever since I saw Alita rocket propelled hammers are the coolest weapons in existence to me). Then there’s the Eradicator, a strange being with all the power of Superman, but who’s a little overzealous when it comes to dispensing justice, let’s just say ‘resistant’ needs adding to his dictionary. Finally we have Cyborg Superman, a man who claims to be Superman and he certainly says all the right things, but he’s not all that he seems.
That brings me to this films biggest problem – it has too many characters. Don’t get me wrong, it does the absolute best it can with the run time it has, but this film really needed to be two hours or something to pack in the story arcs for each of these characters. You get the sense of who these people are, but you never really get to know them. Take Steel for example, I can tell you that he’s a good man, trying to live up to the legacy of a man he admired, but I feel like I’ve just read a character summary and don’t really know what makes him tick. Why did he decide to build his suit? Did he just come up with the idea, or has been working on it for a while? Does his boss know he’s probably using STAR labs equipment and materials to build his super suit? Did he learn to shut the bathroom window to stop people sneaking into his lair? I don’t know. I have similar issues with the Eradicator. He’s there to protect Kal-El and anything Kryptonian, okay, why is he going after Luthor and Intergang then? Why does he feel the need to get involved at all? Surely he should just standby in the Fortress, but no. I could understand him going after Superboy, seeing as he’s a clone and Kryptonians have a dodgy history there, but that’s never brought up.
Let’s talk about Superboy, him and Cyborg Superman are the two Super-Replacements we get to know best. Their arcs are squeezed in amongst all the other characters and action scenes, but we at least get a sense of who these people are. I like Superboy’s arc, starting out as a cocky little gremlin but slowly having that knocked out of him over the course of the film, he’s a good kid deep down, he just needs to let go of his arrogance and I like that it’s Lois that recognises that. As for Cyborg Superman, I can’t really talk about him without going into spoilers and the fact that a lot of his core motivation is saved up for the reveal of who, and what, he really is, but he makes for a great end boss. His motivations are understandable, if completely crazy.
Let’s talk about the other characters though. Lex is a little too petulant for my tastes, but everyone else does well with the brief bits their given. The Justice League scenes are still my favourite as I love the banter and the sense of camaraderie I get from them. However it’s Lois that steals the show for me. I wish more time was given to her investigation into the ‘Supermen’ and her interviewing them, or just a couple more scenes of her dealing with or pushing aside her grief. Her scene with Wonder Woman is another favourite of mine. I think it comes back to this film’s central flaw, it pushes character too much to one side in favour of plot and action. The action scenes are great, but there are a lot of them. Whereas The Death of Superman was a slow build to a final confrontation, this is more of a high-speed race as we go from one confrontation to another. Frankly I think it’s amazing that the film feels as cohesive as it does considering all the story elements, but the action and breakneck plot rob the story of the emotions it needs to really knock this story out of the park.
All in all I like Reign of the Supermen, but I don’t love it as much as it’s predecessor. It lacks the emotion and heart that the previous film had, replacing it instead with action, however good the action scenes are. That being said this is a very enjoyable film, the plot never really slows down, but it doesn’t feel rushed either. It gives you the information that it wants to give you and then moves on. The fights are epic, the banter is witty and there’s some really nicely animated sequences in here. My only wish with this film is that there was another twenty minutes or so that it could use to really dig into its story, but as it is, this is a fun film and a decent follow up to The Death of Superman.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.