Movie Review – Reign Of The Supermen

Principal Cast : Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Cameron Monaghan, Cress Williams, Patrick Fabian, Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson, Shemar Moore, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Nyambi Nyambi, Tony Todd, Charles Halford, Rocky Carroll, Trevor Devali. 
Synopsis:  After the death of Superman, several new people present themselves as possible successors.

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The follow-up to 2018’s The Death of Superman animated film, Warner Bros’ latest DC flick Reign Of The Superman loosely (very loosely) retreads story points from the classic Death & Return Of Superman arc from the mid-90’s comic run, including the addition of four “new” Supermen rising to prominence following our hero’s demise at the hands of Doomsday. The film boasts the same voice cast and an identical animation style to its predecessor, picking up six months after the events of The Death Of Superman and showing us a city – nay, a world – mourning the passing of its greatest champion, and gives us an otherwordly threat to combat that once more sows seeds of Apokaliptian design.

Six months following the death of Superman, Metropolis journalist Lois Lane (voice of Rebecca Romijn) still mourns the loss of her lover, Clark Kent. In the interventing time, four new people claiming to be Superman have arisen – a young lad, more Superboy (Cameron Monaghan) than man, a resolutely violent Eradicator Superman (Charles Halford), a man of literal steel armour in John Henry Irons (Cress Williams), and the mysterious Cyborg Superman (Patrick Fabian), the latter of whom feels to Lois to be most like the fallen hero she knew. With Superboy under the guidance of Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) as Metropolis’ protector, and Steel remaining an ally to Lois as she uncovers the truth about all four new heroes, the true motives of Cyborg Superman and his alliance with Apokolips bring a legitmate threat to Earth, and with the Justice League conveniently offworld for the duration, only the revitalised and returning Kal El, the one, true Superman, can stop the machinations of Darkseid (Tony Todd).

Let’s face it: the “Reign of The Supermen” comic arc was always a tough ask for even the most dedicated cinematic telling. Whereas the “Death of Superman” ran for only a few months back in 1992, culminating with the publication of Superman #75 in November of that year, and was largely a self-contained story featuring all of the characters’ major players, the post-hiatus “Reign Of The Supermen” storyline spanned nearly a year of comic publication, boasted an enormous roster of characters, and included payoffs to events that weren’t even set-up in the core Superman comics. It was such a shattering comic book event that it rocked the very foundations of DC and the industry as a whole, as well as setting in motion a crippling cash-grab ideology which would end up leading to the near-bankruptcy of Marvel Comics and the complete annihilation of speculative purchasing. The Reign story is far too complex to exist in a singular film, but the filmmakers behind this animated feature go a long way in distilling the essence and key iconic moments from that legendary run to produce a worthwhile and enthusiastic animated movie of the story.

What Reign Of The Supermen does is transition the animated franchise of DC films from the old New 52 aesthetic back into the “original” (or current) version of Superman (still sans red briefs, mind you), touches on classic lore and iconography (the black suit Superman with long hair absolutely makes his appearance here) and resurrects the Man of Steel for a new animated run. The story of Reign is a mangling of both original comic plotting (the rise of four distinct personalities imbued with aspects of Superman himself) and the modern convulsive machinations established in current DC animated world-building. In this film, Darkseid is the one behind a lot of the film’s plot, including the answers to Cyborg Superman’s arrival – long-time comic readers will know that Cyborg Superman is the identity assumed by astronaut Hank Henshaw, who seeks retribution from the Man Of Steel for allowing his wife, Terri, to be killed in a space shuttle explosion – and it’s here that this version of the Reign story deviates from the original comics. The sudden and convenient removal of the Justice League, including Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Batman (Jason O’Mara) and Cyborg (Shemar Moore) feels contrived, and sours an otherwise excellent mishmash of comic book lore and mythology.

The film’s script is by Jim Sheridan and Tim Kreig, taking over duties from Death Of Superman scribe Peter Tomasi, and by and large there’s humour and pathos within its rattling framework. Despite having to cram in three Game Of Thrones seasons worth of plot, setup and character development within a brief 90-minute movie, the pair do a solid job of giving everyone their moment to shine within the story, especially the character I always felt to be the weakest in the comics run, that of John Henry Irons’ Steel, who dominates as the film’s MVP in terms of “I want to see more of this one”. The dialogue feels a little shaky in terms of those cool one-liners for Green Lantern and Flash, and the writing on Kon El, aka Superboy, feels torn from the 1990’s rather than 2019, but the overall tone of the film and the resolution of key plot points marries well with what was established in the previous film.

As always, one can expect a boatload of smackdowns and destruction-porn in these films, and Reign Of The Superman doesn’t disappoint. There’s a decided lack of bloody violence in this outing (people were pulped on-screen in The Death of Superman… a lot – but not all – of the graphic violence here occurs off-frame, making this more suitable for kids) and a few light cuss words might make this one to avoid for Superman’s target demographic. Unless your kids are okay with “asshole”, in which case have at it. All four Supermen are well established save one – Eradicator Superman, whose role in the film is limited to brief cameos and no great exposition. Henshaw’s Cyborg Superman makes for a compelling animated villain, while Tony Todd (who plays Zoom on The CW’s The Flash series) does good work with limited material (again) as DC’s resident Big Bad, the lord of Apokolips, Darkseid. Explosions, building destruction and grand old superhero brawls keep Reign of The Supermen from getting boring, but the film does run the risk of dipping its toe in to the same problematic destructo-fest that ruined the end of Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. At the end of the day, there’s only so many punches, kicks and last-gasp rescues the audience can handle in a single film before it becomes routine, humdrum or monotonous, and Reign of The Supermen really dallies with this a lot. Thankfully, the writing and vocal performances make up for possible fatigue in carnage with spry wit and a relaxed nonchalance. The film’s humour is also a bit hit and miss, although it hits far more than it misses in my opinion.

If you’re going to have an End Of The World plot to bring back Earth’s greatest champion from the dead, Apokalips is both the only choice and the safest choice. There are few other threats to our world that ensure only Superman can save us, and director Sam Lui (who co-helmed The Death of Superman) makes sure we feel it every step of the way. At times the film feels like it’s rushing to its climax, the various players and ingredients mixing with a little too much contrived scripting than I’d have liked, but the energy and sense of playful fun at Superman’s return keeps the wheels of this heroic bangbus turning brilliantly. Coupled with returning composer Frederik Wiedmann’s subtle score – dammit, why can’t they use either the Zimmer or Williams theme for these animated movies? – the film’s frantic dash for resolution might confuse non-fans or casual viewers, but for the hard-core DC readers and those used to complex subplots and extraneous characters (many are name-checked but get little to no screen time here) there’s a lot to like about this movie.

Reign Of The Superman caps off the events of its preceding film with daring and solemnity, sacrificing the broad-scale epicness of the original comic story within a condensed and confining running time. There’s a lot to like here, particularly the Lois Lane arc in which she tries to work out which of the four faux-Supermen is her man, and the post-credit sting sets up what promises to be the mother of all showdowns between the Justice League and Darkseid: Reign Of The Supermen delivers knockout animated comic book fun and returns the animated Man Of Steel to a preeminent place as the head of the world’s greatest heroes.

© 2019, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.