Reign of the Supermen is the thirty-third entry into Warner Bros’ DC Comics massively successful line of animated adaptations of DC’s landmark stories. The movie is adapted from the comic book crossover event, The Death and Return of Superman—interchangeably referred to as The Reign of Superman—published in multiple DC titles beginning in December 1992 and lasting until October 1993. The movie, rated PG-13 for violence and adult content, is directed by Sam Liu and released directly to digital video on January 18th, 2019, and BluRay on January 26th, 2019, following-up The Death of the Superman (released on July 24th, 2018) with a conclusion to the story and introducing Superboy, The Last Son of Krypton, The Man of Steel, and The Man of Tomorrow.
As Lois Lane grapples with the death of friend, hero, and lover, Superman, four look-alikes surface to fight crime and save mankind. Superboy, sporting an invincible smile and a superhuman thirst for the spotlight, is an adolescent powerhouse who uses his abilities to fill the shoes of Superman and impress the ladies along the way; The Last Son of Krypton is the spitting image of Superman with similar and new powers and a mean streak; The Man of Steel is, as his name implies, a hammer-wielding hero clad in a near-invulnerable metal battle suit with the massive S-shield emblazoned on the chest plate; and, finally, The Man of Tomorrow is a Cyborg version of Superman who not only has Superman’s powers but also displays his altruism, his tenderness, and his secrets. Now, Lois and the rest of the world must figure out which of the four is the real Superman. Who is the resurrected hero and who are the imposters?
The film is a superhero action-adventure with a little bit of suspense and a speckle of thoughtful drama. It opens with commentary from Cat Grant establishing events since the passing of Superman in his fight with Doomsday six months earlier. Then, the focus switches to Lois, our point-of-view character, who is grappling—albeit, briefly—with the feelings of the loss of Superman. Seeing the reports of Superman sightings, she rushes to begin investigating.
Act I is one part pulp investigation, one part corporate drama, and one part superhero action. Lex Luthor holds a release party for a new product LexCorp is rolling out, and Lois knows that he’s not telling the whole truth. She starts snooping around, finding out more than Lex wishes. And just when the two are beginning to have it out verbally, they are interrupted by a fight between The Last Son of Krypton and Superboy. The fight is subsequently joined by The Man of Steel and The Man of Tomorrow. Lois and Lex watch helplessly as the titans engage back and forth in a super-powered grudge-match.
Act II is more of the same with the pulp piece replaced with political fiction. The Justice League and Superboy work together as security detail for the President who is the guest speaker at an event in Metropolis when an attack occurs. The heroes unite to fight the menace, but things go south quickly. The Man of Tomorrow arrives to aid the heroes in defeating the menace, but not before something tragic befalls the Justice League. The final scene informs the audience that there are dark powers at work and all may not be as it seems.
In Act III, The Man of Tomorrow starts to pull ahead in the Superman poll as he announces a plan to protect the people of Earth in the absence of the Justice League. However, Lois’ investigations run afoul of the Bad Guy’s nefarious plan and how he intends to twist The Man of Tomorrow’s plan into something sinister. Needing to do something to stop the Bad Guy, Lois enlists the help of Superboy and The Man of Steel. They unexpectedly meet up with another hero who asks for their help in stopping the Bad Guy, then they all—Lois, too—rush off to save the day. The act is a bit predictable and slow, burdened by unnecessary scenes, exposition, and plot convenience.
Act IV is primarily science-fiction and action with some dystopian elements. The entire act is primarily a brainless boxing session between superhumans—and Lois. Oh, Lex has a motherbox with a keyboard. I don’t know why I think that’s absurd in a movie with people who fly and shoot lasers from their hands, but I do. Don’t judge. The act concludes with a zero-gee fistfight between an overdramatic villain, the heroes, and Lois. Yup, she’s all over the place…even in zero-gee. Investigative reporting is real.
The movie ends with a huge surprise for Metropolitans and the world, Lois is recognized as a hero, and Superboy gets a new home.
The post credit scene is of the Justice League deciding to open a can whoop-ass and delivering it to the doorstep of one of their enemies. But, they’re all surprised when a new teammate shows up to accompany them. It’s not Lois this time.
The script is mediocre, following the basic outline of the source material but leaning into plot conveniences too often and not improving the story when taking creative liberties. The voice cast is the same as the previous movie with no change in performance (see my review on The Death of Superman). Added to the line-up, though, are Cameron Monaghan, voicing Superboy; Patrick Fabian, voicing The Man of Tomorrow; Charles Harford, voicing The Last Son of Krypton; and, Tony Todd, voicing the Bad Guy.
Matching the previous film, and several in the animated line adapting The New 52 stories, the animation is top-notch. Also, an upgrade from The Death of Superman is an actual population inhabiting Metropolis. One of my criticisms of the previous film was how empty and lonely Metropolis felt. We actually see Metropolitans that aren’t supporting cast in this movie. Otherwise, the technical aspects of the movie remain largely unchanged from the previous. Consistency is good.
Overall, I was disappointed by Reign of the Supermen—The Death of Superman is not only better but also the superior adaptation of the original event. It suffers in its reckless handling of the four Supermen (which I call the Reign) and the subplots that lead into the final portion of the story; the plot conveniences are real, and the pacing is just bad. And, the Justice League’s presence felt shoe-horned as if the producers or studio wanted them in the movie for branding. Still, this movie is a better adaptation than Superman: Doomsday (2007).
The feelings tied to the passing of Superman seem lost on the story the movie wanted to tell. The sudden mystery and shock of four new Superman look-alikes took a backseat to the action. And, I’m not talking backseat of your parents’ minivan. I’m talking about the backseat of the longest train in the galaxy. Really, the movie is an emotionless romp that rushes to Superman’s return…not unlike the live-action Justice League. I gotta take my shots where I can because I can’t unsee Superman’s mouth. Moving on.
Part of what made the original story such an epic, timeless tale was the underpinning mix of surprise, hope, and skepticism. You experienced the same surprise as Lois and the DC Universe at large—but mostly Lois—when four new Supermen suddenly appeared. Then you felt hopeful because Superman—well, a Superman…pick the one you preferred—had returned to set things right again. And then you felt skeptical because you had watched Superman die right in front of Lois with the world watching, so none of these could be him. Or could they? They were so much like him, each one embodying an important aspect but then each was so vastly different from the others. But only one of them could be the actual Superman…right? Right? The movie didn’t give us that. It was linear story in which we go from Lois gazing at some pictures of Clark before running to do some reporting shaky-cam style, passing through superhuman slugfests, then teaming up with a far less petulant—but far more EEEVIL—Lex Luthor, before getting to the final showdown which left me crossing my arms and pruning my face. I’m all about comic movies embracing the cheese, but it has to be done right; if it’s done recklessly, it lacks pathos and gravitas, coming off juvenile and lackluster. Someone out there is going to take a page out of George Lucas’ book and declare, “What did you expect? It’s a children’s movie.” To which I’ll respond with: The movie is rated PG-13, and they make passing remarks about marital infidelity. Kids show my [expletive redacted].
Here’s my report card on the Reign and the other important characters:
- Lois – B-
- Lex Luthor – C
- Wonder Woman – B-
- Martian Manhunter – C
- Flash – C
- Green Lantern – B+
- Batman – D
- Superboy – C
- Last Son of Krypton – C
- Man of Steel – B-
- Man of Tomorrow – D
- Superman – D
- Bad Guy – Booooooooo!!!
Despite Lois being an emotional cripple, she was quippy and entertaining at times. Luthor was mildly better in this movie than the previous. Linda Carter…I mean Wonder Woman (you’ll know it when you see it) was dry, but I’m in love with Rosario Dawson, so yeah. Most of the JL is bland, but GL breaks the mediocrity with sarcasm. Why is Batman EVEN in this movie? He really confused my understanding of the writers’ power-scaling. Superboy and The Last Son of Krypton were just there. The Man of Steel was enjoyable-ish. And, the writers punted into the stands with The Man of Tomorrow, Superman, and the Bad Guy.
All-in-all, Reign of the Supermen is meh to disappointing. It didn’t benefit from its departure from the source material and didn’t capitalize on any of the emotional beats, breezing through them to get to the climax or to set-up spinoffs. However, fans of the original story will more than likely appreciate the fidelity of the adaptation over Superman: Doomsday. On a positive note, Reign of the Supermen is a decent watch on mute and 1.5x speed. So, there is that! Winning!