Review: 'Reign of the Supermen' Is a Worthy, But Not Flawless, Entry in the DC Universe Animated Canon

Reign of the Supermen, the latest in Warner Bros. Animation's long-running series of animated films branded under the DC Universe banner, is a strong follow-up to The Death of Superman and one of the best DC Universe offerings so far.

Reign of the Supermen was billed as the second half of a two-part movie event, following last year's The Death of Superman. That film was fairly well-reviewed, and set a high standard for Reign. Based on the best-selling comic storylines that catapulted the Superman titles to the top of everyone's to-read lists in the '90s, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen are perfect fits for the newly launched DC Universe app, as they speak to something that profoundly matters to longtime DC fans while telling a story that is universal enough to interest casual viewers.

Reign of the Supermen is a different film than The Death of Superman, for a few reasons. One is that while Death was reverential to the comics source material, giving fans who had felt shortchanged by Superman: Doomsday and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a (mostly) true-to-the-comics story to follow, Reign of the Supermen takes far more liberties, and feels more like most of the other adaptations from the DC Universe animated features as a result.

This one also has a much lighter tone, leaning heavily into comedy and playing Nathan Fillion's Green Lantern and Cameron Monaghan's Superboy for laughs as often as they can. Those can feel a bit out of place in some of the darker scenes, but not much more than anything you would get out of Suicide Squad or Avengers: Infinity War.

Overall, the animation during the quiet moments for Reign of the Supermen feels better than it was in Death of, although there are no action sequences in the new movie that compare with the throwdown between Superman and Doomsday. This is probably to be expected, since the throwdown was so much of The Death of Superman's selling point, but it is a little disappointing that in a movie where we had five "Supermen" and the Justice League present, it was the comedy and not the action that made it stand out.

A standout performance here comes from Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. While the darker tone and more severe animation style for Lex in The Death of Superman did not fully mesh with the performance Wilson gave, Reign of the Supermen course-corrects, with visuals and a screenplay that line up more solidly with his performance, serving both Wilson and the movie as a whole well.

Jerry O'Connell's Superman and Rebecca Romijn's Lois Lane remain the emotional core of Reign of the Supermen, just as they were in The Death of Superman. The performances are strong, and there is an argument to be made for keeping these two in the regular rotation as returning performers since these DC Universe films so often need to have more than one take on each hero ready to roll out.

There are a few tweaks made the original story that make Reign of the Supermen actively worse, but they are mostly done in service of the understandable goals of fitting the story into the existing continuity of the DC Universe animated movies, and of setting up sequels building on this tale down the line.

The movie effectively manages the weight of a massive storyline with a lot of moments fans really want to see adapted on screen... although while each of the Supermen had their own monthly comic during the story in the '90s, this movie has less than an hour and a half to share between them, meaning that two of the four (Steel and The Eradicator) get the short end of the stick. In Steel's case in particular, it's too bad, because Cress Williams (Black Lightning) is inspired casting for the role. At least if the comics are any guide, we know that John Henry Irons will be the one we see the most of in Justice League stories after Reign of the Supermen is over.

The cuts made to John Henry Irons's character diminish the biggest theme of The Reign of the Supermen from the comics somewhat, though: he was the "soul" of Superman -- somebody who did not have all of Superman's powers, but set out to fill the void left by the Man of Steel anyway. His origin, arguably the best superhero origin DC has had in the last 30 years, was simple: he was so inspired by Superman and he set out to help people, just like Superman did. Steel was more "Superman" than any of the others, even with all their powers, and it really drove home the idea that the four new "Supermen" were, together, not enough to make up for what the world lost when the real Superman died.

There is less of that theme present in this movie than in the comics, leaving Superman's return to feel a little more plot-driven and procedural than visceral and necessary.

One major tweak to the Reign of the Supermen story is the decision to tie Darkseid in not only with the film's main antagonist but with Doomsday as well. It streamlines a story that would have been difficult to properly explain in 70 minutes, but also robs The Death of Superman of something in the process, since Doomsday being a standalone entity rather than the instrument of some long-running villain's vengeance was ultimately a good idea. The tweaks here simplify the mythology but in so doing remove agency from not one but two of the best new Superman villains created since Crisis on Infinite Earths.

As the second half of The Death of Superman, it feels like a good fit. There is a slight tonal shift and some minor character changes that presumably come from changing writers (while former Superman scribe Peter J. Tomasi wrote The Death of Superman, DC Universe movie regulars Tim Sheridan and Jim Krieger handled Reign), but overall they mesh well.

It will be interesting to see how the longer cut of the "Death and Return of Superman," or whatever they decide to call it, will be edited, because the start of Reign felt a little on the abrupt side watching the two back-to-back, but was a perfect opening for a standalone movie. The Superman: The Man of Steel creative team of Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove have long held that "Funeral For a Friend," the story between The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, which saw the world struggling without the Man of Steel, was actually the heart and soul of the whole "trilogy." It would be interesting to see if they introduce some additional content inspired by those comics to bridge the two films.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Reign of the Supermen is available today on video on demand platforms, and will be released soon on DVD, Blu-ray, and the DC Universe app.