TV and Film

REVIEW: Reign of the Supermen

By Timeyin Nikoro

January 22nd, 2019

After six painstaking months, the highly anticipated sequel to The Death of Superman finally hits our screens. Following the largely positive fan and critical reception of the The Death of Superman, DC was under enormous pressure to deliver a worthy conclusion to the iconic two-part story. Reign of the Supermen not only equals, but oftentimes exceeds the quality of its predecessor. Out of the two, Reign of the Supermen is unequivocally my favourite portion of the two part story for a number of reasons. Chief amongst these reasons remains Reign of the Supermen’s switch in; character focus, narrative drive and emotional beats. One of my biggest grievances concerning The Death of Superman, was it’s over reliance on a relationship which audiences had little-to-no investment in. Barring my own personal disregard for the Clark/Lois/Superman relationship (and my distaste for Lois Lane in general), the first instalments biggest error was investing so much screen time in a relationship which the DC animated films had failed to establish. Instead of doing necessary groundwork and developing the Clark/Lois romance over the course of a number of films, DC chose to take the easy route and have their relationship develop off-screen. Rather than benefitting from the fruits of their own labour, The Death of Superman attempted to coast off of fans investment and knowledge of their comic book relationship. All of which resulted in half of the first installment being dedicated to a lackluster relationship and a number of muted emotional beats/scenes. Reign of the Superman largely succeeds through it use of Lois to switch the movies narrative focus. The narrative/dramatic tension becomes less about Lois’s romantic entanglement with Clark/Superman and more about the suitability of the four new “Supermen” as the successors to Superman’s legacy.

It would’ve been easy for Reign of the Supermen to mine the melodramatic potential inherent in Lois’s romantic relationship with superman and position Lois’s grief as the centrepiece of the film. However, the movie diverts from this predictable route and subsequently avoids relegating Lois to damsel in distress. Whilst Lois’s grief (and the general feeling of bereavement) is ever present throughout the film, Reign of the Supermen moves such sentiments to a periphery role. Instead Lois’s grief is used as a catalyst to galvanize Lois to action.  In doing so, Reign of the Superman fixes many of the recurring problems in Lois Lane’s multiple depictions, by shifting the character from a mere love interest and by re-positioning her as integral piece of the films narrative. Here, Lois simultaneously serves as a mouthpiece for the films narrative questions, whilst operating as the movies driving force. From start to finish, Lois and her journalistic ability exist as the nucleus of films plot, with the writers hinging the plot in its entirety on Lois’s relentless tenacity. She not only asks the hard questions, but rather the vital questions. All of which, lead to significant in-story revelations. The film utilities Lois’s abilities as an investigative reporter to best of its ability, providing her with the unique ability to organically disseminate essential information pertaining to the characters and the story throughout the film. Such a decision transitions Lois from the traditionally passive and oftentimes annoying role which she usually plays in Superman stories, instead Lois exhibits narrative agency/autonomy and her actions actually shape the story.

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Reign of the Supermen also success in its introductions and portrayals of the four potential successors to the Superman mantle. The film spends much of its time delivering introductions to the characters of Superboy, Steel, The Eradicator and Cyborg Superman. However Superboy and Cyborg Superman stand out from the pack and make particularly strong cases for their continued involvement in the DC Animated Movie Universe.Related image

This interpretation of Superboy provides the audience with the most faithful depiction of Superboy in his original incantation to date, whilst simultaneously modernising the character. Even his costume manages to pay homage to his original depiction, whilst retaining a sense of modernity.  He’s impetuous, reckless, cocky and unabashedly full of himself. Superboy acts exactly how you would expect a teenager to act if gifted (or burdened) with the power and legacy of the Man of Steel. All of which results in a refreshingly energetic character, who effectively infuses the story with as much pathos as he does comedic relief. However, hiding beneath surface of he rambunctious facade, Superboy is merely a child struggling to live to live up to two enormous opposing legacies, bestowed upon him by his genetic donors.Image result for reign of the supermen

Whilst Superboy excels in part due to his differences to the Man of Steel, Cyborg Superman shines through his ability to emulate and recreate the personality of Superman/Clark Kent. For much of the film, Cyborg Superman delivers an uncannily accurate imitation of Superman’s ability to inspire hope and desire to protect the citizens of metropolis. Had I not known any better, the film might have actually had me believing that Cyborg superman was indeed a revived Clark Kent. Some of the films best scenes are derived from Cyborg Superman emphatic appeals and attempts to convince Lois of his validity. During the back half of Reign of the Superman, Cyborg Superman is equally as impressive in his role as the films central villain. He is every bit as menacing as the like of Lex Luthor and Doomsday, albeit with a stronger and more complex motivation. Although he is revealed to be acting on the behalf of a third party, the reveal doesn’t rob Cyborg Superman of any of his agency or moral complexity. Instead, the character and his motivations become steeped in tragedy.Jerry O'Connell in Reign of the Supermen (2019)

Whilst Reign of the Supermen provides the audience with impeccable portrayals of two of its potential Superman candidates, the film falters in its attempts to present the audience with its remaining Superman replacements. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the films portrayal of Steel and The Eradicator, the film simply lacks the narrative space or material to either character justice. With The Eradicator remaining absent from the film for large portions of the story, followed by a number of convenient reappearances, before disappearing entirely. Whilst Steel similarly suffers from an underwritten role, in which the writer fail to give him enough screen time to affect any meaningful character development. Steel’s lack of screen time also results in the character becoming a slave to the plot’s needs, which in turn forces the Steel to become an increasingly passive character who is unable to wield any real influence over the story.

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