Superman: Man of Tomorrow, 2020.
Directed by Chris Palmer.
Featuring the voice talents of Darren Criss, Alexandra Daddario, Zachary Quinto, Ike Amadi, Ryan Hurst, Brett Dalton, Neil Flynn and Bellamy Young.
Daily Planet intern Clark Kent takes learning-on-the-job to new extremes when Lobo and Parasite set their sights on Metropolis.
Although it’s been some time since we’ve seen the Man of Steel grace the big screen, he’s had plenty of animated appearances over the last few years, and his most recent outing introduces the new wave DC movies after Warner Bros. Animation closed their shared universe with the grim (yet excellent) Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. And although most fans would usually roll their eyes at yet another retelling of the Kryptonian’s origin story, Superman: Man of Tomorrow does so with a unique flair that reminds the audience what the hero truly stands for. Most notably, the new animation feels so distinctive against the previous shared style of the New 52 comics-inspired slate of movies. Director Chris Palmer opts for a number of camera angles that combined with the new designs really help the film stand out from typical animated adventures.
And when it comes to Superman’s famous backstory, the film flies through the origin before delivering a younger, chirpier version of Clark Kent. Instead of showing the hero discovering his skillset, he’s trying to find a way of being a positive force for good in Metropolis – as his Smallville-esque jacket, jeans and flight goggles combo has the city confused about his intentions. With a few references to other heroes in the universe, the film neatly establishes this world quickly. But as soon as Lobo arrives to collect a bounty on Superman’s head, the film can’t sit still for a minute. Being pacy is never a bad thing, but the film never once stops moving to let the story breathe a bit.
Darren Criss’ performance feels a little clunky and dropped in rather than a fluid delivery from the beginning, but once begins to settle his voice perfectly fits both Clark and Superman. Ryan Hurst’s Lobo is without a doubt the stand-out star, injecting an unpredictable fun into the narrative, even if his fight scenes feel heavy and brutal, which feel more impactful in this world. Then there’s the weird juxtaposition of the friendly, welcoming animation style and the alien’s perverted nature and love of violent. And yet he’s not the only one. The birth of Brett Dalton’s Parasite is horrific enough to add an edge for younger viewers without getting too gratuitous or gross. Although when Parasite first begins to plague Metropolis, some of his attacks feel pure horror, one brief hospital scene in particular caught me by surprise as it seemingly riffed off Sam Raimi’s incredibly chilling scene with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow plays with a timely theme that feels poignant given the state of the world at the moment as the hero debates whether or not he should hide away from the world like Ike Amadi’s Martian Manhunter. The pair are understandably concerned about the xenophobic minority of mankind, but Clark pushes forward to embrace his own identity instead of living in the shadows as a dark crusader. While the DCEU’s exploration of the hero remains a little divisive, Man of Tomorrow will definitely feel a lot closer to the Man of Steel fans have loved for decades. His inherently hopeful nature and awkwardness around Alexandria Daddario’s plucky Lois Lane has a definite charm.
The only irritating part of this new direction for Superman is how chopped up it feels. Lobo has his time, before the focus shifts to Martian Manhunter and then to Parasite. Once the hulking monster makes an appearance, the storytelling gets a little more weary and focuses more on the overwhelming nature of the villain. It occasionally reminds us of who Parasite was before he become a giant purple energy vampire, but the story definitely needed one more scene to hammer it home. Obviously most superhero movies need to end in a climactic battle between good and evil, and Superman: Man of Tomorrow is no different, but it rushes through its final confrontation pretty quickly. Although at least it found the time to weave Zachary Quinto’s Lex Luthor into the mix in a surprising way.
Regardless of story criticisms, Warner Bros. Animation’s latest offering is undeniably full of life compared to other DC animated movies. While the previous universe of titles explored a vast number of characters, it always felt moody and dark. This is a completely fresh step forward.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★