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Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020)
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Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020)

A return to a more classic-styled Superman origin that, while enjoyable, never reaches its full potential.

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Clark Kent (Darren Criss) struggles with an unusual identity – he has these unusual powers but has no idea how he has them or why, and he’s got this odd pyramid toy he’s never been able to figure out how to open or turn on. In an attempt to normalize him, his parents Jonathan (Neil Flynn) and Marthan Kent (Bellamy Young) get him glasses. Jump forward in time and Clark is now interning at the Daily Planet in the city of Metropolis, where he’s known simply as “Coffee Guy” by day – though by night he uses his amazing powers to fly around the city in disguise helping people.

After cub reporter Lois Lane (Alexandra Daddario) publicly disgraces Lex Luthor (Zachary Quinto) at the launch of his new rocket, Clark must publicly don his costume to save Metropolis when the rocket goes out of control.

Word about Clark’s alter-ego’s heroics gets out thanks to Lois dubbing him “The Super Man” and causes an intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo (Ryan Hurst) to come to Earth in an attempt to round up the Last Kryptoinian for a price. Superman and Lobo destroy parts of the city in their fight until Martian Manhunter (Ike Amadi) shows up to assist. During the fight, a janitor named Rudy Jones (Brett Dalton) gets trapped under a living power dampener and is transformed into Parasite – a monster that feeds on all forms of power: electricity, human life, and superpowers. It will take Superman teaming with friend and foe alike to save the city when Parasite becomes too powerful and power-hungry for his own good.

As someone who frequently watches (and reviews!) the Warner Bros’ DC animated features I’ve been looking forward to Superman: Man of Tomorrow since the first trailer dropped a few months ago. A return to classic-styled Superman? Count me in! I enjoyed the movie overall… but I was also a bit disappointed.

Written by Tim Sheridan (The Death and Return of Superman, Justice League Action) and directed by Chris Palmer (Voltron: Legendary Defender), this 86-minute flick showed a lot of promise that had me geeked well in advance. We’ve got a Superman origin, a team-up with Martian Manhunter, and a trifecta of villains – Lex Luthor, Lobo, and Parasite. Each character has been slightly revamped from previous incarnations and brings Superman back to a more classic style both in appearance/costume (the trunks are back as we step away from the New 52 version) as well as his personality (he’s more plucky and optimistic vs the New 52 sarcastic confidence).

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of issues and plot holes. Like Clark learning about his origins from Lobo and Martian Manhunter just telling him about it. Or an emotionally and visually powerful death in the film being totally reneged without any real explanation. Or how Parasite goes from being “normal” sized in an apartment building to suddenly the size of Godzilla in his next appearance with literally no explanation whatsoever! Too many unexplained conveniences make for a disappointing experience.

Another problem I had with this was the pacing of shots. I’m not sure if Palmer is to blame or the film’s editor Bruce King (Young Justice, Justice League Action), but there’s a lot of unnecessarily long takes of scenery before anything happens, characters looking around, gaps in action sequences, etc. All things that only take one to two seconds each, but they add up to a slowly paced film in terms of visuals. And in an animated film, that’s a lot of screen time that could be filled with more action, dialogue, characterization, etc. As a result, it felt a little too static.

And speaking of the visuals, the animation style takes a little getting used to. In some places it seems clunky looking, like a children’s show, but in others it’s smooth as butter. Especially any scene with Lois Lane. Some viewers may not like it… I didn’t at first, but eventually I was able to just enjoy it as part of this new cinematic universe’s look (assuming they are planning to use the same animation for future films as they did with the whole New 52 line of flicks).

The thing that truly shined, however, was the voice talent. Darren Criss is a breath of fresh air as a youthful Big Blue Boy Scout, and Zachary Quinto nailed Luthor in a way Rainn Wilson never could. Alexandra Daddario is an actress I can’t recall ever seeing before, but she shines as Lois Lane, giving her a real life of her own. Really all the actors did superb jobs in their roles and this might be the best voice-casted DC film in a long while. If only the film had been a bit longer to explore some of these characters a bit more naturally and less rushed!

While the revamped characters and odd animation style may not satisfy everyone, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is, overall, a good animated film and another decent entry in Warner Bros’ animated superhero universe. The problem is, with a little trimming to the cuts, a little more explanation and development, and a bit more careful thought, it could have been great. Sadly, it never reached its true potential, presenting a Superman story that merely flies when we want it to soar.

About the Author: Travis Seppala