I’m going to be blunt. I’m not much of a Superman fan. There’s nothing wrong with the character or anything, his stories just don’t do much for me. That said, there is something about a story that intrigues me. He’s an alien refugee from a war-torn planet who dedicates himself to protecting the Earth. So, I’m open to finding a Superman story I enjoy. That’s partly why I decided to watch Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the newest animated film from DC Comics. The other reason is that Darren Criss, whom I’ve been a fan of since his early Starkid days, was voicing Superman and I was curious to see how that turned out. Well, having seen the film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is deeply enjoyable. It might even rank among my favorite of the recent DC animated films. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (written by Tim Sheridan, directed by Chris Palmer
Meet Clark Kent. Sent to Earth as an infant from the dying planet Krypton, he arrived with as many questions as the number of light-years he traveled. Now a young man, he makes his living in Metropolis as an intern at the Daily Planet – alongside reporter Lois Lane – while secretly wielding his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good. Follow the fledgling hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and before fighting for his life with the alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman…but first, Superman must save the world!
Man of Tomorrow is an origin story of sorts for Superman. It explores some of his early days protecting Metropolis before, and directly after, taking the name Superman. As far as origin stories go, it’s a pretty fun one. There’s little of the seemingly requisite past trauma to be found here; instead, the film establishes Superman’s motive as a desire to do good for the world. I know that’s traditionally how the Superman story goes, but after Man of Steel and other darker takes on the character, it still feels refreshing to return to this origin. That’s not to say Superman experiences no inner turmoil throughout the film; far from it. There are plenty of moments where Superman gets to have self-doubt and obstacles to overcome, but the whole film is filled with a sense of – and that’s nice.
The plot, itself, isn’t anything particularly special – but it is fun. Lobo (Ryan Hurst), an alien Bounty Hunter, arrives on Earth looking for Superman so he can fulfill a bounty placed on him. During their confrontation, an alien Parasite is accidentally released, infecting an employee of STAR labs (Brett Dalton) and creating the film’s true antagonist. I enjoyed what the film did with Parasite, though. There wasn’t a whole lot of time for the film to develop Parasite, but it does spend some time exploring his inner turmoil and using it as a contrast to Superman’s – and that’s a lot of fun.
The characterizations ended up being my favorite part of the film. This is one of the first times I’ve ever found Superman sympathetic. The way the film handled his indecision between going public or hiding away in the face of xenophobia was compelling. Especially when coupled with the Martian Manhunter’s (Ike Amadi) presence and friendship with Superman. The film eventually turned into a tale of the Last Kryptonian and the Last Martian coming together to protect their new home – and I loved it. I also enjoyed Lois Lane’s (Alexandra Daddario) arc. I often enjoy good narratives about journalists trying to break a big story and it was nice to see Lois given such a plot. All in all, the film’s handling of its characters was its best aspect and I wish there had been more time to develop them even further.
On a technical level, the film is great. Tim Sheridan’s script is solid; it’s well-paced, the dialogue flows well, and I appreciate his attention to character arcs. Plus there are some truly shocking moments that only add to the film’s quality. The voice cast is also good. It took me a while to get used to Darren Criss as Superman; at first, I could only hear his voice and not the characters, but as the film went on, this proved less distracting. Zachary Quinto and Ryan Hurst deliver delightful performances as Lex Luthor and Lobo, respectively. Brett Dalton and Ike Amadi are excellent, imbuing Parasite and Martian Manhunter with a lot of emotional depth. Alexandra Daddario is solid as Lois Lane, bringing a lot of drive and determination to her performance. Lastly, the film’s animation was surprisingly good. Unlike a lot of DC animated films, there was a distinct style to the animation and much of it looked great – despite the low budget. Special praise goes to the design of Metropolis and the designs of Parasite and Martian Manhunter’s real appearances. Those designs were a mixture of beauty and horror and I absolutely loved it.
Ultimately, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is a fun watch. It is a surprisingly introspective look at Superman’s early years that is filled with twists and turns and excellent action sequences. The script is solid, the animation is great, and the voice cast is excellent. I’m not a big Superman fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would recommend it to all DC fans.
(4.5 out of 5 wands.)