Richard Donner’s Superman and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel won’t likely get displaced by Superman: Man of Tomorrow as anyone’s favorite Superman origin movie, but that’s okay. The animated feature wasn’t going for that. We’ve seen enough attempts at myth-making Superman with religious overtones; Man of Tomorrow simply wants to make his first adventure fun. This Kal-El/Clark Kent (Darren Criss) is not yet a reporter, nor in love with Lois, and he doesn’t get upset that he can’t save everyone all the time. He’s just a nice guy who can fly and punch aliens. Sometimes, that’s all we need him to be.
As a young boy, Kal-El gets upset watching a ’50s sci-fi movie that depicts aliens as scary monsters. Before too long, he’s an adult in the big city, working as a coffee-fetching intern at the Daily Planet, still a major newspaper in the modern world. But when an incoming meteorite turns out to be Lobo (Ryan Hurst), an indestructible and uncouth space biker bounty hunter looking for the last Kryptonian, Clark must use the super powers he’s hidden all his life, and risk becoming perceived as that scary alien from the movies. Lobo’s presence, as well as Superman’s, also draws the attention of Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onnz (Ike Amadi), and inadvertently creates the energy-sucking monster Parasite (Brett Dalton).
Most of the rest of the movie plays primarily as a super-slugfest combined with kaiju movie. Like every weekly Power Rangers villain, Parasite can grow grow GROW! This may have the least complicated superhero movie plot since, well, maybe ever. But it still manages to fill an hour and twenty-five minutes with entertainment, in no small part because Lobo is a character who takes none of it seriously. It’s not fourth-wall breaking like Deadpool, nor a comedy take like the DTV LEGO movies or Harley Quinn. But simply having sarcastic Lobo as the first powered foe that an earnest, fresh-faced Superman ever has to face creates a novel dynamic that’s consistently fun.
Plus it’s nice to have filmmakers occasionally throw in villains that aren’t Lex Luthor or General Zod. Superman may not have the range of villains that Batman and Spider-Man face, but he does have more than two regulars. Lex does show up, because he is a major player in Metropolis and an easy go-to character. Voicing him, Zachary Quinto at first sounds like he’s trying to continue Rainn Wilson’s performance from previous animated films. But he gradually grows less caricatured, as befits his role here as a bystander to alien fights.
Is this the first episode of a rebooted DC animated universe, following the events of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War? Word so far is unclear, but it could be if that’s desired. While certain events seem like deal-breakers, the story ultimately engages in take-backsies that feel dramatically annoying, but arguably necessary for continuity’s sake. The notion that Superman’s cape gets inspired by Batman may rub purists the wrong way. But if Batman already exists in this world then we don’t need to see the Waynes get murdered again.
Tonally, Man of Tomorrow still has a lot of violence, with Parasite wantonly massacring civilians by sucking their life out until they zombify. But while there are a couple of PG-swears, Lobo quite pointedly avoids saying the f-word, which marks a departure from the language of the last film, even though this is true to Lobo comics. The new animation style looks less like Archer depending upon the size of your TV screen. It ultimately feels like the halfway point between Archer style and the Bruce Timm-verse.
One or two references to contemporary politics feel shoehorned in to what otherwise plays as a super-blast of escapism. Almost as if director Chris Palmer and writer Tim Sheridan briefly felt guilty about just having fun. No need. We can get uber-serious Superman literally anywhere else.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow is out on Blu-ray and 4K today.
On the Blu-ray, bonus featurettes spotlight Lobo, J’onn, and the upcoming Batman: Soul of the Dragon. The disc also includes two unremastered episodes of the Bruce Timm Superman animated series featuring Lobo.
Did you see Superman: Man of Tomorrow yet? What did you think? Let us know below.
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