Superman: Man of Tomorrow has been an anticipated new direction for DC Universe movies and Warner Bros. Animation, moving away from the Bruce Timm and Jeff Matsuda visual styles of the last two decades. It was time for a change. Time for some fresh blood to be injected into what should be a fluid medium, a medium where it’s very easy to make visual changes in direction to keep interest high.
Director Chris Palmer brings a grittier and more grounded look, less stylized / cartoony, and more sophisticated than in the past. While still animated and produced in Asia, the look and body motions (like running) do not look clichéd or stereotypical.
Palmer’s Superman is thinner in the waist, less square-jawed, and younger, as this is the story of his "Year One" in Metropolis. The design of Clark’s Ma Kent-made uniform is pretty much unchanged from the one seen in current comics, with one exception, the belt loops on his red trunks are much wider, and the iconic yellow belt is now blue, with a redundant yellow S-symbol belt buckle (there’s already a big friggin’ S-symbol right above it). The also redundant S-symbol on the cape is absent.
This Clark Kent (voiced by Darren Criss) starts out at the Daily Planet not as a reporter, but a lowly intern who fetches coffee. Lois Lane (Alexandra Daddario) is a college journalism student on a Luthor scholarship, which doesn’t stop her from asking Luthor himself the toughest questions in a press conference. Luthor is voiced by Zachary Quinto, who seems miscast, or at the very least poorly directed. His Luthor speaks in a very low-key monotone, with very little menace, inflection, or urgency, even in the heat of battle.
Clark starts his crime-fighting career in Metropolis disguised in a leather pilot’s helmet and goggles. Seeing a note on Lois’ desk about how cool a certain Gotham vigilante’s cape looks is taken to heart for later. It takes Ma’s homemade gift to push him into his familiar primary colors.
It’s fun watching him discover where he and his powers come from, with a little help from a familiar friend.
Speaking of Metropolis, this City of Tomorrow finally looks the part. It is the most idealized, futuristic, Art Deco Metropolis yet.
As fresh as many things are in this movie, there are still some clichés and mis-steps. There’s still that one person on the street that points and yells “Look, up in the sky!” That phrase was created for radio to help the audience visualize what was happening up in the sky. It has always felt awkward when used in visual mediums, and feels trite and overused, but…it's tradition, I guess. Inexplicably, Perry White has been turned into an obese, sweaty, beady-eyed J. Jonah Jameson type of editor, yelling “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” at his staff like a tyrant. His Asian-influenced visual stereotype is out of place with the rest of the animation style. And Lois Lane has been become a byline-hungry, beanie wearing, cold fish. Clark Kent is still a kinda-nervous, bumbling guy, but that’s a cliché I can live with.
It seems Clark has an Observer trailing him in his super-deeds. A dark-suited creeper who actually has the nerve to go to Smallville to try to strong-arm the Kents into revealing where Clark is. Is he friend or foe?
There’s plenty of action in this film, with a couple of well-choreographed fights with a bounty-hunting Lobo, who brings the cuss and the fun, and the main battles after the drama of the birth and rapid growth of the Parasite. It’s a very different, very alien, very reptilian Parasite than we have ever seen before. A certain city-stomping mutant lizard with radioactive breath is probably issuing a cease-and-desist order as you read this. Just when you think this Parasite will be defeated in the usual way familiar to comics fans, there’s a bittersweet twist.
I like how this new animation direction looks, but I’m not sold on some of the characterizations and cliches. Perhaps future sequels will avoid them.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow released on Digital August 23, 2020, and will be available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra on September 8, 2020.