I was talking with some friends last night, and the topic of Superman: Man of Tomorrow came up. I had been pretty excited about this one coming out, but with all the media I consume, I had lost track of the release schedule. The good news is that it came out yesterday, and my friends that had seen it thought it was sort of a “meh, it’s okay” kind of movie. Meh? For something that makes all the promises this one does? I mean, dude, have you seen the trailer?
Man of Tomorrow, at least on the surface feels like something incredibly interesting. A story that gives the Man of Steel a fresh modern coat of paint, around a more modern looking Metrolis backdrop. The look and feel of it is intentionally very now. Sort of. But this world of Superman and Metropolis does diverge from ours in some pretty big ways, and some of them are distracting.
Questioning whether or not Clark Kent works at a newspaper, at times, feels like questioning whether fish should swim in water. It’s part of the expectation, and every time they’ve ever tried to change that element of the story, it’s gone down in flames.
So I get it. Superman has to work at the Daily Planet, which is basically the New York Times. But here, everything’s so weirdly perfect at the Planet, that it sticks out awkwardly from the framework of the story. There’s nothing wrong with the newspaper industry. Everybody’s an employee, they all show up to the office at 8am. It’s just kind of place.
And, not only is this oddly traditional media that takes up an entire skyscraper there, but they’re doing well. At least what we see of it. There are happy little newspaper employees just everywhere. If there are pressures with anything other than audience expectations, you never hear of it.
In the world of Man of Tomorrow, we’re looking at a place and time where people under the age of 60 still buy newspapers at newsstands. They push around physical copies of the paper and talk about print logistics as though those are big concerns. I understand why they made this creative decision, but it’s jarringly anachronistic.
It’s unbelievable, in that, I just having trouble believing it. This isn’t a story set in 1982. From all accounts and appearances, it’s supposed to be present, today.
But that’s not even the most unbelievable thing about this one. If you’re paying close enough attention… you’ll see that there’s something weird going on with Clark’s hair. How it just seems to magically grow when he’s wearing glasses, and then, as Superman, it’s shaved with a size 3 trimmer, leaving only the curl in front. It’s not subtle. How does that work? What are the magical properties behind Superman’s incredible hairstyle? I hope future films in this series explore the topic of Superman and his hair care in more detail.
Super hair issues aside, I found myself drawn in by the art style, which felt unique, compared to DC animated movies of the last few years. This one was more earnest and felt more organic than similar animated titles like Batman vs Robin, and Flashpoint. I don’t think I’m at all alone when I talk about how much I just hate the artistic style of some of those films.
The story features a young Clark Kent just moving to Metropolis to be an intern at a newspaper, and hopefully one day, a real reporter. You meet Lois Lane and the rest of the gang (minus a conspicuously absent Jimmy Olson) pretty quickly, along with Lobo, Martian Manhunter, Lex Luthor, and Parasite.
This incarnation of Superman gets his rapid healing factor by flying into the atmosphere and soaking up sunlight directly. That’s important to mention because it’s a plot point through the film.
As soon as the Metropolis story starts, you immediately feel like there’s a much bigger universe in play. Clark’s out being a do-gooder with his goggles, and we know that Batman exists in some early stage of his career. Lobo shows up on a bounty for some unseen entity or person that wants to get their hands on the last Kryptonian, although the reasoning behind that is never discussed. Is it enough that Lobo’s there, being all super traditionally Lobo? Yes, and I appreciated it.
Lex Luthor in this one, at least in the beginning of the film had a lot of potential. They set up what seemed to be a pretty cool take on the character. Lex is sort of like Elon Musk. Corrupt, brilliant, easily exposed for being a complete hypocrite by a young Lois Lane at a press conference. You know what it needed though? Armies of screaming middle-aged men who live and breathe every word he speaks, as though it’s some kind of gospel. This version of Lex Luthor needs a cult of personality. Probably more so than any other we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t happen, but I wish it did.
My only real critique of using Luthor this way was they didn’t speak to his motivations as much as I would have liked them to. His sudden revelation at the climax of the film about why Superman is a threat just felt rushed and half-hearted in this context, because it totally came from out of nowhere. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Lex turn on a dime like that. On the other, there wasn’t really a reason for it. It only served to put our hero in life-threatening peril, rather than build Lex as a respectable villain.
I would have liked to see it handled as they did in the Superman: Red Son adaption, where you get more of a feel for why he does what he does. Luthor from Red Son was evil but courageous, and you never once get that vibe here.
Luthor in Man of Tomorrow is brilliant, but rash, and makes big decisions without thinking things through as much I might expect him to. This Luthor is less of the chess player we’ve come to expect, and more of a very talented tic tac toe player, instead.
The problem was they gave us a lot of fantastic setup for the character but left us with someone whose presence in the film is completely negligible. You could have done the whole movie, not even knowing that he exists. I guess you could write it off as yet another detail where these characters are young and underdeveloped, but I wanted more from him.
The Parasite is a tragic and terrifying villain. You get to see his humanity, and how it gets stripped away in his quest for power. I liked how he leveled up from terminal hospital patient to street level vampire, to superman level threat, to kaiju fairly quickly. You’re there for the whole thing, and for most of the movie, he seems completely unstoppable.
Without giving too much away (I know how ya’ll are about spoilers), Superman: Man of Tomorrow gives us a rethinking of Superman’s origin story that feels both modern and fresh, with some nice twists and turns that make it an enjoyable experience.
Even though it fell short on some of the details I would have liked to see, or see more of in a film like this, it did most of what it did well, and was very engaging.
It worked for me because I’m not as tired of the beats in Superman’s origin story as I am of say, Batman, or Spider-Man. So your mileage may vary on this one. But, even still, it added a nice supporting cast of characters that worked well together.
All of that said, quality-wise, it’s a pretty good movie that’s worth watching. In my opinion, this is some of the best animated Superman we’ve seen since Superman: The Animated Series.
But is it worth watching right now at a premium? Maybe, if you’re a super fan like me that has to see this stuff right away. But, if the $20-25 asking price feels a little steep, you might want to wait until this one hits the streaming services.