The introduction of Superman to the people of the world is given a new telling in the latest in the on-going line of DC Universe Animated Original movies. You might be thinking that we hardly need another version of the origins of Superman. While there are certainly familiar beats on display in Superman: Man of Tomorrow, this is an origins tale that offers something a little different to the telling of Clark Kent becoming Superman.
Clark Kent (Darren Criss) has just moved from Smallville to the city of Metropolis to begin an internship as a reporter for The Daily Planet. All the while, he is starting to come to terms with his powers and consider how he can be of service to the world. Matters are complicated however when he discovers he's not the only alien on the planet, with the arrival of intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo (Ryan Hurst). His target: the last son of Krypton.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow is very much about Clark finding his feet and deciding what kind of hero he wants to be. He starts out without the suit, without his fortress of solitude, and only a hood and a pair of goggles hiding his identity. He's working things out, and the arrival of Lobo (and an encounter with a certain Martian Manhunter) leaves him questioning his place in the universe even more. But it also demonstrates to him how much the human race needs him. It's a more crowded Superman: Year One story than some may be used to, but it allows some fan favourite characters to come to the fore, with the characterisations of both Lobo and Martian Manhunter proving to be very faithful.
Elsewhere, things are both familiar and a little different, in ways that can be quite refreshing. Lois Lane and Lex Luthor are present and correct and fit into an idea of what you expect from them. Lois (voiced by Alexandra Daddario) is very driven and out to succeed, while Luthor (voiced by Zachery Quinto) is a scheming yet charming billionaire. But this is also a Superman origin tale with a few tweaks. For one, it doesn't kill off Johnathan Kent, or Martha for that matter. Clark's family life is intact and he can rely on both of his Earth parents for advice (and some new threads). This Superman has a bit of conflict to him, but never feels as though he's ever much beyond the squeaky clean ‘truth, justice and American way' boy scout mold, but the changes in the details around ensure this origins story has a little something different to contribute to Superman's sprawling mythology.
Where this slightly falters is in a narrative that is a little over-stuffed, with Superman also having to face a Parasitic being alongside Lobo, all the while figuring out his own issues in regards to being an alien from another world. There's some nice thematic expression surrounding the idea of the other, but it is nothing that other Superman stories haven't done before, and in more sophisticated ways. There's also a slight distancing caused by the occasionally jarring animation. While there's a surprising edge to the violence on display here, the animation style (which is something of a cross between Bruce Timm's 90's animated series and FX's Archer) can be a little awkward when it comes to the pacing of action scenes. The dialogue can also often feel a little stilted, despite the talented voice cast, which when paired with the animation can often leave you feeling a bit detached.
As a Superman story, Man of Tomorrow offers some refreshing changes to the norm, all the while mixing in faithful characterisations of fan favourite characters. It's nothing groundbreaking, and the animation can leave you a little wanting, but it's a fun adventure for the boy in blue that creates a whirlwind of chaos around an important coming of age moment for the famous superhero. It is bound to please fans of DC, and particularly those fans who enjoy the variety that these original animated movies do often deliver.
Dir: Chris Palmer
Scr: Tim Sheridan, based on characters from DC comics
Music: Kevin Riepl
Run time: 86 minutes
Superman: Man of Tomorrow is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from September 7th 2020.