Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020)
Directed by Chris Palmer
Written by Tim Sheridan
Produced by James Krieg & Kimberly S. Moreau
Executive Producer Sam Register
PG-13, 1h 26min
It’s one of those things that I guess has to happen every now and again: the re-telling of a story. In this case, an animated movie that essentially remakes a two-part episode of the series from 1996. Like with so many other stories these days, Hollywood decides to remake instead of create something new.
There technically isn’t a Superman yet as we enter this tale. At its core, this is a proto-Superman story. Clark is still galloping around Metropolis in the bomber outfit, a riff on John Byrne’s version featured in the first issue of the post-Crisis reboot. Clark is an intern, while Lois is a grad student. Neither of them are fully-formed, although Lois is as sure of herself as always and not above her usual shenanigans when it comes to getting a story. We also get a reversal with Ron Troupe being an established vet at the Daily Planet because….reasons?
It’s not until Clark encounters Lobo that he learns of his Kryptonian heritage, as the space-faring bounty hunter is here to collect “the last Kryptonian” for a fee. And it’s not until Clark connects with J’onn J’onzz that he’s able to unlock a Kryptonian artifact to give him access to his history. Both of these story beats are a little annoying, as they render Superman an observer in his own story. He has no agency. For the most part, Clark is just reacting to the situation around him instead of choosing his path. He’s bouncing back and forth like a pinball and only occasionally coming up for air.
Introducing Parasite into the mix only serves to muddy the waters even more, as this particular version of the villain begins life as a LexCorp maintenance worker, Rudy Jones. While his origin is essentially the same, the efforts to make him a tragic figure end up halting the climactic action with the abrupt force of the needle scratching across the record. Just as things heat up to fever pitch, hold on lemme speechify, sez Superman. It’s a scene that is shoehorned in and so out of place that it destroys the flow of the story to the point that I didn’t care how it ends. Given Parasite’s origin, it ends in a painfully predictable fashion.
Zachary Quinto’s Lex Luthor is lifeless and tone deaf. Darren Criss does a creditable job as Clark, and Alexandra Daddario is an effective (very) young Lois. The rest of the cast is fine. No big standout performances. And Ryan Hurst’s Lobo has enough four-letter words in his lines to satisfy the PG-13 requirements. Yay.
Also: when did it need to be a thing to have nudity in these animated pictures? Did that start with James Tucker? What purpose does it serve? Who felt that it was necessary?
While there are some enjoyable moments, ultimately Superman: Man of Tomorrow is an “almost” story. Clark is almost Superman. Lex Luthor is almost a villain. Parasite is almost a monster. And it’s almost a decent flick. But if you want something better, go back to the two-part “The Man Main” episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, which are conveniently included on the disc so you can see an earlier version of what this story almost tried to re-tell.