Eighty-two years have passed since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and although the character’s origin story was conceived from the very beginning, it is a story that has been retold time and time again in comics and other media. Nowadays, the general consensus towards origin stories is that we’re pretty sick of them. (Think of the amount of times we’ve seen Bruce Wayne’s parents and Uncle Ben being gunned down.) And yet, though the beginning of the original American superhero has gone through multiple interpretations, whether good or bad, they are always interesting and worth exploring.
Following Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which concluded the DC Animated Movie Universe, this new version of the Man of Steel’s origin story is the start of a rebooted shared universe featuring the DC characters. From an early age, Clark Kent (voiced by Darren Criss) has been wrestling with his identity, knowing that he is from another planet. Working as an intern for the Daily Planet at Metropolis, a number of threats such as the alien bounty hunter Lobo (Ryan Hust) and a janitor (Brett Dalton) that gets turned into a purple parasitic monster will shake things up, causing Clark to reveal his alien side as Superman.
Considering the divisive nature towards Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which took a bold and controversial approach to the Superman mythos, you can see Man of Tomorrow as a counterbalance to said film. It’s not attempting to be an epic alien invasion movie, but as a small-scale superhero narrative that is about self-discovery and alien acceptance.
In terms of comic book influences, this film takes cues from the 2015 miniseries Superman: American Alien, which took a left-field approach to Clark’s early years, such as the inclusion of Lobo. I may not have a problem with the character himself – the Blu-ray special features include the two-part episode “The Main Man” from Superman: The Animated Series – but his participation in Superman’s origin story is odd and his macho persona can be too much.
Whatever new elements the filmmakers apply to an overly familiar story, Man of Tomorrow is at odds with what it wants to be. You go get the usual cast that you associate with Superman such as Lex Luthor and Lois Lane (though they both get short-changed), but with the decision to include Martian Manhunter and the lack of exploration towards Krypton, it somewhat creates a conflict with old and new. What is essentially a first contact story, the central message the film conveys is self-acceptance as well as the acceptance from others. This is ultimately anchored by Darren Criss’s vocal performance, which depicts our hero as inexperienced and uncertain, but slowly that confidence develops throughout.
Ever since Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the majority of the DC Animated movies have stuck with the same animation style, with an emphasis on graphic violence, which feels like they’re doing it for the sake of edginess. With a lighter color palette, the animation is a cel-shaded style where the CG-animated characters are outlined in thick, black lines. As this is the first film to experiment with this type of animation, which may look great, but the action sequences leave a lot of to be desired.