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Superman: Man of Tomorrow

"Superman: Man of Tomorrow" follows a young Clark Kent as he works at the Daily Planet as an intern amid his early adventures as a costumed hero. Clark's journey of identity is accelerated by the sudden arrival of Lobo, an intergalactic bounty hunter, who seeks to claim a Kryptonian for a big pay day. The ramifications of their battle forces a hero in hiding to reveal himself to the world, Martian Manhunter, creates an unstoppable life and energy consuming creature called Parasite, and exposes him to the machinations of Lex Luthor. Ultimately, Clark embraces being Superman and decides to tell the world his story his way.

Screenwriter Tim Sheridan is no stranger to Superman having previously penned him in movies and television. But this time, he wrote more for a young Clark Kent rather than an already actualized super hero. From the beginning, the flag is planted about this movie being about character. It opens on Clark's deepest, darkest vulnerability about being an alien, an outsider. Also opposed to doing a traditional Superman origin story starting with a doomed Krypton and a couple finding a baby in a corn field, skipping to Metropolis, and ending triumphant against the villain, Man of Tomorrow is essentially just Act 2. The crux is really Clark Kent trying to figure out how to best help people without revealing his origins yet still upholding the tenants of truth and justice. And along the way, the familiar journey of Clark coming to accept he is an immigrant from another world and how much will Earth accept that and how much it won't. Yet, the movie does isn't some kind of a political allegory about immigration and xenophobia but something universally understood, a young adult trying to find his way in the world. Jonathan and Martha Kent serve as arguments for both sides as Clark grapples with what to do. And in addition, he's informed through encounters with individuals who are also the last of their kind. Lobo, a man of the present, who has lost all inhibition and sense of order. Martian Manhunter, a man of the past, who has seen the worst of the world but still seeks to do the right thing with like minded allies. Lois Lane, even, quickly becomes an outsider at the Daily Planet. A hot shot grad student with a scholarship doesn't start out too popular with the staff.

Lois Lane was probably my favorite character in the movie. Often portrayed as Superman's romantic interest and foil (and I'm not saying there was anything wrong with that), Man of Tomorrow also puts a new spin on Lois. There is no love story and she's barely a damsel in distress for a minute. Instead, in a rather brilliant move, her decision to stand up to Lex Luthor at a press conference and out him for fraud against the federal government is an act of bravery that inspires Clark. In another interesting move, instead of being a career reporter at the Daily Planet, Lois is introduced as a grad student with a Lexcorp scholarship brought onto the staff – much to the chagrin of all the reporters. And she's instantly, the new kid is the outsider. It was also amusing she had no problem kicking open her co-worker's apartment door if it meant she had a shot at a story. While skeevy on the surface, it was played for laughs as her insistence on teaming up on a byline goes over Clark's head as he contemplates going to Luthor for help. Played rather subtly, at first, it seemed pretty odd that for a modern take on Superman – there was still a traditional newspaper agency at work and print newspapers being waved around. But in the end, Lois is the one to take the anachronistic agency into the modern age by taking Ron Troupe with her to the highway overlooking the power plant and live streaming her report. But ultimately this was a Clark story and I was left wanting more Lois. I'd watch a whole spin off movie with her as the star.

Lex Luthor retains a lot of what we've come to know as quintessential Luthor. A genius. Duplicitous. But in the context of this movie, his reaction to aliens and monsters isn't to work for the common good but to find the means to enslave them for his own benefit and exploitation. And again like with Clark, this could be viewed in the lens of political commentary but I think the intent was to corporealize and show Clark what the real world is capable of doing to an idealist. Imagine a young man like Clark out in the world on his own, full of dreams and hopes, then comes the soul crushing reality represented by Lex. Can Clark hold onto hope or will be lose his way like Lex or Lobo? While Luthor turning on Superman at the end for his own benefit is a callback to when Lois outs him for twisting a government contract to his greater benefit, I was left wishing Luthor had more screen time. There were moments of brilliance like Luthor professes, he is at his best in his lab and it shows when he runs an analysis and deduces Parasite's origins yet in both instances, his rather quick comeuppances are a result of inexperience and nothing like the supervillain we've come to know and fear.

And then there's Rudy Jones, a military veteran who came home to a meager janitorial job that probably barely pays the bills and keeps a roof over his growing family's heads. Things can't be any worse than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. As Jones slowly loses his humanity and mutates into the Parasite, he can't even see his family anymore without frightening them. The rest of Metropolis doesn't understand his plight either and meets him with fear and hatred, not totally the wrong reaction considering all the hollowed out husks left in his wake. In your standard fare ending, Superman would figure out the solution, take down the super villain, and fly off with Lois Lane in his arms. Here? Nope. In an unexpected twist, Superman actually fails in his movie. But what's really intriguing and left to the viewer to decide: did Parasite, clinging onto the image of his wife and daughter, make the ultimate sacrifice and "jump on the grenade" to save the city or was he completely bestial and seeking out the nuclear energy of the power plant to feed on like a moth to flame?

The back to basics approach to Superman's beginnings but with a new spin felt like a breath of fresh air but don't get me wrong, it was a bittersweet end to the continuity of movies overseen by James Tucker but the anticipation was high on what Butch Lukic's vision would and how the first movie he produced for the line would turn out. On one hand, as a stand alone story that reinvents the wheel on a character that is often pigeon-holed as too hard to make for a modern audience. On the other hand, a potential for a sequel is there and I certainly wouldn't object to it. We still have to find out who put that bounty on Clark after all or find out if Lobo was telling the truth about seeing other Martians. Or I suppose explore more of the pyramidal device, perhaps build a certain famous fortress? And I suppose introduce Superman's #1 Pal, Jimmy Olsen who was notably absent in this movie. Additionally, Lukic decided to do something different from the anime influences of Phil Bourassa's character design and going with thick lines, more comic book-esque, and European influences by Otto Schmidt and assists from Jon Suzuki and Dusty Abell to translate the look to animation. I also wouldn't mind seeing more of this style and influence in Lukic's upcoming movies, not necessarily in a new continuity but different variations of it in more stand alone stories.

Wes Gleason worked his magic and crafted a small yet stellar cast. Superman is voiced by Darren Criss, Zachary Quinto voices Lex Luthor, and Alexandra Daddario voices Lois Lane. I admit I never for a second ever thought of those three, but they really sold me on these younger versions of the Superman mythos triumvirate. Ryan Hurst turns in bonafide Lobo. Brett Dalton is well versed in being a villain you hate to love from his work on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and does a tragic take on Rudy Jones/Parasite. Ike Amadi voices a world weary yet still hopeful Martian Manhunter. Neil Flynn and Bellamy Young voice Jonathan and Martha Kent from both eras seen in the movie. After seeing the trailer, I was thinking of an American animation studio worked on this movie like Radical Axis or Floyd County who do animation for "Archer" or maybe even a European studio. I was shocked to learn it was The Answer Studio in Japan (and a Korean outfit called Studio Grida) who did work on several of the James Tucker-Phil Bourassa era movies. Major props to them for pulling off this new look.

Some of the elements that makes Man of Tomorrow a good indie film will unfortunately work against it when it comes to general audiences who are slavish to the 3 act structure, plot driven stories and just want to be told exactly what's happening. The bigger focus on Clark Kent and greater shift to character-character discussions and less on Superman and summer tent pole action may confuse people and call it a pacing issue. The lesser preoccupation with plot will also throw people as well, probably no better exemplified by Parasite showing up in the finale as a giant kaiju monster without any explanation or shock from the rest of the main cast. But if you read America Alien beforehand, you'd basically understand. Or something as minute as Lobo's departure could be confusing. A lot more people would prefer Lobo to have said something like he's lost interest in the bounty on Clark and heard there's bigger fish to fry elsewhere in the galaxy. Ultimately, the open ended nature of some aspects of the movie and leaving it up to the audience to figure it out is a double edged sword. In addition, I'm also looking at the recent animated movies through the lens of if every movie should really be 86 minutes or there are some movies that are better served in the 74 minute range that some of the older movies in the DC Universe line were shackled to. We've been grousing for years about how 74 minutes is too short but having seen several movies in the 80 plus run time has made me wonder if shaving 10 minutes could have been beneficial to how well a movie does. Sometimes more isn't better. It's very odd but on first watch, I thought this needed to be a 74 minute movie but upon further watches, I wanted this to be longer so there could be more room for characters like Lois and Lex. And I would have been totally down for a montage of Martha Kent using her band saw to make Clark's cape.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment offers "Superman: Man of Tomorrow" as a 4K Blu-ray combo and Blu-ray/DVD combo. Target will have the exclusive Steelbook edition and Best Buy has an exclusive combo set with a Parasite figure. It will be on the DC Universe streaming service in 90 or 91 days, so around December. The featurette "Lobo: Natural Force of Chaos," is 10:23 in length and gives a brief overview of Lobo in comics, television and animation from his Omega Men debut to his more modern incarnations like from New 52, Superman: The Animated Series, and Krypton. Likewise, "Martian Manhunter: Lost and Found" is a 8:47 overview of J'onn J'onzz in comics, animation, and television with spotlights on New Frontier, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, and Supergirl. Both are really for the uninitiated and nothing earth shattering for the standard DC fan. Oddly missing are segments for Superman and Parasite. It also would have been nice to have producers Butch Lukic and Jim Krieg and director Chris Palmer have a bigger presence. The DC Vault chose to focus only on classic Lobo with both parts of "The Main Man" from Superman: The Animated Series. The trailers that play before the menu screen are Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons The Movie and LEGO Shazam! Magic and Monsters. The trailers accessible from the menu are Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge, and Superman: Red Son. Unfortunately, there was no commentary track with this release but at the time of the digital and physical releases were virtual convention panels hosted by IGN and DC FanDome and so far at least one Twitter watch party with writer Tim Sheridan.

"Superman: Man of Tomorrow" is a new take on Clark Kent's beginnings as Superman and a fresh spin on the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line. Man of Tomorrow centers on Clark Kent grappling with coming into his own as a hero and how to come out to a fearful world as an alien immigrant all the while he encounters other outsiders who inform his journey into becoming Superman. A coming of age tale many can empathize with, "Superman: Man of Tomorrow" is a highly recommended purchase.

Rating
Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5