Man of Tomorrow rarely deviates from the established path when it comes to chronicling Superman’s origin. Naturally, that conservative approach has its benefits and drawbacks. The movie definitely plays it too safe in terms of plot. If you’ve read any of the classic origin comics like Man of Steel or Superman: Birthright – or just watched the 1978 live-action movie – you’ll know more or less exactly what to expect from Clark’s journey. Thankfully, at least, this version doesn’t get caught up in trying to chronicle life on Krypton or even Clark’s childhood. The movie takes place almost entirely in one time period, and that streamlined approach helps avoid some of the tiresome tropes and maintain the focus needed with such a tight runtime.
The main benefit to this safe, traditional storytelling approach is that it helps establish a much different tone for both Superman himself and the wider DCU. Too many of these direct-to-video animated movies have been pointlessly grim and violent. There’s been too much emphasis on adapting the storylines and faux-edgy tone of DC’s New 52 comics and not enough on celebrating the hope and optimism at the core of these characters (not that this problem is exclusive to the animated movies). So there’s something refreshing about a Superman movie with relatively smaller stakes that’s more concerned with the man beneath the suit than the spectacle of it all.
As is so often the case with these movies, the rigid 80-minute runtime doesn’t really do the story any favors. Tim Sheridan’s screenplay captures the key character relationships well, but in most could have really benefited from an extra scene or two. That’s especially true with the Superman/Luthor dynamic, which doesn’t really start to be fleshed out until the final act. But again, the hope is that we’ll be seeing more of these particular incarnations in future DC animated movies.Apart from jump-starting a new animated universe, Man of Tomorrow is most notable for employing a fairly novel animation style. Gone is the generic house style that defined nearly all of these movies in the past. In its place is a cel-shaded style where the CG-animated characters are outlined in thick, black lines. This style doesn’t necessarily look great in still photos, but in motion it becomes clear this is a big improvement. The flat colors heavy lines give the film an appropriately comic book-y feel. And where many of these movies suffer from a strange Uncanny Valley effect whenever two-dimensional figures are juxtaposed with CG vehicles and buildings, this new approach allows the characters to fit more seamlessly into their environments.
The voice cast is also generally strong, with Quinto’s Luthor and Amadi’s Martian Manhunter being the two standouts. After so many movies of listening to Rainn Wilson’s nasally, whiny Luthor, it’s nice to hear a more well-rounded yet still arrogant rendition of the character. Criss, for his part, is adept at playing Superman as a younger, inexperienced hero who hasn’t yet gained the confidence of his various animated counterparts. Flynn is pitch-perfect as Pa Kent, though he only has a handful of scenes. Daddario is the one real disappointment, unfortunately. Her Lois often sounds listless and bored, which really doesn’t help sell the friendly rivalry that develops between Lois and Clark.