Monday, September 7, 2020

Super Watch: Superman - Man of Tomorrow (2020)

Watched:  09/07/2020
Format:  Blu-Ray
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Chris Palmer

The best thing about a movie shouldn't be the trailer for an upcoming Batman Kung-Fu movie that happens to be on the disc you're watching.  

Look, Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020) isn't bad.  It just isn't "good", either.  I suspect the mission statement for the film was "what if we do an analogy for immigration and otherness?" and things just spun wildly out of control.  The movie suffers from there being too little of everything because the filmmakers decided to shove so much into the film.  This is supposed to be a Superman origin story (and every Superman film could be someone's first, especially an origin story), but it's treated very much as a "welcome to the DCU" movie instead - and seems to assume the viewer already knows all the locations, characters and beats rather than setting the table for a new take or series of movies that could have explored these same ideas more depth.

Instead, we get a few minutes of Smallville, Lobo shows up to collect a bounty (sent by who and why? - no one asks and we never find out), Martian Manhunter is there.  We get a *smidge* of Clark learning about Krypton and his birth parents.  The Daily Planet is certainly there, but it's reduced to Perry and Ron Troupe and references to better movies.  This version of Lex leans heavily on S:TAS, but with no polish and no motivation.  And our big bad is The Parasite, who gets turned eventually into Godzilla 1998.  

There's a general fear of aliens because: holy shit, there's aliens!  Plus: these capricious god-like beings are using a place where people live as a boxing ring.  So - yes, the fears actually seem pretty well founded.  

Lois is sort of all over the place - she's a grad student here and Clark is maybe an undergraduate?  It's not clear.  He's an intern.  Which means something in the world, but not in this movie.  But it's a strange take on Lois - at first I thought they were using her to take Lex out as the big bad early on so we could refocus and they'd show the power of the press, etc...  but she never quite feels like Lois after that.  

The design of the movie has received good notices, and I'll echo that the character animation is solid.  It has a serious case of Bruce Timm envy and just straight up rips-off Superman: The Animated Series for the design of the city of Metropolis, but the character design and animation is better than it's been at DC Animation since the end of the Timm era.  There are some neat shots in action sequences of characters in motion in ways I'm not sure I'd seen before, and they manage to give every character a unique look.

But, man, the pacing on this movie is weird.  It feels like they left a full beat between every line of dialog, and the initial Lobo v. Clark fight goes on waaaaaay too long.  While items like Clark learning about his Kryptonian heritage via J'onn goes by way too fast and feels like deus ex machina rather than self-discovery, robbing it of impact.  

Even the final speechifying scene is just... bad.  Superman's big reveal to the world that he's an alien just isn't earned by the story, and the impact of that reveal seems... non-existent.  That should have been the final note on the scene, but instead we have a reactor that has gone previously unmentioned which is suddenly going critical for some reason?  

In a way, it feels like a demo reel for what a new approach might be at DC Animation.  But even at that - I'm just not into their insistence of getting that PG-13 rating by having characters use a swear or demonstrate behavior that would get them taken to DCU HR.  

DC's WB Animation has so much potential.  This is a mostly gorgeous film (you can have your Godzilla Parasite design), but they need to get it together in the story department, and absolutely need to study Justice League Unlimited for how voice acting/ editing works.  I have suspicions this movie may have had issues in post as they tried to edit a story together, but this movie isn't a patch on the first three episodes of S:TAS.  It's been decades - I would expect the constant stream of talent passing through to learn and build on what came before.  Improving and updating animation techniques is great, but if you're selling a movie as PG-13, you better up your game when it comes to aiming your story at an older audience (especially if you're assuming that audience already knows their Superman origin stories).  

And work on your Lois.  You have a great design, now make a character that's unforgettable.

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