Here is one of the times I will be going into spoilerish details for a movie. I can’t really go into what I didn’t like about it without dealing with the ending. So there’s your warning, if you haven’t seen Man of Steel, stop reading now.
I have never been a huge fan of Superman to begin with. I found him to be far too powerful and basically unbeatable. Unless you happened to have a green rock, and then anyone can beat him. I find Superman to be one dimensional and boring. He doesn’t have the hard edge that other more appealing characters like Batman or Wolverine have. He is a goody-goody boy scout. Regardless of my feelings about Superman, he is front and centre in DC’s movie plans. This Superman origin story was meant to be a launching pad for an entire movie universe similar to what Marvel have achieved with their Avengers. It is far too early to say if their endeavor will reap rewards, but it definitely got off to a rocky start with this first instalment, which received mixed reviews, and generally under performed at the box office. The entire DC movie universe is a story for another day though, we are here to talk about Man of Steel.
This reboot of Superman (Henry Cavill) is visually spectacular. I expect nothing less from director Zack Snyder, who is generally more style than substance (I’m looking at you Sucker Punch). The film does spend far too much time on Krypton. I feel like that side of the story could have been told much quicker. It feels like the movie is trying to get as much out of Russell Crowe’s name than anything, who appears as Superman’s dad, Jor-El. I would have preferred if more time was spent on Michael Shannon’s General Zod character. He is, along with Cavill, the highlight of the film.
So long story short, Krypton is dying, and Jor-El sends his only son to Earth where he will grow up to become the man of steel. While this is all going on, Zod is attempting a coup, is subsequently arrested, and sent into Krypton’s galactic prison, the Phantom Zone. Now we all know what happens next, Supes is found by a pair of barren Kansas farmers (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who raise him as their own son, Clark Kent. Pa Kent warns his son against using his powers in public, claiming that the world would fear and potentially take advantage of him. As an adult, Clark is dealing with wanting to do the right thing, but remaining hidden from sight. Eventually his hand is forced when Zod breaks out of the Phantom Zone and comes to Earth hoping to terraform it for the remaining citizens of Krypton. Clark realises he is Earth’s only hope and must reveal himself in order to save the planet.
I hated this movie when it was first released. Mostly due to the ending. I didn’t understand how Superman could kill Zod, even if it was his only option. Every incarnation I have seen of Superman– whether it be in the comics or on film– he has never been about murdering people. On future viewings though, I realised that this is a raw Superman just starting on his journey. He hasn’t developed his boy scout persona yet. I am hoping that the follow up films deal with his decision to murder Zod, and Superman’s guilt for doing so.
On the whole, this is a solid first entry. It is able to introduce Superman to a whole new generation of movie goers, something the Bryan Singer directed Superman Returns failed to do in 2006. Henry Cavill is nearly perfect as Superman. He looks the part, and I am excited to see how he portrays dorky reporter Clark Kent in future films, as we only really get a peek of his life at the Daily Planet and his burgeoning romance with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Michael Shannon and Kevin Costner give terrific performances in this film also. I particularly loved Costner. He has always impressed me in his films, and you really felt Jonathon Kent’s wariness about his son’s powers. There is a line just after Clark, as a teenager, has saved a bus full of school kids. Clark asks his dad if he should have just let those people die. Kent’s response: ‘Maybe’. It captured so well what Pa Kent was going through. It is one of Costner’s best performances in my opinion.
I am excited to see where DC take this. I think Ben Affleck will own the role of Batman, and I can’t wait to see him go toe to toe with Cavill’s Superman.
There is so much about this movie that makes me want to like it. As far as Superman films go, Man of Steel improves upon one of the least exciting superheroes in many ways. But in evolving the character, Zach Snyder’s vision of the Last Son of Krypton somehow loses the spirit of the original. This is not your grandparents’ Superman– this is Kal-El shaped by Christopher Nolan’s Batman.
Man of Steel is a grittier, darker Superman. I am on the fence whether I’m a fan or not. On the one hand, it gives the movie a more realistic look. It finally feels like Smallville and Metropolis are real US cities instead of fictional locales, that Superman exists in our world and not a parallel one that only feels familiar (one reason I prefer the Marvel Universe to DC’s). But in bringing this reality to the franchise you lose much of the spark that makes a superhero movie fun to watch.
When Nolan introduced gritty realism to the Batman franchise it made sense. Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder. The fact that he later becomes a violent vigilante who embraces the dark fits his backstory. Superman’s entire raison d’être is to bring hope to Earth. I want color and light and joy. Man of Steel has so little of this. I suppose one could argue that since this is the beginning of Superman, the light and hope are yet to come. Based on the trailers for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman this may be true, but I wanted more of it now.
My biggest issue with Man of Steel is the climactic fight between Superman and his nemesis, General Zod. One of Superman’s defining characteristics is that he doesn’t kill anyone, and yet this is completely thrown out the window. Superman kills Zod in order to save a family in peril. He’s obviously distressed at killing the only other remaining Kryptonian, but what’s so special about this family? Prior to this, Zod has already murdered hundreds of thousands of humans trying to terraform the planet. Why not kill him sooner? Why allow him to continue destroying the city and put more lives at risk? If you’re going to counter decades of comic canon, at least make it logical.
But this movie isn’t all bad. There are many great things that give me hope for Batman vs. Superman (beyond finally getting a Wonder Woman movie). Henry Cavill is great as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. It seems sacrilegious that so many American superhero icons are being played by foreigners, but Cavill is near perfect in this role. The only person better cast is Michael Shannon as the evil General Zod. Shannon could probably play anything (which will be put the test in Elvis & Nixon), but he’s especially adept at villains and/or morally ambiguous characters.
There are also small visual cues that hint at Superman’s greater vision of hope and redemption that I enjoyed. The Clark Kent-to-Superman character arc echoes the Christ story, and Man of Steel includes religious symbolism that hints at this. Some are more overt, like seeing a stain glass image of Jesus behind Clark in a church, but many are more subtle, such as placing the character in a crucifixion pose. I hope this continues in future Superman films. A Cracked article last year pointed out that in a world where superheroes exist, what role would religion play? Superman seems the perfect character to explore this idea.