Man of Steel (2013)

man-of-steel-kevin-costner-1.jpg

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams & Michael Shannon

Review Author: Shaun

In the wake of the release for DCs Justice League, I thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at the film which kicked it off. The first film in DC’s live-action cinematic universe sees’s the long-awaited reboot story of the world’s most recognisable superhero. After the success of the Dark Knight Trilogy, WB and Nolan wanted to bring the son of Krypton back to the silver screen and with Watchman’s & 300 director, Zack Snyder, taking the helm. The film revisits Superman’s origin, but unlike Batman Begins it’s not quite as slavish to justify every single aspect of the character’s mythology, at a certain point you just accept the fact that this is an alien on Earth and you run with it.

Yes, it’s quite clearly a superhero movie but Man of Steel comes across a lot like a science fiction drama about an alien trying to find his place in our world and dealing with humanity’s reaction to his existence. This is an aspect I like due to the fact Snyder takes some of Nolan’s real-world Dark Knight elements and asks the question “What would the world do if they found out Aliens lived among us?”. More than any other Superman film since the original 70s film, Man of Steel reminds us that Superman isn’t human. The centerpiece of the story focuses on Clark yearning to be one of us, but instead, he will learn that he has a special place in our world. He’s forced to choose between his adopted world or his homeworld when the film’s villain General Zod and his Kryptonian minions come to Earth looking for him.

Cavill does a decent job as Superman, but we don’t really get a true emotional attachment to the adult Clark Kent until he meets Lois Lane. The flashbacks to Clark’s youth inform us of his journey thus far and give us a sense of his inner demons. Otherwise, Clark is, as Lois describes him at different points, like a ghost or a cipher. The film uses nonlinear flashbacks to show us, Clark, discovering his powers and abilities. To me, this is a great change from the original story and show us the viewer the struggle of Clark finding this powers with the strain they have on a young child and towards his teenage years.

One of my favourite scenes sees a teenage Clark on a bus trip with his other classmates. I will not spoil the scene but to me, it is truly powerful and one of Snyder’s best shot. The scene highlights Snyder’s visual ability and with Zimmer’s score, ties it perfectly together. The aftermath brings into question the morals of Clark and has him questioning himself whether to hide or uses his ability’s to help people. (With all the shit Snyder gets this is one of those examples you can’t argue that he is one of the best visual directors out there today even if his storytelling ability stumbles).

Superman’s moral compass is carved by his two fathers, Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. Crowe and Costner are real standouts in this stellar ensemble. Both men loom large whenever they’re not on screen, and their impact on Clark’s life is deeply felt. (Jor-El’s no Brando! as Crowe’s in the movie at least 45 minutes). Saying that: one of my major complaints is the change to Papa Kents faith. In most telling’s of the story, Papa Kent usually falls victim to a Heart attack – with this Snyder has changed Daddy Kent’s faith to a very easily resolved situation but asks Clark not to uses his powers to save him. To me, this change loses a great message from the original – in that with all of Superman’s powers and abilities he cannot save the ones he loves the most, simple human conditions. This is also foreshadowed when Superman meets Lois on the rooftop in the 70’s telling. (the first thing he checks before even speaking as if she has suffered any lung damage from smoking).

Adams is solid as Lois Lane, but this is not a Lois and Clark story. This is a story about Clark finding his place in the world. For those expecting a lot of heat between this famous comic book couple, you might be slightly disappointed. However, by the end, you’ll see how their relationship can definitely be taken farther and in more interesting directions in future films.

Shannon is suitably creepy and imposing as Zod, but Antje Traue’s merciless Faora is the real surprise amongst the villains. You definitely understand what drives Zod; he’s a zealot and a career warrior and Faora is his unquestioning disciple. This film establishes more of a backstory between Zod and Jor-El, which lends some additional dimension to Zod that even the great Terence Stamp’s incarnation didn’t possess. Zod’s motivations and actions are perfect outlined – he is a warrior created from birth to think like a warrior and to protect his people’s bloodlines at all cost even if some of these ways appear evil, he doesn’t know the reference (Kind of like Mr. Freeze).

My biggest gripe with Man of Steel is that Cavill’s Superman is so serious. Bale’s Batman had more of a sense of humour. I wanted to see a bit more levity from the character, more moments like “It’s not an ‘S'” if only because it helps humanize Kal-El and that’s ultimately his quest. You see a glimpse of a smile when flying for the first time (if anyone just found out they could fly they wouldn’t be just smiling). But with that said – Russell Crowe picks up were Cavill failed and really steals the movie. His Fights around the universe scenes in the opening scene are great and his Brando inspired speech to Clark is quite wonderful.

The film’s action is often relentless, especially during the latter half when we finally see Superman throw down against the super-villains. The action and carnage is arguably more epic than what The Avengers offered, particularly during the attack on Metropolis. Man of Steel has a clever way of making the alien hero and villains vulnerable in light of the distinct lack of Kryptonite, and we get the impression this is a Superman who can’t just do anything (like, say, turn back time by reversing Earth’s orbit). Man of Steel does a good job of justifying the character’s existing lore without ever over-explaining or disavowing it.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I really enjoyed Man of Steel. I think it’s a strong reboot and believed it was a good stepping stone in the DC universe, this with the sweet ties to a bigger DC world (Wayne / Lex logos and the Carol Ferris cameo) that had me very excited about a sequel, how wrong I was! Luckily this year’s Wonder Woman has brought some much-needed momentum in the DCEU and I’m excited to see what Cavill can bring to a newly revived Superman.

One response to “Man of Steel (2013)

  1. Totally agree about Shannon and Antje Traue stealing the show, although I didn’t feel the movie needed the sub-plot detail of them being bred to be warriors. (I’m not a big comics reader, so maybe this is more important to the deeper story than I realize – I don’t think every bad guy needs some explanation for what he does, and Zod is scarier as a zealot rather than someone bred to be a zealot.)
    I didn’t have as much of a problem with Pa Kent’s death, but I feel that the movie never really developed Superman’s reluctance to be super enough to justify such an off-putting choice. Patrick (H) Willems has a good video essay on why the first half of the movie essentially undercuts the theme it was trying to develop:
    https://news.avclub.com/the-dc-films-don-t-have-a-tone-problem-they-have-a-char-1798257393

    Liked by 1 person

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