Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
The last time that someone in a Superman suit graced the silver screen was Superman Returns in 2006. Bryan Singer’s film was loving send-up and sequel to the classic Richard Donner version of Superman. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t as financially successful as the studios thought it would be, and development on the sequel stalled. Eventually, Warner Bros. decided to take the same route they’d taken with Batman Begins, and start from scratch. To do this, they brought back David Goyer to write the script and Christopher Nolan to act as a producer for the film. Comic book-film veteran Zack Snyder to direct the film. Fans have been waiting with baited breath ever since the first trailer debuted, and the anticipation has been mounting for months upon months. It’s safe to say that Man of Steel is like no Superman story we’ve ever seen before.
Man of Steel is a very fresh take on the classic mythology with some very large twists, but the basic story remains the same. The infant Kal-El is sent to Earth by his father Jor-El (Russel Crowe) shortly before their home planet Krypton explodes. Upon Kal-El’s arrival on Earth, he is found by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane). The Kents adopt the infant Kal-El, and name him Clark. Then the differences reveal themselves. Jonathan Kent doesn’t want Clark to use his powers in public, because he’s certain that if the world would reject Clark if they knew he was an alien.
After the death of his adopted father, the adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) spends some time living as a drifter in the Pacific Northwest. Clark later discovers an ancient Kryptonian ship in the northern ice, and he learns the history of his home planet from an AI hologram of Jor-El. Among other things, Jor-El tells his son of the dangerous General Zod (Michael Shannon) who led an uprising on Krypton shortly before it exploded.
Before Clark takes the Kryptonian ship with him, he meets and saves Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who is there to investigate the ship for The Daily Planet. Lois is fixated with her super-powered rescuer, and works her way back through his trail to find out more about him. Clark never stayed anywhere too long, but he left a trail of small legends behind in his wake.
Eventually, Earth is visited by another group of Kryptonians. General Zod and his followers have escaped and tracked Kal-El to Earth. Zod knows that Jor-El gave his son the technology necessary to rebuild the Kryptonian race on Earth, and he wants to use it to recreate Krypton. However, Zod and Superman have some very different ideas on how to interact with humanity, and this is where their conflict begins.
One of the best aspects of Man of Steel is the fact that Superman really gets to throw down. His powers are all on full display and he gets to fight a few of the other Kryptonians, not just Zod. The fight scenes do require a lot of explosions and CGI, and it becomes clear that this kind of true superhuman throwdown could only have been done in the modern era. Thankfully, these fights are much more difficult and not so one-sided than people would have expected. Superman may have more experience with his powers on Earth, but he’s fighting trained warriors with decades more experience than him. Not to mention the fact that Snyder and Goyer have given Superman weaknesses beyond mere kryptonite.
Perhaps the most dominant theme of the film is the conflict between home and heritage. Since Superman is a man of two worlds, it’s only natural that these two worlds would come into conflict, and he’d have to chose one over the other. The choice isn’t exactly black and white either. This was a very logical choice to explore in the first film. It is very reminiscent of how Goyer and Nolan explored the impact of Batman’s debut in Batman Begins, and the theme of escalation in The Dark Knight. Considering how the movie ended, I think it’s very likely that the next Superman film will focus on the theme of alienation and integrating with the people of Earth.
The film does have its flaws. Though David Goyer has provided a great deal to the comic book movie genre, I do feel that he only produces decent scripts at his best instead of stellar ones. This script does contain some excellent twists on the mythology, and a good sense of its lead character, but there are some issues with narrative. The early moments on Krypton in particular are not quite as engaging as they should be. One of the most commonly cited flaws of Batman Begins was that it felt too much like a normal comic book. In this film, it feels like its not enough like a good comic book. You will get moments of joy seeing Superman back in action, but not as many as you should.
Cinematography is also not very well-established. There are plenty of truly impressive shots, but there are far too many shaky ones that don’t feel very natural where they’re used. When the camera work ruins some otherwise good moments, the viewer will feel righteously annoyed by the unnecessary distraction. I also disliked the strange filter that was used. It seemed to be much too dark in some shots, robbing the sense of color that they should have had. It felt far too reminiscent of Snyder’s 300 in that regard.
Most of the lead cast is very capable in the roles they’ve been given, although many of them don’t feel fully realized. In fact, there may be less than five three-dimensional characters in the whole film. The rest are just given a small set of scenes in order to make us care about them. Amy Adams does her best to bring Lois to life, but she really isn’t given too much interesting stuff to do, and she’s one of the characters that doesn’t feel fully realized. Even talented actors like Laurence Fishburne will have difficulty establishing themselves when you give them less than thirty lines or six scenes to do it in.
However, the characters that we do get to know, we become acquainted with intimately. Shannon’s depiction of Zod is more than just an megalomaniacal ruler like Terrence Stamp’s in Superman II, and he actually has some sympathetic attributes to his character. By far the most intriguing actor in the film is Cavill, who is simply the best Superman/Clark Kent since Christopher Reeves. His Clark is more distant and solitary, but still fixated on helping people. I can’t wait to see his fully realized public Superman in the sequel.
I like Man of Steel and I respect it. I am positive that it will be the best superhero movie this year. But I don’t love it. This is the Batman Begins installment for Superman, not The Dark Knight. Therefore, it’s just good and not yet great. They stumble and fall in a few places, but they’re heading in a good direction. I’ll be looking forward to see just how high they can him fly.