A Superman You Deserve
Superman is dead. Well, at least the Superman your grandfather, father and older brother have known. With Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder has killed him for good, leaving in his place a Superman the likes of which none ever thought possible. Bold, brave and completely unforgettable, Man of Steel is the Superman movie you’ve always wanted and never knew you needed. It’s also Snyder’s masterpiece; except you wouldn’t likely know that from the things you’ve heard.
Like Snyder’s brilliant adaptation of Watchmen, Man of Steel has been met with a very mixed response; Rotten Tomatoes currently scores the film at 59%, with many claiming the film to be unnecessary, too action oriented and lacking in the humor of Richard Donner’s classic 1978 Superman: The Movie. Are those critiques true? In two of the cases yes (to say the film is unnecessary is pointless; any non film person could argue all films are, at their core, unnecessary in the big picture.), but what puzzles me is how people see this as a bad thing. Superman is a character that demands a story that is larger than life (it’s really more of a science fiction story with religious allegories more than a superhero one), something Man of Steel’s serious tone and numerous action sequences allow the film to be. It also should be noted that these same critics weren’t exactly demanding a sequel to the previous film Superman Returns, Bryan Singer’s admirable but fatally flawed film that critics and fans felt didn’t have enough action or serious moments.
Man of Steel retells Superman’s origin story, taking elements from both the comics and Donner’s original film. Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) is born on the planet Krypton to scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer). The timing couldn’t be worse; Krypton is on the verge of exploding any day due to an unstable core, not to mention the civil war raging between its rulers and the rebellious General Zod (Michael Shannon). In an attempt to save his son and preserve his race, Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth, where is he found by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and renamed Clark (Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline each play Clark at different points of his childhood). The film wisely chooses to cut between Clark’s childhood (shown in flashbacks in this film) and the present day, where an adult Clark (Henry Cavill) is seen wandering from odd job to odd job, searching for answers of his existence and saving a few people along the way. Eventually, this gains not only the attention of reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the U.S. military, but also General Zod, whose arrival to Earth will finally force Clark to embrace who he is.
Those aware of Superman’s beginnings will find Man of Steel is accurate, though there are some risky gambles. The least of these is the new look of Krypton. Previously imagined by Donner as a planet caked with ice, Snyder and his crew have created a Krypton that almost looks like a distant cousin to Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s a magnificent sight to behold, and wisely, Snyder decides to keep us on Krypton for a bit, letting us enjoy the scenery as well as learning about the planet. It’s here the changes to the origin begin; I won’t reveal them here as they are best found out, but needless to say that these changes work flawlessly. In fact, I dare say that what Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy) have done here are huge improvements to the Superman mythos, much in the same way Donner’s film improved it over thirty years ago.
As Clark/Kal-El/Superman, British actor Henry Cavil won’t make you forget about the original (and for some definitive) Superman Christopher Reeve, but he doesn’t have to. Reeve’s Superman was part superhero, part screwball comedy character, while Cavil is portraying a man who is surrounded with doubt, darkness and tragedy. As such, he hits all the right notes, and is far more convincing in and out of the suit than Brandon Routh of Superman Returns was. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is so well cast as Lois Lane it’s impossible to even consider any one else ever playing the role again, while Michael Shannon delivers a standout performance as General Zod, making him ruthless and yet sympathetic. Other than Superman, no character is more affected by the changes in the story than Zod, and Shannon uses them to his advantage like only he can.
The rest of the cast is all but flawless. Russell Crowe is the perfect Jor-El, combining a knowing beyond his years with a bad ass side previously unseen in film (Marlon Brando famously played Jor-El in the Donner film like he was half asleep). In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that Crowe could’ve been Superman if he was a few years younger. TV veterans Christopher Meloni and Harry Lennix are both allowed enough screen time to be effective as military men (Meloni in particular is excellent), while German actress Antje Traue is vicious and sexy as Zod’s handed woman. And though Lawrence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Ayelet Zurer all get less time on screen than they probably deserve, each one delivers as best they can. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a longer version eventually released on DVD that expands their roles.
I’m not sure what the biggest question was going into Man of Steel; whether Superman was a big enough draw at the box office still, or whether Snyder was a director capable of pulling off a major blockbuster. The answer is a resounding affirmative for both. My opinion of Snyder has always been that the director, while obviously talented, has been unable to help himself when it comes to excess of certain film techniques (the greatest example of this is Snyder’s Sucker Punch, a film which drowned in its excessive effects and ideas). Here, he puts together the total package. There is no slow motion (Snyder’s main calling card) to be found in Man of Steel, and the film features none of the overt silliness that Sucker Punch and 300 contained. In fact, the only flaw in the production is Hans Zimmer’s score, which starts out as beautiful and eventually dissolves into redundancy. Regardless of how much influence producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) had on reigning Snyder in, kudos must be given to the director for altering his style and creating a film that is both visually and emotionally satisfying.
Obviously, Man of Steel will not be for everyone. If you prefer the less serious, more All American version of Superman as opposed to this tragic one, I reckon you won’t feel that much different than the numerous critics out there. But for those looking for the next superhero film in the same vein as Watchmen and the Dark Knight Trilogy, it doesn’t get any bigger or any better than this. Oh yes, Superman is dead alright. Long live the Man of Steel.