Superman Returns has been a harsh reality for many DC fanyboys/girls to stomach over the years. Their beloved Superman was reduced to a mere shell of a character far removed from his true potential. With the announcement of Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder (300; Watchmen) at the helm, and the great Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight; Inception) producing, would this be the moment that would redeem the Big Blue Boy Scout?
Once again, audiences are treated to yet another superhero origin story. Like any Superman tale, we begin on Krypton, planet we spend far too much time on. Jor-El (Russell Crowe), a leading mind of science, is expecting his newborn son Kal-El, the first natural birth on the planet in thousands of years. All Krpytonians are bred – similar to The Matrix –with a specific life pre-determined by the Codex, an ominous MacGuffin left with little explanation to its value.
But Krypton is falling to pieces. The governing body unwisely chose to reap the planet’s core for its survival despite Jor-El’s better judgement. Believing only in the survival of Krypton, the fearsome General Zod (Michael Shannon) wages a coup d’etat against those he believes have led the planet astray. In the thick of it all, Jor-El sends his son to Earth, in hopes he can redeem his race and start anew. Seeing Kal-El as treason, Zod vows to find him, that is, if he can escape from the Phantom Zone where he is banished after his failed rebellion.
At this point we reach an adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), nomadically scouring the globe for any clues to his origins, helping others in secret as best he can. We encounter glimpses of his past growing up in Smallville, Kansas with his adoptive parents, Martha (Diane Lane) and Johnathan Kent (Kevin Costner), as he adapts to his new abilities and builds a foundation of morality. These moments disrupt the pacing, but at the same time gradually build a unique emotional connection to Clark as is stuck between two worlds.
Unfortunately for Earth, when Krypton imploded, the gateway holding General Zod in the Phantom Zone was destroyed. Zod, fresh from imprisonment, leads his minions on the hunt for Kal-El. Unbeknownst to Clark, a homing beacon is set off in a Kryptonian vessel he finds in the arctic, alerting Zod of his whereabouts. Humankind soon learns they are not alone in the universe. They are told to deliver Kal-El to Zod or suffer the consequences. Clark must make the biggest decision of his life: Would he become the savior Jor-El envisioned or would humanity reject him as Pa Kent had always feared?
Writer David S. Goyer’s reimagining of Superman bears many resemblances to the first two Richard Donner movies, but takes on a wildly new approach to our hero, which works in Man of Steel‘s favor. There is an emotionally rich tone that has this Clark Kent more brooding and a little insecure yet powerful and level-headed, and Cavill performs spectacularly. Everyone else also puts forth great performances, especially Michael Shannon. I would have liked to have seen a stronger, less clumsy Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but she works well with the material she is given. The only fault to our characters is weak dialogue and a lack of presence/depth of the secondary characters. Which isn’t surprising coming from Goyer, who also wrote Batman Begins, a movie that feels slightly comparable.
Zack Snyder has always been a director with intense visual flair, but all of his films are absent of any personality besides Dawn of the Dead. And in Man of Steel he continues this trend. The romance between Clark and Lois feels too forced in the end and the movie feels rather lifeless at times. Very little humor can be found, holding back the film from being completely enjoyable. Although Snyder has a keen eye for incredible action – married well with Hans Zimmer’s beautifully exhilarating score – he lacks a certain energy that is unfulfilled by the repetitive fight sequences; which feel like they never reach their full potential. Other than super-powered people hitting and throwing each other, heat eyes, cold breath, and x-ray vision hardly come into play in any interesting way during the fights. The fight scenes were cool – it was like watching a live-action version of Injustice: Gods Among Us – but they could have been more fun.
Speaking of. The collateral damage caused by Superman and Zod is unfathomable and one of the biggest offenders to this film. Superman never appears to give a second thought or even care about the devastation he is causing. The end is so rushed, the consequences are never brought up. Not once does he take a moment to reflect on the exorbitant amount of destruction and death he is somewhat responsible for. This is not the Superman many signed up for. It’s also never really understood why Zod wants to wipe out humanity either. You can accept he didn’t care if they died, but he could have had billions of slaves if he wanted to.
Undoubtedly, Man of Steel is an incredible feat to behold this summer, regardless of the many religious/9-11 undertones it so unsubtly utilizes. It takes Superman to a new level of action that Donner could have only dreamt about. It’s unlike any Zack Snyder film before it, but fails to provide a unique experience that can expand the superhero genre. Many redeemable moments are brought to life by the extraordinary cast, making up for many of the screenplay’s faults. And while there are kinks to be worked out in the DC cinematic universe, there is much to appreciate from this reboot that has me asking for more.
What did you think of Man of Steel? Tell us below in the comments section and let us know.
Man of Steel was directed by Zack Snyder with a run time of 143 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.