Going into Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was hard to gauge expectations wise, as I couldn’t make up my mind of what I wanted from it. Did I want to see a film with the same tone as the Dark Knight Trilogy or was I looking for the D.C. version of what Marvel did with its superhero movies? I think my hopes fell somewhere in the middle and that is exactly what Snyder and company served up.
One of the bigger issues with this latest take on Superman is that his story is as farfetched as that of Marvel’s Thor, so it takes a very specific film that dances on the lines of action without taking itself too seriously. Marvel achieved this in all their films and into the combo punch of The Avengers, but D.C. shouldn’t try to be Marvel.
What Chris Nolan did with his Batman films was nothing short of genius. He brought a dark and humanizing element that is unmatched in any other hero franchise. With Nolan in the wings executive producing Man of Steel, it is obvious Snyder wanted to mimic the greatness of the Caped Crusader’s latest exploits.
The feel of this latest hero epic was a pleasing blend of dark mythology meets modern day and a dash of humor. One of the best things Snyder and his crew did was not work in the “It’s a bird, It’s a Plane” joke, because it wouldn’t have fit with the tone of this film at all. No, this director went the best route he could which was to reinvent a hero only known to a previous generation as Christopher Reeves (not counting the pile of garbage known as Superman Returns).
Henry Cavill strapped on the cape and stepped into the tights in such an impressive fashion that he will be a real joy to watch in future films as he embodies more and more of Superman. Cavill’s chemistry with Amy Adams (Lois Lane) was a real highlight onscreen as the casting could not have been more perfect. In fact, with the exception of Michael Shannon as General Zod (which I’m still on the fence about) the casting across the film was pleasing.
Starting out in a doomed Krypton, audiences see what Kal-El’s real home looked like and what brought him to Earth. Then Snyder chooses to interchange between modern day Clark Kent and the childhood version, blending the stories together so it is not in a perfect timeline. While it was creative to do so, it also made the film feel jumpy and at times harder to watch. The backstory of Superman growing up on a farm in Smallville, Kansas is so important to the character himself that you don’t want to see audiences deprived from the meaty explanation of the ideals his Earth father Jonathan Kent instilled in young Kal-El. It took the CW’s Smallville 10 years to hash out Clark’s backstory, so it was hard to see Snyder touch on a few highlights in give or take 30 minutes.
As General Zod invades Earth, Clark is just discovering who he really is with the help of his artificial intelligence makeshift father Jor-El, who lives within a command key given to his son before being sent to Earth. Clark learns of his origins just before Zod and his band of war criminals enter Earth’s atmosphere and issue their warning for the people of the planet to give up Kal-El. It is his biological father that finally convinces him to take up the suit and give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards, if I may quote the convincing Russell Crowe as Jor-El. Clark has spent his whole life fighting what he is versus what he is afraid people will see him as, a secret Jonathan Kent believed so strongly in that he let himself die in a Kansas tornado instead of letting Clark save him. As Zod and the Man of Steel duel it out a few times, it is with the help of humans (Lois and an army Colonel) that ultimately saves Earth from being the next Krypton.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of General Zod is a tricky one, as some times he is convincing and terrifying while others it is just Michael Shannon playing another bad guy and then later playing another bad guy with really bad facial hair. His best moments come at the film’s beginning when he is arguing with Jor-El to tell him where they have sent his son, Kal. Threatening Jor-El and Laura that “[he] will find him” over and over again, louder each time was a great scene and well played on Shannon’s part. His next best moment does not come again until he is down on his knees at Superman’s feet near the film’s end, explaining what he had been bred for. You see, Kal-El was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries, before him for the longest time everyone had been specifically bred with a purpose. Zod’s was to be a warrior. This final exchange between the two before Zod’s ultimate *spoiler alert* defeat was Shannon’s other shining moment and again well played on his part.
With a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes, the film manages to not feel drawn out especially with the jumping back and forth between past and present. The biggest issue that Snyder and his D.C. cohorts now face is where to go from here. Do they attempt the (proven) successful Marvel route and wrap all their hero films into one another, or will they let each film stand on its own merits. Man of Steel doe show tie-ins for future films (Wayne Enterprises satellites, LexCorp trucks) but it does not necessarily mean they have to rush into the Justice League before they figure out how to play it. The best thing that D.C. could have done was to convince Nolan to help guide Snyder in his adaptation of Superman and let the same dark tone of the Batman series carry into Superman’s world of Metropolis. These heroes are much darker than that of Marvel and therefore deserve more respect. They have created a world that is impossible in reality, but plays itself so seriously that we are forced to believe it might just be true.
This will be the new franchise to take over now that The Dark Knight has run his course (for now). We can look forward to seeing Clark Kent juggle his life as a Daily Planet reporter and his real job as a superhero of Krypton while he most undoubtedly faces off against a human opponent in the evil of Lex Luthor.
Hold your expectations aside if you want to see a D.C. version of Marvel’s proven formula for hero flicks, because that’s not what you’ll get. Instead, look at Man of Steel as a successful re-telling of the world’s oldest and most classic superhero. Henry Cavill does not disappoint in comparison to the late Reeves, and definitely blows Brandon Routh’s take on the hero (Superman Returns) out of the water.
Man of Steel is rated PG-13 and now playing everywhere.