Despite not being as great as it could have been, Man of Steel gives a strong enough case that Superman can still hold one’s attention on the silver screen.
I will keep my thoughts brief here, for Terrence Pryor already summed up the issues of Man of Steel pretty well in his review. I happen to agree with him on some of those problems – and yes, I will get my negative feelings out of the way first. When Man of Steel makes its switch to the nonstop, spectacle-laden action side of itself in the second half, I felt that it lost a great emotional current that was present earlier on. Within that, the tone is often too serious, the character development felt stilted (even if the use of flashbacks was effective), and I felt that Goyer’s script contained many cliches that riddle superhero films – let alone blockbusters in general – these days. More specifically, the fact that nearly every time an enormous fight is going on, a villain awkwardly interjects a brief monologue.
Nonetheless, Man of Steel ranks among some of the better superhero reboots we have, for a number of reasons. The two main reasons why it is ultimately a success for me are the cast and Zack Snyder’s direction. Henry Cavill does great work since not only does he look the part, he also does well to illustrate Superman’s struggles, both as a boy of Earth and Krypton. Speaking of which, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe are fantastic as Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, respectively, and Amy Adams is my new favorite version of Lois Lane. Yes, maybe Michael Shannon wasn’t as great as General Zod as he could have been, but at least he has enough intensity and a pulp vibe to his performance to be a good enough villain. I also appreciated the fact that this iteration of Zod is more developed than the one in Superman II – in other words, he has deep, understandable motivations beyond simply taking revenge against Jor-El indirectly.
Aside from the great cast, Zack Snyder’s style fits Man of Steel, and his knack for flair also works well for the spectacular, massively-scaled action scenes. And believe me, there are plenty of those. However, as a big fan of action films, I very much enjoyed the intense fun that Man of Steel brings, especially since here it is handled well, even if the destruction wears on you after a while. Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack? It was fantastic, especially when one considers the stress he must have endured with the prospect of succeeding John Williams.
One last thing – I know the idea of humanity rejecting a superhero has been used before, but when has it ever been explored with Superman? As far as I can recall for someone like me who is not a comic book reader, this idea is new for this character, and I felt that it worked on both a narrative and thematic level in Man of Steel. This provides for a fresh, interesting spin on the age-old origin tale of Superman. Within that, though, I thought it was fascinating to think that the American people would be just as quick to attack Kal-El as much as General Zod’s followers, which ultimately made me wonder if that was a comment on the ethics of the modern military or simply a reflection of humanity’s natural fear of the unknown. Within that, depth can be found from a religious aspect as well, considering Superman is often viewed as a Christ figure. Since the humans in Man of Steel are afraid of such a figure as Kal-El, could that be a comment on the lack of religious involvement in modern society? Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t, but even so I found Man of Steel interesting in that regard.
Ultimately, Man of Steel may be not on quite the same level as Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but at least his latest production does well enough to stand on its own feet. Will this lead to a DC Cinematic Universe? I suppose only box office numbers will determine that one, but it’s clear that if this potential universe remains in the hands of Goyer and Nolan, than it may actually have a future.
Yet Another Opinion
I was actually pretty blown away by Man of Steel. Perhaps I went in with lowered expectations after the abomination that was Superman Returns, but I felt that Henry Cavill was great as Superman and Clark Kent. Yes, he was a bit stiff and serious, but I’ve never seen an incarnation of this character that wasn’t. Considering the catastophic, world-ending events that were taking place in Man of Steel, there wasn’t room for much levity. Michael Shannon was serviceable as Zod, and his battles against both Jor-El and Superman were pretty epic.
I have to say that the whole cast was pretty fantastic – Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Henry Cavill all gave superb performances, and Amy Adams did fine with what little she was given. I also thought that Antje Traue was pleasantly surprising as Zod’s enforcer Foara. Oh yeah, and Cavill got seriously jacked to play Supes. The guy must’ve eaten a whole ranch full of chickens and taken up permanent residence beneath the bench press. This is the first time I’ve seen an on-screen Superman that I truly believe could totally kick someone’s ass, and actually looks like his comic-book counterpart.
I felt that the film’s exploration of Superman’s home planet of Krypton was quite interesting, as to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been shown so in-depth on the big screen before. Watching Russell Crowe’s Jor-El ride a giant dragon creature was a badass image that will be burned in my mind for some time, and as Terrance mentioned in his review, Jor-El’s fight against Zod was one of the film’s better show-downs. The time spent on Krypton really sells the relationship between Jor-El and Kal-El, as well as the idea that Kal-El is not one of us, highlighting all the reasons that the government and general population is fearful of him. It also gives a lot of weight to Zod’s hatred towards Kal-El and Earth. Speaking of Krypton, I was very happy to see that there was no Kryptonite used in Man of Steel – it’s so overused as a cheap tactic to make Superman vulnerable, and I’m glad they thought outside the box on that issue for this movie.
I agree with the criticisms that near the end the film gets a little action-heavy, and a lot of the action was a bit unintelligible, but the CGI work was great, and to be honest, I was fine with too much action after the snooze-fest that was Superman Returns. The sheer amount of destruction that takes place in Man of Steel is insane. The utter annihilation of Metropolis might have even surpassed the damage done to New York City in The Avengers.
Overall, I came away quite impressed with Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman, and I’m anxious to see the inevitable sequel. Perhaps even a Justice League movie? How badass would it be seeing Christian Bale and Henry Cavill team up?