Jor-El Sent His Only Son (Man of Steel, 2013)
Preface: This is a review I wrote two years ago. I have, however, edited it a bit.
And lo, there was much controversy and arguing. So it was I saw finally got around to seeing the tale Man of Steel. Zak Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher’s grimmer take on the Superman mythos.
In a lot of ways, this is a response to the toughly reviewed Superman Returns. One of the cries was “more action” and boy do we get it.
First, the good. I think Henry Cavill did a solid job as Superman. The film spends it’s time focusing on a Superman who is not working for the Daily Planet, but rather Clark Kent roaming the planet and saving people. It is borrowing an idea from Mark Waid’s terrific Birthright…and while not quite as nicely executed, it makes sense to use it as a reference.
The film opens on Krypton, one like we have not seen in previous film or television adaptions. I am pleased to see they opted to break free of the influence of Donner for this film. It is a Krypton that has evolved to genetic engineering, something scientist Jor-El seeks to set his son free of. This happens in the midst of a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon). He and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone, shortly before the destruction of Krypton.
Amy Adams is a tough and fearless Lois Lane who is on the trail of the mysterious hero. I liked her quite a bit in the role. She was aggressive and dedicated to finding her story. I also felt Zod and Faora were solid characters. As Superman’s parents, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are all quite strong. Lara’s role is short, but she is strong and full of courage. Crowe is mainly there for exposition, but he makes it work.
The visual effects were great, seeing Superman use his powers was exhilarating. I truly had fun watching him use his powers.
The tougher stuff…while I liked Costner, I had the same problem with Man of Steel as I did with Smallville. Pa Kent is obsessed with “keeping the secret” which extends to “let people die”. This is troubling on a lot of levels. The action in the film is relentless, giving little time to catch our breath. The characters are also given little space to grow, so we get familiar, but new sketches, rather than full blown character moments. And the destruction becomes numbing…it is just to much.
In addition, Superman never appears as Superman until after Zod arrives. Clark runs around saving people, but once he dons the costume, he saves one person directly, otherwise he is busy fighting Zod and his army. You might ask why this matters…but if we had Clark appearing in Costume before Zod arrives, saving people and stopping crime, that establishes him.
We as the audience have every reason to see Superman as the good guy. We get it, we have seen Clark use his powers to help people. But in the world of the film? The citizens of the world have no reason to trust Superman over Zod. Donner’s original Superman film had a great sequence of Superman doing all sorts of heroics. And it allowed us to see the city of Metropolis becoming excited about Superman. We have seen from the teasers that in Batman vs Superman they plan to explore the motif of hero worship. And this could have set that up.
The other problem was, this feels like Nolan filtered through Snyder. I like Nolan, I liked his take on Batman…but his Batman was grounded in a fairly real world idea. There was no room for a Superman or Wonder Woman in the Nolan Bat Universe. I also liked Watchmen by Snyder. But between the two, they created a Superman world of darkness and paranoia. Even the color schemes are digitally washed out and bleak. This is still slightly better than Stalker Superman.
In the end, I still enjoyed this more than Superman Returns. It is imperfect, but not salvageable for the continuation of Superman.