Man of Steel is incredibly important as a film. Why? Well simply because it’s results and the way it’s received will affect the way the superhero genre develops in the years to come. DC has a lot of marbles riding on the Man Of Steel because of it’s cinematic competition with Marvel. Marvel have been dominating the box office with The Avengers, and Iron Man 3, and films that boast an impressive gross in their adaptation of comic books characters, but offer little substance. Meanwhile, DC has had intense critical success with Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins (2005) , The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises(2012)). However, other than that it’s not been fairing so well. Green Lantern (2011) was a financial and critical failure, and the last Superman film to be made Superman Returns (2006) while receiving mostly positive reviews was scrapped by DC management due to it’s lack of marketability and underwhelming box office returns. So that brings us to Man Of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) written by David Goyer, and produced by Christopher Nolan.
Unlike Superman Returns (2005), we start at the beginning once again. Krypton is on the brink of destruction due to civil war and a conflict between the political council and it’s military forces led by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Krypton is a society that operates via a caste system, enforcing artificial birth that warps genes to create a suitable being for his chosen life task. The information is stored in a codex that Jor-El (Russell Crowe) steals and sends along with his naturally born son Kal-El to Earth, to carry on his legacy and the legacy of Krypton. Zod slaughters Jor-El, as punishment he and his band of men are exiled to the phantom zone, while Krypton explodes.
We follow Kal-El as he’s now a citizen of Earth known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). We see him shift from job to job, a faceless wanderer as he keeps his head low. Occasionally we’ll cut to him as a child learning to deal with his heritage and powers under the watchful gaze of his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). Clark goes towards a cave known as the genesis chamber, a relic of Krypton’s past as journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She follows him, injuring herself in the process as a kryptonian piece of technology attack hers. Clark saves her and vanishes as she attempts to find her unknown savior. Soon General Zod comes to earth, seeking to destroy Kal-El in a wicked plan to terraform earth and transform it into the new Krypton. Zod and his forces attempt to destroy Superman, as the realization comes true that Kal-El’s DNA is the codex of all kryptonian life.
With Nolan’s name attached to the film there’s been a lot of hype and speculation over it being ‘darker’. In my opinion I didn’t see Man of Steel as ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’. It was certainly less sensationalist, and camp but that’s certainly to be expected in a contemporary adaptation that wasn’t paying homage to the older depictions of Superman. For me what made the film was the emphasis on Clark Kent the man. It didn’t try and make a big spectacle out of Kal-El’s powers and the slow bleed and development of Clark’s identity was fantastic. The aesthetics and cinematography of the world around Clark, were truly beautiful and it definitely added a visual depth to this new found emotional side of Superman. However, the film soon recedes as the layers peel off. We get less and less of Clark’s identity, his real character, as the film advances into a series of fairly expected set pieces of action-packed drivel. I’m not saying I hated the action sequences but there were nothing special. However it’s possible I’m being biased because I had a bad reaction. The past faced constant motion of the combat made me relatively dizzy and gave me a headache due to the constant jiggling of the camera.
It’s performances were pretty flawless, I have to admit. Cavill played it well, capturing the emotional side of Superman, the beardless repressed wanderer. Although he also depicted the moral do-gooder, the last son of Krypton to a tee. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was something I was immediately skeptical about, but he proved to be quite good. Costner also added some reality, some emotion to Clark’s childhood. Setting up this interested duality of his two fathers, Jor-El who wants his son to be a shining god upon man, and Jonathan Kent who would prefer his son to live his life quietly. Michael Shannon did his best as Zod, however it fell fairly flat purely because the character just isn’t that dynamic really. On that note, what a punishment, they get sent away from the planet about the explode, so they can survive. What a cruel and unusual sentence. The special effects were well-done, and fundamentally basic. There weren’t overly focused on either. Generally the majority of the special effects budget is used in the opening scenes on Krypton, which were particularly well done. Especially the design of the Kyptonian technology, and the look and feel of the costuming. A minor detail I quite liked was the origin of the ‘S’ which it alludes to as the shield of Krypton, and a culture symbol as opposed to a simple initial.
On the film and it’s general reception, I think people are instantly dismissing it purely because of it’s legacy of badly translated adaptations. It definitely seems there’s some intense bias for a film I actually thought was quite good, for it to receive universally mixed reviews. I thought it was wholly better than anything Marvel’s churned out in recent years. The whole thing felt very authentic. Admittedly it did lose steam and didn’t continue it’s refreshing emotional parts throughout the entire film. The inherent problem was the ‘Man’ in Superman, the part we haven’t seen before was so much more interesting than the ‘Super’, the spectacle we’re supposed to pay to see. However Man of Steel is mostly make, as opposed to break.
What’s next for DC? Well there’s been some floundering in direction ever since the incredible ‘success’ of the Avengers (Mostly financial as opposed to critical). Obviously the Justice league was always going to be their call to match it. More obvious would be them turning to Nolan wanting him to lead the whole DC cinematic universe said to compete with Marvels. While Nolan’s involvement may still be used he’s mostly signed off on any ideas of ‘his’ Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy making any kind of appearance in Justice League or other DC films. Bale was mostly positive for the idea if Nolan was attached to the project but that probably won’t happen. It’s also unsure if the Superman appearing in Man of Steel would be the one appearing in Justice League. It’s mixed reviews mean an uncertain future for the fate of the Justice League film, but it seems Goyer and Snyder will be attached to the project. I liked Man of Steel, and would guess it’ll probably remain one of the better blockbusters of this year. Thank for stopping by, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views