‘Man of Steel’ revitalizes Superman for a new generation of movie-goers. Director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer have re-imagined the hero in a way that stylistically brings ‘Superman’ into the more mature and post ‘Dark Knight’ realm of grittier comic book heroes. And audiences will be divided on the results.
In Richard Donner’s 1978 film ‘Superman: The Movie,’ the reverence to the source material and mythology was painstakingly recreated. In some ways, that film was more of an entertaining homage to an iconic character. Audiences were treated to the origin story and introduced to his most well-known adversary, Lex Luthor. Richard Donner’s film was a brilliantly constructed “love letter to Superman.”
Director Snyder has created an allegorical movie that has depth and layers while also delivering some breathtaking action sequences. ‘Man of Steel’ isn’t so much a deconstruction of the hero as it is an existential glimpse into what actually being ‘Superman’ might be like.
The film begins with the birth of Kal-El on the planet Krypton, which is beautifully rendered as a complete alien world. Father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has welcomed his newborn son into a home world that is in disarray. Not only have Krypton’s natural resources been completely exhausted, but a military coup for power and control of the government is underway at the hands of General Zod (Michael Shannon).
With Krypton near its societal and environmental self-destruction, Jor-El saves his son by sending Kal-El to Earth in a spaceship. Soon thereafter, Zod is arrested and convicted of treason, and subsequently imprisoned in the ‘Phantom Zone’ with his followers.
After crashing here on Earth, Kal-El is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Clark Kent, as they name him, is raised by parents who know he is not human and that he possesses special gifts. As the normal pains of adolescence are experienced by Clark Kent/Kal-El, they are exacerbated by his gifts and are thoughtfully portrayed in the film.
Just as he seems to be finding a purposeful direction and identity, General Zod (after escaping his prison)comes to Earth on a mission of both Kryptonian vengeance and human genocide.
What fans and audiences will take away from ‘Man of Steel’ will largely depend upon the expectations that each of them has for this movie. Those seeking out a pure escapism superhero movie like the 1978 film will not have the same enjoyment as I did. I prefer the neo-realistic aesthetic of comic heroes that has become the new normal since Christopher Nolan and Goyer combined their talents in ‘Batman Begins’ in 2005.
Reviews are a reflection of the preferences of the reviewer, just as your enjoyment of ‘Man of Steel’ will be influenced by your own predilections.
‘Man of Steel’ strikes a comfortable balance between the origin story and action sequences. Director Zack Snyder has eschewed the traditional linear storytelling mechanics for something that plays out effectively and organically for the audience. The origins of ‘Superman’ are relayed almost as memories, interspersed within ongoing events in the film.
The cast is uniformly very good. Henry Cavill as Superman has good physical presence and some genuine chemistry with Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Michael Shannon is authoritative and passionately maniacal as General Zod. Diane Lane as Martha Kent is feistier than we’ve seen her portrayed before. The best performances belong to the father figures.
Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are both fantastic as Kal-El’s natural and adoptive fathers, respectively. Crowe, in particular, is at times captivating as Jor-El and could easily command a film of his own with this character. Where Costner’s Jonathan Kent is a center of morality and responsibility, Crowe’s Jor-El is an influence of leadership in grasping one’s own destiny.
When Zod arrives on Earth, his presence sets off some spectacular action sequences that director Zack Snyder executes with visual flair and intensity. Never before have epic superhero battles been rendered on this scale. ‘The Avengers’ action sequences were very good, but ‘Man of Steel’ surpasses them.
Purists will quibble with some of the creativity that ‘Man of Steel’ takes with the Superman mythology. It’s a welcome change. The liberties taken serve the story well, and have injected some much-needed vitality into the well-worn details surrounding DC Comics most iconic character.
Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ is an exciting, dramatic, and visually thrilling entertainment. ‘Man of Steel’ is one of the best comic hero adaptations yet, and I eagerly await its continuation.