Man of Steel – Film Review
Superman has been a driving force in my life ever since my early childhood. There was something about this hero that elevated him in my eyes above any other and as soon as I found a red towel I quickly lost myself to a world where I could fly and doing right was not only a reward but also what I needed to do. Superman inspired an ideal that still affects me today. That being said, Man of Steel is not the Superman I grew up with. But I’m here to say that’s not a bad thing.
Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer start the movie with perhaps the most fully realized vision of life and culture on Krypton. It doesn’t’ last too long yet in each scene, in each shot, we are given depths of understanding about this doomed civilization. General Zod is staging a coup against the Kryptonian officials for their near-sightedness, which ultimately led to the planet’s core destabilizing. The audience is treated to a rather heavy-handed portrayal of the danger of over-exerting our planet and diminishing all natural resources. In the end Zod and his compatriots are sealed in the Phantom Zone, althought not for long, and baby Kal is on his way to Earth.
While it isn’t his last appearance in the film I have to give recognition to the stunning portrayal of Jor-El by Russel Crowe. He manages the cool detachment of a scientist made popular in previous incarnations while still bringing a sense of recently tapped emotional depth while he does what he can to save the Kryptonian race.
Following the planet’s destruction we’re immediately leapt forward in time to find a now adult Clark Kent working on a fishing boat and hopping jobs as he saves civilians. Interspersed are wonderfully planned flashbacks that give us a glimpse into life for a child who has powers beyond anyone else and what that does to make the young boy feel like an outside, an alien.
It doesn’t take long for Clark to find an ancient Kryptonian scout ship and reconnect with the artificial consciousness of his late father. He learns of his heritage, dons his suit, and tests his powers while Jor-El delivers the speech that sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
From here it’s only a short step until General Zod arrives in full battleship, demanding Kal turn himself over lest the world be attacked. I won’t go much further with plot except to say these were the BEST action scenes I’ve ever seen. I never knew how much I needed to see super-speed and strength done well until now. The admission price is worth this much alone.
As for the movie itself, there have been a lot of complaints about the rather dark portrayal of DC Comics favorite boy-scout hero. And while I believe this Superman has its place, I don’t think it would have translated well for a modern audience.
Marvel can get away with being more humorous in their movies, the Iron Man movies and Avengers prove this undoubtedly, but I would argue that it’s because of the realistic nature imbued in their characters from the start. It’s super-soldiers, assassins, a genius in power armor – even Hulk and Thor, the most fantastical in the bunch are not that hard to wrap your head around, one is a figure in Norse mythology and the other is just baseline common sense, you’re stronger when you’re angrier.
DC doesn’t have such luxury outside of Batman. Green Lantern is a hero who can dream up green constructs of whatever he imagines because he has willpower. Superman is an alien demi-god who literally cannot be hurt. It’s incredibly difficult for an audience to relate to.
It’s because of this that DC had to turn to a darker and more realistic approach to their characters, to offset the campiness that would no doubt result if they tried to remain humorous about a guy who can move faster than a speeding locomotive and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
There’s also the recent trend in grittiness and realism to consider. Effectively branded “grimdark” in the fantasy genre, there’s no denying the popularity of such shows as Game of Thrones or novels such as The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. People are tired of the flawless Boy Scout. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Superman, I grew up with that Superman, but it’s not realistic.
One of the big questions posed by the movie is how would the world react if they found out an alien was living amongst us. In fact it’s what drives a lot of Clark’s actions before he dons the suit, including a very poignant and emotional scene with Pa Kent, played to perfection by Kevin Costner. In fact the militaries response is spot-on to my thought process on what would occur, right up until Superman earns their trust in a battle against Faora and another Kryptonian.
“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… out of fear. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”
Finally, I feel the need to call attention to one of the final scenes of the movie, without giving away any spoilers. Many feel the way the battle with Zod and Superman at the end was in poor taste and it completely went counter to everything Superman stood for and his core identity. In my opinion this is shortsighted nostalgia and nothing more. The stories progression was logical and the end result was not only warranted but a necessity and the decision Superman makes clearly haunts him and affects him on an emotional level. But it was the right thing to do. Even General Zod is given an understandable drive to do the things he does, despite their horrid nature. He is a product of selective breeding, his one role since birth has been to protect Krypton and it’s citizens. And when that is taken from him, when his very being is stolen, he reacts the only way he knows how, he fights.
Go see Man of Steel. It isn’t a movie to be missed. It’s the Superman movie a modern audience needs. It’s finally a step in the right direction for DC if they ever want to have a shared cinematic universe and success that Marvel has been enjoying so much these last few years. I can’t recommend this movie enough, especially for the amount of times my jaw literally, and I don’t use that word lightly, fell open and my eyes stared in both wonder and shock.
It is a beauty of cinema.
“That’s what the symbol means…hope”