The next film in my Original Six is Man of Steel. I wasn’t actually planning on going to see this movie but some co-workers wanted me to organize a company outing after I organized a successful trip to see Iron Man 3. Then after a whole ordeal, the guys who asked me to put the event together didn’t even do. SMH. I’m not real keen on Superman. I think he has a ridiculous powerset and is really hard to relate to. But I tried to go in with an open mind and this was the result.
In order to save their son from Krypton’s imminent destruction, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their son, Kal-El (Henry Cavill), to Earth. There, he was found and adopted by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), renamed Clark, and must learn to live in a world who ostracizes and fears him for being different. When General Zod (Michael Shannon), one of the few surviving Kryptonians, threaten Earth, Clark is faced with the choice of protecting his adopted home or siding with his people.
I will get this out of the way up front: I am not a fan of Superman. I don’t particularly care for the character, but I have tried to look at this movie without much bias.
OK, now that I have that out of the way, Man of Steel was rooted much more science-fiction than I was expecting. This made the film more enjoyable for me. Throughout the film, they gave semi-scientific explanations for the why of his powers, without going into too much detail about the how. With the state of superhero films in today’s cinema, it is fairly certain that moviegoers can suspend disbelief and accept a world where people can fly. By not delving too much into the specifics, it allowed the film to keep moving without getting bogged down with the details. But details impeding the story are the least of the film’s story issues.
The pacing of the story felt very wonky to me. Maybe I have come to expect a certain story structure for a hero’s origin movie, but this threw those conventions out the window. The first act was entirely on Krypton, where we learned about why Kal-El was sent to Earth and the events leading up to Krypton’s destruction. This portion was one of my favorites, showing off the sci-fi element of the film and giving the story a better reason for Kal-El sent to Earth besides “Because our planet is about to explode.”
The next act, where we meet a grown up Kal-El who is now know as Clark, is what bothered me most about this film. When I think of an origin story, I expect at some point for the hero to learn how to use their powers while helping people and making mistakes in the meantime. This step was essentially skipped. He was saving people in this part of the film, but only because he was in the right place at the right time. Although it is explained why he isn’t actively helping people, I think this bothers me more because when he finally dons the outfit, he’s just like “BOOM, I know how to do all this perfectly.” Part of what makes origin movies fun for me is the character learning how to use their powers. Personal preference I guess.
Story-wise, I think it was a smart choice to make Zod, a character who can go toe-to-toe with Superman, rather than Lex Luthor, Superman’s most recognizable enemy, the villain of the first film. This allows two things: 1) Shows Superman’s physical strength, and 2) opens the door to have Luthor come into the inevitable sequel and gives Superman the time to show his mental strength as well. Not to mention, with all the destruction at the end, it gives Luthor a primer to turn the people of Earth against Superman, an obstacle he must overcome in the sequel (just spitballing).
It was very evident that Man of Steel was a Zack Snyder film. The fight scenes, particularly the final fight scene, were over-the-top action scenes, very similar to Watchmen or Sucker Punch, but way more grandiose and destructive that could have taken a page from Michael Bay’s playbook. I’m all for outrageous action sequences (part of the reason I enjoy Sucker Punch), but this is too much crazy, even for me.
Henry Cavill does fine as Superman, giving the character the a more serious demeanor than previous incarnations of the character. It is an interesting take on the character because it is so different from past portrayals of Superman. In the comics and previous film appearances, Superman is optimistic and upbeat, but Superman in Man of Steel is almost the complete opposite. He is reluctant to help others, and doing so only if it’s absolutely necessary. I understand they were going for a more “grounded” Superman, but they still could have done so with him still being willing to do what is right, regardless of the situation.
The stand out performances of the movie definitely came from the villains. Shannon was able to portray a certain menacing characteristic that is difficult for many actors. He is also able to make you empathize with him; that Zod’s actions are driven by his desire to do what he feels is in the best interest to ensure the survival of his people. I would have to say my favorite performance, and maybe even the best of the film, was Ayelet Zurer as Faora-Ul. She doesn’t say very much, but her poise and the way she holds herself on screen is enough to convey the strength of her character.
Spoiler alert, Superman wins and Zod loses. Now, as normal as this is for any movie, by all accounts, Zod should not have lost. He was a soldier, bred specifically to be a warrior. Clark, on the other hand, has no fighting experience, going back to my previous point about the origin story. Realistically, Clark should have easily have been beaten when faced with an opponent possessing an identical skill set but has actual fighting experience.
My lack of love for Superman notwithstanding, Man of Steel was a generally enjoyable movie. Despite overly exaggerated action sequences, the heavy science-fiction elements and the great acting by the entire cast added to the entertainment.
Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director
David S. Goyer – Screenplay / Story
Christopher Nolan – Story
Henry Cavill – Clark Kent / Kal-El
Amy Adams – Lois Lane
Michael Shannon – General Zod
Diane Lane – Martha Kent
Russell Crowe – Jor-El
Antje Traue – Faora-Ul
Harry Lennix – General Swanwick
Richard Schiff – Dr. Emil Hamilton
Kevin Costner – Jonathan Kent
Ayelet Zurer – Lara Lor-Van
Laurence Fishburne – Perry White
Dylan Sprayberry – Clark Kent (13 Years)
Cooper Timberline – Clark Kent (9 Years)