Man of Steel is the latest film from director Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen); written by Davis S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight) and produced by Debra Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen), Emma Thomas (Inception, The Prestige), and the “godfather” of the DC Comics film universe Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige). It is the second attempt by Warner Brothers to reboot the Superman franchise which has essentially languished since 1980. In 2006 Superman Returns attempted to build upon the universe created by Richard Donner in 1978. The plan was to ignore Superman III & IV and simply pretend that the film was the immediate successor to Superman II. That plan did not lead to a film that resonated very well with audiences and Warner Brothers abandoned The Last Son of Krypton. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was coming to an end that WB made Superman its number one priority for the future. Batman can survive purely on his own but with a successful Superman franchise comes the opportunity to build towards a Justice League film and with Marvel pushing forward with Phase II the pressure was on. Did this team manage to create a fanboy appealing, mass market blockbuster first film in a franchise or have we become too cynical a society to have room in our hearts for The Big Blue Boyscout?
As an origin story for a character so familiar to audiences around the world who are constantly inundated with superhero films and constantly seeing the same stories rebooted, Goyer’s screenplay for Man of Steel manages to break down the tale keeping the important notes but reinventing the rest. Jor-El (Russell Crowe – A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator) is chief scientist on the planet Krypton and, in spite of his warnings of the inherit dangers of harvesting the planet’s core for energy, his planet is dying. In his official capacity as advisor to the Kryptonian High Counsel he pleads with the leaders of his people to evacuate to their colonies and try to save their race. During his meeting with the Counsel, the commander of Krypton’s military, General Zod (Michael Shannon – Premium Rush, The Iceman) begins a coup. His plans are to take custody of the Kryptonian Codex, cleanse the planet of the weaker “bloodlines” and find some way to survive. He offers Jor-El a place to lead by his side if he will acquiesce to the deaths of the Counselors, this offer is of course refused. Jor-El escapes the coup, retrieves the Codex and heads home where his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer – Munich, Angels & Demons) waits to fulfill their plan to secure Krypton’s future. Together they launch a special rocket containing their son Kal and the Kryptonian Codex towards the planet Earth, with its yellow sun and atmosphere that will turn him into a being of incredible power. Jor-El fights Zod man to man in an effort to keep Kal-El’s ship from being shot down. Once the ship has escaped, The Counsel’s guards stop the coup and Zod’s followers are held for trial. Once sentenced for treason they are frozen and sent to The Phantom Zone.
We are then introduced to a fully grown adult Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill – The Tudors, The Count of Monte Cristo), working in the Bering Sea as a greenhorn Crab Fisherman. While working the deck a crab pot falls off the picking hook and nearly crushes him but for the quick, yet totally unnecessary actions of his Deck Boss. The Captain calls down to the deck and tells the men that they received a distress call from a nearby oil derrick. As they move in to assist the coast guard in the rescue they are told that none of the men could make it into the ocean because the derrick is on fire. Clark disappears from the ship and appears on the derrick covered in flames. He helps the men escape the fire and leads them to the helicopter platform where a Coast Guard chopper lifts them to safety. Clark is knocked unconscious by the collapsing rig and brings us flashbacks to his life in Smallville, Kansas.
We see the life he had under the guidance of his adoptive parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner - Dances With Wolves, The Bodyguard) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane – Unfaithful, Under The Tuscan Sun). The Kents train Clark to have a strong moral compass, how to take ownership of his powers and above all what it means to be human. Jonathan’s main commandment is to above all protect Clark’s secret. He believes that one day Clark will have to reveal what he can do but he also feels the world is not ready, yet. After Clark wakes up this process continues, adult life event followed up by the correlating childhood event it most corresponds with. These jumps allow us to watch major events from Clark’s life while also watching him as an adult on his pilgrimage north trying to find clues to where he comes from.
This film isn’t just a modern retelling of the origin of the Superman mythos, its the Superman film you always wanted to see. One of the major aspects that embodies this idea is Lois Lane (Amy Adams – Enchanted, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day). This is the absolute best depiction of Lois Lane on film to date. Lois is often the butt of jokes for being a respected investigative reporter who can’t tell that a guy in glasses is Superman. This Lois is hard nosed, modern and while often in distress she is also often capable of saving herself. She is a force unto herself whether facing down editor of The Daily Planet Perry White (Laurence Fishburne – The Matrix, Higher Learning), special forces Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni – Wet Hot American Summer, Law & Order: SVU), or an amoral Kryptonian warrior Faora (Antje Traue – Pandorum, 5 Days of War).
Is the film a perfect entity? No, there are some minor … issues. The post 3D did leave some scenes a little blurry and honestly I’d recommend seeing the film in 2D anyway. This isn’t a film that’s going to make you sick or anything its just something that should be noted. During some of the biggest action sequences the sheer amount of action to absorb borders on the overwhelming. Finally, this is definitely an adult skewing Superman film… you can absolutely bring the kids if you wish but remember that in between the massive set pieces the film is a nuanced and emotion driven character piece. There is also a sequence involving a tornado that is truly emotional and for the parts of the United States that just went through/are still recovering from the recent severe storms its going to be a little difficult to watch.
That said the film is brilliant. Kal-El, Clark Kent, Superman … whatever the other characters call him, Henry Cavill’s portrayal of him is the star-making turn this young actor deserves. I was in the studio audience for an interview the cast had with Katie Couric, where they constantly eschew that aside from being dreamy Henry Cavill is deserving of being the star of this film. This sounds like classic actor-speak but honestly he is the HEART of this film and it will be extremely difficult to imagine any other actor in the suit after seeing the work he puts into this film. Zack Snyder’s directorial work and style shine through in this film. Over the years he’s polarized genre fans and while I’ve always been a fan of his work, yes even Sucker Punch, but this is by far his best film. In fact if he didn’t remake a deified horror classic, film the formerly un-adaptable graphic novel and suffer a crushing blow when making his personal passion project I don’t know if we end up with a Superman film as good as this one. David S. Goyer’s script totally cracks the blueprint for making Superman work for a modern audience and Nolan’s oversight makes this film feel real even in scenes where superpowered beings slam into skyscrapers.
Also, not to be discounted in the least are the presence of Debra Snyder and Emma Thomas. During the Interview with Katie Couric the cast kept talking about how Zack wanted families on set because it made coming to work like coming home. They also said that by having Debra and Emma on set these women have produced all of their husbands best films. These women know when to stand behind their partners but also when to challenge them. They are a strong female presence in the old boys club and if this group stays together all the way through the Man of Steel Trilogy it’s extremely possible someone is going to challenge to win a major Academy Award again no matter what the traditional voting block wants to happen.
There are a lot of structural elements that went into making this film work: an incredible cast of actors including quite a few that have won or been nominated for Academy Awards, a fantastic screenplay that manages to draw the emotion needed to make Superman work in today’s world, and VFX from WETA that make you believe a man can fly as well as shoot fire from his eyes. There were also a lot of hopes that went into this film. The hopes of Warner Bros that this will finally bring back Superman, the hopes of the cast that wanted to make a film deserving of the icon that is Superman, the hopes of Zack Snyder to pull off the biggest film of his career and of course every fanboy and fangirl hoped that they’d do it right … All those hopes managed to find their way into the film and not just as the symbol for the House of El. They joined together with excellent filmmaking to create an incredible flick. Man of Steel is one of the best superhero films ever made. Pure and simple. It fits alongside Iron Man, Batman Begins, and Spiderman 2 in my mind. In fact, it is so good, my anticipation for the sequel is already telling me that The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class and The Avengers may have company very, very soon at the top of the ladder.
- Mr. Khon
PS – For longtime readers of the site you might notice that I’ve forgone my usual salutation. If you’re not a regular reader I’d begin any articles I write with a greeting to fans of the site (g33ks), fans of the mass effect marathon that may have wondered over (m33ks) and then make some vague reference that in some way corresponds to the subject of the article. Recently, we have announced that our next gaming marathon is going to be based around Bioshock. So to move on and add ,b33ks, to that opening line would be too wordy and so I decided that it was time to just retire the gimmick.