I was initially unsure of what to think of the new Superman movie. When I saw the new costume, it totally made me think twice about watching it. But when I learned that Zack Snyder of 300 and Sucker Punch was directing and Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight trilogy, Inception) was producing, I decided to give the film a chance. Whew, good call.
Man of Steel is basically an origin story — how Superman’s parents sent him off to Earth to save him from the dying planet of Krypton, how he struggled to come to terms with his powers, to blend in with the humans and how he chose to use his powers for the good of mankind. It was the same story of Superman but at the same time, it wasn’t. There is no buttoned up Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet here, but Clark as a nomad, working odd jobs, looking for clues to his past, and helping people along the way. From the onset, his feats and his struggles are given equal focus. And on top of it all, he has to deal with Kryptonian general Zod, who wants to take over the Earth to make it the new Krypton.
Straight off the bat, the treatment is different. Man of Steel portrays the iconic superhero not as the confident superhuman being of previous installments but rather as someone who is finding his footing and his role in both the destinies of planet Krypton and of Earth. His burden is heavy as his challenge is not only limited to defeating the regular villain but facing someone who is equally strong and technically skilled – a general from his home planet – General Zod (Michael Shannon), on top of having to choose which race he will save from extinction.
What I liked about this version was the approach to Superman as an alien. While the basic tenet of the Superman mythos is basically Superman as a being from another planet, never has the fact been highlighted as in this version. Superman has always been previously accepted as Earth’s savior mainly because he looks human, and he saves people but never has he been shunned for his deeds. He was always seen as a hero, but not this time. And this was what drew audiences to Man of Steel. In this installment, Superman is trying to prove himself an ally of the humans who believed him to be an enemy because he was different. This, eventually proved to be his chance to exemplify his humanity and his human characteristics.
What the film serves to emphasize, I think is that a man is not defined by his powers but rather the strength of his heart. The new Superman indeed symbolizes the message of hope that the S on his costume signified.
Frankly, I have liked all of the actors cast for the titular role (except for those I have not seen on screen like the Supermen of the 50s) but Henry Cavill brings something fresh to the table, an effortless calm and a depth of anguish that I don’t think any of the previous versions were able to pull off (mainly because of the source material).
Russel Crowe was also a no brainer choice for the role of Jor-El. I don’t think anyone could have balanced off the action scenes and the dramatic components of the part as well as he did. He is one fine actor and all he really has to do is be in a movie for it to be awesome. In contrast, I think Kevin Costner got the short end of the stick because despite the wealth of wisdom that his Jonathan Kent imparted on the young Clark, I don’t think he was quite able to connect with any of the actors who played Clark. Thus, in the battle of fathers, Jor-El draws the hands down victory.
And forget about comic books, director Zac Snyder (300) took this movie straight to the graphic novel route. Man of Steel was definitely darker and more intense than its predecessors that is far different from the Marvel formula. What’s good about Snyder is that he doesn’t really do anything halfway. He can always be counted upon to produce visually stunning frames and an artistic treatment that really sets his films apart. The cinematography and the excellent texturing of this film blew me away.
I must admit though that it took an hour or so of heavy drama and flashbacks before the movie kicked in to high gear, and this I believe is one of the drawbacks of the film. But when it did, it was totally worth it. Never before have we seen Superman being tossed around like a rag doll, and even reeling from attacks against him. The devastation to Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis resulting from the epic showdowns between Jor-El and Zod and later, Kal-El and Zod — out of this world.
All in all, Man of Steel was one of the best Superman films I have seen from the franchise. True, there were some tweaks to the original material but most of it made sense so I am not one to complain. One of these is seeing Superman in a different costume. I am still getting used to this new aspect. I think DC managed to set itself apart from Marvel superheroes in terms of approach. They took the more mature route which sells well to adult fans but I’m not so sure if it is very kid-friendly due to the amount of violence in this movie. Man of Steel is truly not your typical superhero movie.