I use the sentence, “Why the world doesn’t need Superman” not only as a somewhat lame yet somewhat clever Lois Lane homage, but in the literal sense that we no longer need the Superman mythos as we have known it since 1939. In recent years, DC Comics and parent company Warner Brothers has made attempts to steer the legendary hero away from the outdated creation from the minds of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to a more modern day tale of a man trying to find his place on an alien world that he has known as his only home. The comic book industry was spun on its head in 2011 when DC Comics introduced the “New 52” through a cataclysmic event called “Flashpoint”. The “New 52” was a somewhat “reboot” of the DC universe reintroducing their stable of characters while maintaining some of their past in the DCU canon. While there were some successes with this bold move, there were many failures. I count as one of the big failures their reintroduction of Superman. DC took the Superman legend and made the legend into a dull, drab character that seemed more like a pathetic soap opera leading man than that of a superhero. About this same time of the “New 52” is when ‘Man of Steel’ was announced. You can imagine my concern and reservation at the time because that the initial description of what this film would be seemed very much like what was attempted in the comic book. I became more confident as time went on in what this film might accomplish when cast and crew choices were being announced. In the weeks leading up to the release, I became more excited about seeing this film. Yet, I still had concerns in the back of my mind even watching the previews before the film that I may have set my expectations too high and I was in for a disappointment. I am very happy to say that most of this film lived up to my expectations and more!
It is obvious very early on in the film that producer Christopher Nolan, writer David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder had created something special and were going in a very smart and different direction with this version of Superman. This is not the typical Krypton explodes and Superman crash lands as a baby to be raised by the Kent’s to become the hero origin story. This is more an epic telling of Kal-El (Henry Cavill) and the history of his family and planet. The fact that the filmmakers have most of the Clark Kent in Smallville story as a series of flashbacks takes us far away from that classic tale while still keeping him somewhat just the boy from Kansas. Nolan, Snyder and Goyer use the classic tropes where they have to, but make this more of a science fiction story and less comic book superhero series. We learn that Krypton is a colony of explorers that set out millennia ago to populate other worlds. Krypton has advanced into a society that genetically engineers their offspring using a “codex” that creates a society of people that are predestined into their roles and professions. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) a scientist and his wife (Ayelet Zurer) wanted their child to be able to choose his destiny and had a natural childbirth. With Krypton on the brink of destruction, Kal-El will not find his destiny on Krypton as he is rocketed to Earth with the future of Krypton in his DNA.
One of the reasons that ‘Man of Steel’ works is the villain. General Zod (Michael Shannon) was less a villain and more a soldier doing his job. Zod was bio-engineered to be the protector of Krypton and its people. With Kal-El having the future of his people literally in his blood, Zod goes to any length to remove Kal-El as an obstacle to his purpose. Zod is not evil. His character has motivations that clash with those of Clark Kent. Clark learns that as Kal-El, his father sent him to Earth to be a savior of both the Kryptonian people and humans by bringing them together through his superior genes. However, Clark was raised by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who taught him that he needs to hide what he can do in order to not frighten people. Costner is brilliant as Clark’s father. He really puts his mark on this role. Jonathan Kent is a person of good values and morals and passes those on to his adoptive son while all the while remaining cautious of what Clark can do. There is a powerful scene in this film between Clark and his father where his father is discussing with Clark if he should have rescued a bus full of children. This scene alone is worth seeing Costner as Kent.
Some of your classic characters from the Superman canon were present. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was a fun character and I liked this Lois, but it is not the same Lois Lane we are used to. I am a fan of Adams and she did what she could in this role and gave a good performance, but I think I would have gone a different direction with this casting. (It is hard for me to see anyone but Erica Durance as Lois) The Lois of this film was a little too sweet. She had some edge to her, but not what I expect in a Lois Lane. She did pair nicely with the Cavill Superman and at least was not the klutzy, accident prone Lois we usually see. I don’t think there was one scene where she laid in the corner unconscious. The other supporting cast such as Christopher Meloni, Harry Lennix and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White were brilliant and did nicely in their respective roles.
‘Man of Steel’ is an action packed film. This will be pleasant for most as the last opportunity Warner Brothers had at Superman was a brooding let down of very little action. I have said many times that I have yet to see the perfect Superman movie. The Reeve Superman films were more about a man with powers than a “super” man. The Routh Superman was emo and lacked any connection to what Superman is all about. After watching ‘Man of Steel’ I still feel I have yet to see a “perfect” Superman movie, but I have finally seen a great one. I can cite a few issues with the film such as the pacing and rhythm being off in places. There could have been a little more character development and some of the flashback sequences could have been placed better. However, as a whole, this film gives me what I love in comic books and science fiction. I do have to comment that while I am a fan of Hans Zimmer’s work, I did miss having at least a hint of John William’s classic Superman theme. Even with that said, the score was well done in this film.
This different approach to the Superman story was a risk that paid off for DC Comics, Warner Brothers and the filmmakers. Sure, there will be bits of this that the die-hard fanboys will not approve of, but I think there will be little to complain about. I feel similar to the way I felt after watching Batman Begins. The story fell outside the normal tropes for the character, but made me believe these characters and world exists. This was not just another Superman film, or just a reboot to the franchise. This is an attempt to create a world where Warner Brothers can introduce other aspects and characters of the DCU. With this film they WB and DC have finally presented us with a seed that could blossom into a collection of films similar to what Marvel and Disney have given us in the Marvel Universe. I look forward to what the future holds for this franchise and for the WB film DCU. If you are a fan of Superman, see this film! If you are a lover of science fiction, see this film! If you love action films with great CGI work, see this film! I give ‘Man of Steel’ 4 ½ stars out of 5. The world needs THIS Superman!
The Chubtoad is co-host and creator of Nerd Heard. He and his co-host Kenneth E. Hayes can be heard on the Nerd Heard podcast. (To return with new episodes sometime in the fall) Take a listen to what these nerds heard!
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