Man of Steel (2013): A Misunderstood, Flawed Film

Wonder Woman, the fourth DC Extended Universe film, is about to be released in theaters.  Leading up to its release, the first three DCEU films will be reviewed and discussed, starting with 2013’s Man of Steel.  The film was highly divisive upon its release with many not in agreement with Superman’s darker feel.  But has the film improved with time?  The following review will be spoiler free.

Background

Man of Steel is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Henry Cavill as the last son of Krypton alongside Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as General Zod, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  Cal-El, also called Clark Kent, comes to the realization that he is not from Earth, but rather of a previously destroyed planet named Krypton.  Clark, upon this realization, must learn of his strengths and the effect that it will have on the rest of the planet.  However, these ideas are challenged when General Zod makes his way to Earth.  Zod attempts to create a new Krypton with the power of a world engine, leaving only Clark to stop him.

man of steel

image via ComingSoon

Superman Returns didn’t exactly hit with fans in 2006, putting a plan for a 2009 Christmas sequel firmly on the back burner.  Also in 2009, Jerry Siegel, original creator of the Superman character, won a court ruling which recaptured the rights to the character for his family.  Thankfully, Warner Bros. didn’t have to pay royalties to the Siegel family.  However, it was paramount that a Superman film be in production before 2011 or else the Siegel family would be able to sue the production company for a loss of revenue.

After the release of The Dark Knight in 2008, the celebrity of Christopher Nolan and writing partner David S. Goyer had improved mightily.  This made the two hot commodities in the industry.  Naturally, when Goyer then pitched a new, realistic spin on the Superman character, Warner Bros. quickly put the film into production.

What I Liked

For all the hate that Man of Steel receives, there’s a great deal of things to like.

Let’s be honest, the campy, underwear-having, Christopher Reeve-like Superman can’t work in today’s superhero movie climate.  Superman Returns is a clear representation of that fact.  I appreciate the idea of updating arguably the most famous hero for a new audience.  Did the creative team maybe go a little too far in capturing the character’s realism?  Probably.  However, one can’t argue that it was a bold direction for a character known for saving cats from trees.

man of steel

image via Roger Ebert

In the same vein, many believe the John Williams rendition of the Superman theme to be incredibly iconic.  This would make any new deviations from that tune a very slippery slope.  Thankfully, Hans Zimmer took up the mantle to create an equally great theme.  The furious beating of the drums in combination with a fast-paced instrumental accompaniment make each scene pulsate with energy.  When the action picks up, only one word correctly captures the feeling evoked: epic.  Thanks to this great score, Man of Steel establishes an epic feel worthy of the Superman character.

What I Liked…Continued

In some cases, a superhero film is only as good as the villain.  Man of Steel is certainly in good company in that respect with Michael Shannon’s General Zod commanding the screen.

Shannon has perfected the art of the intense stare.  When Zod is meant to be menacing, you absolutely feel his pent-up rage and emotion as he stares a hole through the other characters on screen.

man of steel

image via ScreenRant

You understand Zod as a character.  Although he means to commit mass genocide on an entire planet, it comes from a place of legitimate care.  Bred from conception to be a warrior, Zod lost his purpose as an entity when he lost the ability to protect and serve his people on Krypton.  All his actions are to protect his own people while Superman threatens that possibility.  Any way you look at it, Zod is a solidly written character with distinct motivations that make a whole lot of sense.

What I Didn’t Like

Yes, the final act is definitely overkill.  Zack Snyder clearly got a little too excited with the destruction.  He failed to realize the implications of the terror and destruction that is present.  This is a given.  This point has been discussed ad nauseum so I won’t venture further into why it’s not ideal.

The real issues with Man of Steel come from the presentation and realization of the film’s themes.  Russell Crowe’s Jor-El and Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent tell Clark that there will come a day where he will need to figure out how he’ll use his gifts for the benefit of society.  However, this idea is told completely out of order.

man of steel

image via Aceshowbiz

The idea of Clark struggling to figure out how he’ll use his gifts is a very interesting concept.  The problem is, we already know the answer to that question before the theme is even discussed.  We are shown Clark saving people and using his powers for good from the onset of the film.  This makes any discussion of whether or not he’ll be a force for good completely moot since we’ve already seen him in action.

What I Didn’t Like…Continued

The other main idea in Man of Steel is trust.  Clark’s father wants Clark’s gifts to be kept a secret in fear of mankind rejecting him.  This theme is warranted considering that an alien with unbelievable gifts on Earth would be a scary prospect for some.  The destruction of Metropolis doesn’t help this idea of trust, but the main issue is that Man of Steel wavers back and forth between people accepting Superman throughout the film, leaving the viewer wondering whether or not this idea is fulfilled.

Because of this, Man of Steel has a disjointed feel, having cool scenes that maybe don’t necessarily fit together when you think hard about the film.  The wavering back and forth of themes muddles the through-lines of the film, hampering Man of Steel from being a great film.

man of steel

image via forum.bodybuilding.com

Conclusion

Man of Steel is a fine film.  The keyword there is fine.  I think a lot of people were shocked with how different the film is from the beloved Christopher Reeve Superman.  There are some issues here, but Man of Steel has a lot of quality elements that make it an enjoyable film.  It gets a B.  Of the three initial DCEU films, it’s most certainly the best, even if that isn’t necessarily high praise considering the competition.

Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on Man of Steel?  Comment down below with your thoughts!

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Nick Kush

A current college student, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to grow his own movie knowledge as well as share his own thoughts with others in a streamlined fashion. As MovieBabble continues to grow, Nick hopes to one day become a reputable critic that many turn to first for a quality movie review.

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30 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading your positive spin on ‘Man of Steel’ and compared to Batman V. Superman it is a masterpiece. Yet, that is not saying much. MoS is not just one terrible movie but two stuck together badly. Here’s ten reasons I hated it so much:

    https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/ten-things-i-hate-about-you-1-zack-snyders-man-of-steel/

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’ll have to check it out!

    • I had a very similar view originally when it came to Man Of Steel. I felt there were more negatives than positives. Recently I had heard a few respected critics talk about how this movie was brilliant which made me wonder if i missed something. When I revisited it I saw the movie in different light for some of the decisions Snyder made. It is no where near a perfect film but watching it with fresh eyes definitely helped.

      • Nick Kush says:

        I think it’s such a different film than many expected so they quickly dismiss it altogether before simply weighing the pros and cons

      • It’s not a bad origin story but compared to Batman Begins it doesn’t really hit the lore in the same way. But Batman Begins is my favourite Comic Book movie so maybe I’m biased.

      • Nick Kush says:

        Totally agree with you there. Personally I think Batman Begins is the best origin story for a hero put to screen so when you compare the two its pretty difficult to give Man of Steel much credit lol

  2. Despite a good cast, I didn’t care for it at all. The bits with Pa Kent implying Clark should have let his classmate die rather than risk exposing himself left a particularly sour taste in my mouth. It just doesn’t work for Superman.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I do think it came off as a bit of a shock. Most people have this idealistic view of Superman so that grit just doesn’t work

  3. I enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s flawed but serves as an excellent jumping point for the Snyder Superman. The scene where Superman has to kill Zod is so excruciating…it humanized the character a great deal for me.

  4. I think we can all agree that compared to “Superman Returns” (which was a well-intended, but dull tribute to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve era of Superman films), Man of Steel definitely takes more chances. It does have some good themes and some nice performances (not to mention that we would all want to like this movie), but it’s ultimately bogged down with one too many bad decisions in plotting. Also, when compared with the utterly-mediocre “Green Lantern” from two years prior (which thankfully isn’t part of this universe), M.O.S. proved that Warner Bros. was trying to move away from its “play-it-safe” attitude with its DC films. Also, check out the “Superhero Rewind” review of this film, since you’ll be shocked at what details are present in the film, but Zack Snyder doesn’t bother to inform the audience about.

    • Total disagreement. Warner Brothers isn’t taking chances at all. They see Batman is their most successful hero so they make a dark, tormented Superman who’s presumably haunted by seeing the death of his father (that also had a strong Spiderman/Uncle Ben feel to it).

      • You are right in a way. I’ve noticed this trend even in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line. It started after 2011’s “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” when the focus was narrowed to just Superman, Batman & the Justice League. Following 2013’s “Superman Unbound” however, that series became entirely focused on Batman and the Justice League until that streak was finally broken with “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract”. Here’s hoping that the upcoming Wonder Woman film is the true sign that W.B. is finally willing to not handcuff itself to Batman in order to make a competent DC film.

      • Nick Kush says:

        From the early reviews that’s what seems to be the case!

    • Nick Kush says:

      Like I said, there’s a lot of neat scenes that don’t necessarily mix together. It did lead to obvious plot devices to move the film forward.

  5. ghostof82 says:

    Sorry, but no, MOS really hasn’t improved with time. A shorter, less po-faced directors cut would be an improvement.

    • Nick Kush says:

      That’s your opinion and you should stick to it! I totally understand that sentiment. It’s not the Superman film you’d expect.

  6. raistlin0903 says:

    The first time I saw Man of Steel I absolutely hated it, but the second time I appreciated it more, and it grew on me. As you say it is a fine movie. Nothing more, nothing less. The overkill at the end of the movie I could have fine without though, and if they had handled that differently it moght have been a better movie. Great post as always 😊

    • Nick Kush says:

      Thanks so much! I definitely feel like if they showed Supes saving dozens of people that many more would like it. However, as constructed it feels like a terrorist event

  7. Jay says:

    Wow, you needed to continue both sections, that’s awesome!

  8. I thought the first half of the movie was better than the second. I agree that it was a bit disjointed (an even worse problem with BvS). In spite of some critics, I don’t have a problem with the lead actor, but I think more care should have been given by the director to the delivery of certain lines.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I think Henry Cavill is a solid actor that doesn’t get enough to do. He showed in The Man From UNCLE that he’s very charismatic

  9. Chris Scott says:

    I generally don’t like Superman as a character. I find him intensely boring and much of this is due to him being basically a god on Earth. The only times I’ve felt a connection to him was in Superman II when he is pitted against enemies that are just as strong but he beats them by drawing on his human side. Man of Steel brought a lot of this feeling to the table for me. Yes, the final act is absurd and overkill, but also think that it might be the most realistic representation of super heroes battling. If he stops and retreats, Zod wins and destroys humanity and so, sometimes there will be collateral damage. Anyway, I don’t love the film but I like it, even if it craps on the core of the character a bit… personally I find him more interesting here.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I’d agree with that. I feel as if Snyder and Goyer just don’t really know how to write him as a character, leaving his god-like abilities to do the talking. He definitely has some nice character beats, but he’s unable to be charismatic

    • I didn’t mind the collateral damage as much as Superman apparently not making any attempt to mitigate it. That’s a standard trick in super-hero stories — the villains can count on the hero having to divide his attention between them and their victims — and it would have demonstrated that Superman’s more than just his powers. It felt like Snyder just decided “it’s a summer blockbuster, shit should blow up!” and didn’t put any more thought into it.

  10. Good review! My boyfriend loved loved LOVED this movie. He is one of the biggest Superman buffs I know. He thought it followed the comics really well (with the exception of a few creative changes) and that is really important to him. I really enjoyed it as well. I don’t love Superman as much as him. I’m more Batman but I still thought that this was a great start. Henry Cavill played Superman really well.

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