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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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