The recent advent of successful superhero films has included a number of iconic, yet not necessarily mainstream characters. These people used to be just a part of the comic book fan’s rabid imagination, yet they are currently among the most popular– case (s) in point: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow… you get my drift. Yet one of the more iconic superheroes has yet to have his film heyday in the style of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. That is, until Man of Steel came along.
Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise sees the iconic hero take a turn for the ‘dark side’. Instead of presenting the eponymous hero at his best and brightest, Snyder (with help from Dark Knight director Chris Nolan), explores the inner conflicts that Clark Kent is forced to contend with. From a traumatic encounter with his inability to focus his powers to a near-death incident that forces Kent to display his abilities, Snyder paints a picture not of a hero, but of a gifted, yet human man– forced to contend with the immeasurable strength within him. These humanizing tactics almost make us forget Kent is a unique human , up until halfway into the film when he encounters his true father Jor-El (a badly coiffed Russell Crowe), dawns his iconic suit (modernized and darkened appropriately), and accepts his role as Superman. The caped hero’s main enemy in this film is a man from his home planet Krypton, General Zod: a rebel turned prisoner turned revolutionary bent on rebuilding Krypton atop the ashes of a fallen Earth.
Snyder’s choice to do away with a linear story line may confuse most first-time viewers, yet the action suffices to keep them firmly in place and patient enough. Some confusion may occur throughout the first few minutes of the film, thanks to the Krypton part that sets Man of Steel into motion. Flashbacks come like unnatural hallucinations, and leave us wanting to know more. Ultimately, the viewer comes to forget all these unresolved aspects as the second half of Man of Steel kicks off the action part. This is the movie you’ve been wanting to see– a reimagined, badass Superman and a formidable villain: what more could you ask for?
Hunky Brit Henry Cavill leads the cast as Superman. A strong, attractive presence onscreen, he looks the part almost perfectly. The same can’t be said of his acting, though. Cavill may be an experienced thespian, having starred in mainstream films and a Showtime series alongside fellow European Jonathan Rhys Meyers, yet he lacks the inherent intensity of another Brit actor turned superhero– something that could have added much depth to his ‘darkened’ role as the red-caped lead. Amy Adams does her duty as Lois Lane, yet it feels like she’s been forced into situations that aren’t even supposed to include her. So that’s the level of access granted to a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter! (Or, Lane may just be a case study for aspiring journalists: children, this is how hard an award-winning journalist works). Applause to her, though, for portraying arguably one of the more headstrong Lois Lanes in Superman film history. An oddly coiffed Russell Crowe does an okay job as Jor-El, yet he’s forgettable in the part. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner play better, more memorable parts in the film– standing out when they’re supposed to be standing back. Michael Shannon plays the monotonous Zod, a single-minded character that leaves Shannon no room for really exploring depth in his part. Morpheus himself (Lawrence Fishburne) plays Lane’s editor at the Daily Planet Perry White.
The first few minutes of the film could easily have been cut to make way for a shortened prologue and other scenes. It would’ve been nice to see more of young man Kent’s life before he decides to ‘suit up’, but all we’ve got is almost an hour’s worth of disconnected flashbacks and flashes into a disheveled Kent’s journey that are meant to suffice as a run through of Clark Kent’s childhood, teenage years and ‘adulthood pre Superman’. Thankfully the actors that populate this sequence are formidable: Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are arguably too talented to be relegated to the ‘old parent’ role. But they do it with experience and with enough class that the confusing bits feel more comfortable than expected. That’s what great casting looks like.
Man of Steel is a confusing roller coaster of a film. One part drama, one part flashback trip and two parts blockbuster action movie, it does a surprisingly good job of meshing together oddball elements to create a watchable, enjoyable film that actually did extremely well at the box office (it’s the highest grossing Superman film of all time). The quality of casting and filmmaking that went into creating the mismatched parts of Man of Steel is what made up for the strangeness in scene and narrative that may seem quite confusing at first. This is what made the film (and the reboot) as successful as it was.
Kudos to Warner Brothers for great choices in director and cast– I’m can’t wait for the next one.