Superman has to be one of the hardest heroes to adapt to film. Sure the first two films from the Chris Reeve years are classic, but they do not hold up well next to the modern superhero films. The movies made Superman able to do anything. I mean, besides flight, invulnerability, super breathe and various vision powers, he can turn back time, produce a super-cellophane “S” to trap his foes and even cause amnesia through a “super-kiss.” He was like a god. The 2006 movie “Superman Returns” sure didn’t help with the “Jesus” metaphor being totally overt in it. Superman was just too, well, “super” to relate.
The new movie, THE MAN OF STEEL, tries to show the man in Superman. It follows Clark Kent as he drifts from town to town, working small jobs while trying to discover who he is and track clues to where he came from. He ends up in the Canadian Arctic where he finds a space craft from Krypton and meets a plucky reported named Lois Lane.
After saving Lois from the ship’s defenses and dropping her off safely, Clark learns of his heritage, his true name of Kal-El, his planet’s fate and of General Zod, who happens to have survived Krypton’s fate in the Phantom Zone along with a dozen or so of his followers. Zod knows of Kal-El, and believes he has something that will help him rebuild Krypton.
Lois tracks down Clark as Zod reaches Earth, demanding that Kal is turned over to him. Donning the familiar red and blue suit, Clark becomes Superman, Earth’s only protection against and army of super powered Kryptonians.
The movies is heavy on the action, which is what the franchise needed. Warner Bros teased that the fight scene between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix Revolutions could serve as a template for a Superman/Zod battle. With several scripts that languished in development hell, people were expecting Superman Returns to have more intense action. Instead, we gat Bryan SInger’s love letter to the Christopher Reeve films that did nothing update the movie mythos. Man of Steel reboots the franchise, giving us a Superman who is starting out and is still unsure in his abilities. It gives us that superhuman-on-superhuman fights that we been waiting for. It gives us a Superman who faces a challenge that he could fail, and forces him to make tough choices that, if handled by a good writer, could affect him in later movies.
This Superman is not perfect. He can’t be everywhere and save everyone. He chooses to go after the world engine in the South Pacific while the USAF take on the mothership in Metropolis. Sure, thousands, if not millions died in Metropolis, but billions would have if the world engine wasn’t stopped. In the climax he makes a tough decision, similar to one he made in a storyline in 1988. This is not a smile and wave Superman form the 80’s movie.
The movie is definitely dark. Christopher Nolan (director of the Dark Knight Trilogy) was a producer of this and his influence shows in the film. The director, Zack Snyder, is good at making big action sequences that drive the movie. They take up a big portion of the movie, but, to me, they weren’t overdrawn and helped the movie. Story-wise, it may have played with the Superman mythos a bit, especially with the Clark-Lois dynamic, but I think it works and make Lois a more competent character.
I believe the Man of Steel is a good starting point to the new DC Cinematic Universe. I remain hopeful that future films in this project will improve on this and give us a series of movies comparable to the Marvel films. Some make balk that this isn’t the Superman film they were expecting: light-hearted, cheesy and safe, but that is not what the Superman franchise needs. It needs the show the man in the Man of Steel, facing challenges that even his powers might not be able to stop, yet still persevering.