DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
Contains MAJOR Spoilers!
Will we be adding this to our collection? YES
The wait is over. After seven years, the second Superman reboot is here. Like it or not and I did, Superman Returns (2006) failed to ignite the box office of 2006 as DC’s revolution against the rise of Marvel continued after Batman Begins (2005) a year earlier. Superman: The Movie had taken Superman to new, epic levels as well as elevating the genre of Comic book movies to more than just cheap and cheesy TV shows.
Richard Donner had demonstrated that Superheroes could be portrayed as real, epic characters, those such as Hercules and Odysseus. Mythical figures to represent the strength which many of us wish that we had but also to look at the deeper issues of morality and motivations.
Heroes is the right word and Superman has embodied this ideal for decades, after starting out as a generic hero, possibly the first major one of the comic era. Donner’s film raised the bar even higher by adding themes of religion and iconography such as the metaphor that Superman is a Jesus like saviour.
It was this theme which dominated Bryan Singer’s 2006 movie and its over use will have had something to do with its poor box office, though I don’t think that over $300 million is poor anything! Here we start again and since there’s no doubt that Batman Begins success was driving Superman Returns, enough time has passed to draw from the talent behind it, with Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer creating a reboot project which Zack Snyder, of 300 (2006) and the often maligned, again unfairly, Watchmen (2009), would ultimately go on to direct.
But let’s face it, Snyder has not made it easy for himself, with flops such as Sucker Punch (2011) and his style is strong, but not always subtle. One problem that we have here going in is that we’ll all expecting, even though we’ve been told repeatedly not to, the next The Dark Knight (2008) whilst hoping for something like The Avengers, fun and something with the ability to lead on to the much-anticipated Justice League project.
Well, first off, whether it’s the beginning of an epic trilogy like that of The Dark Knight or a lighter franchise such The Avengers (2012), Man Of Steel is a movie in its own right and must be judged accordingly. So, let’s begin with the opening segment as we quickly find ourselves on the planet Krypton, but this must be Spring because exorcised are the crystal glaciers and instead we have a mountainous and vast world on the brink of destruction.
Marlon Brando’s sombre Jor El is now Gladiator himself, Russell Crowe expertly bridging the two personae that he can do so well, both as the revolutionary scientist and the warrior defending his work against General Zod (Michael Shannon), who has mounted a bloody coup-de-tat against the Kryptonian council. Jor El despatches his only son to Earth and the basic framework for the origin of Superman and the planet’s destruction is intact, but with some nifty changes, as well as a massive amount of action, all within the first 20 minutes.
It can be a lot to take in, with a lot of exposition, action and world building but it all works well. Cut to 30 years later and the gruff Clark Kent as he saves the day on a burning oil rig. Now, this sequence is cool, very well done but it comes way too soon in the movie. No sooner have we met Henry Cavill’s, Kent than he’s Superman, without the cape mind. I would have liked just a little more time to get used to him but I also like what they were doing here as they’re literally cutting to chase.
The following half hour is of the wandering hero trying to find himself whilst having to leave a town every time he reveals his powers, whilst we’re given his Smallville back story in flashback. The story is good but it can seem to be a little loose, with Zack Snyder’s direction being quite scrappy at this point. It could have been tighter but the elements are good, though not always subtle, as with the Tornado and Jonathan Kent’s (Kevin Costner) death.
I like what they did with Jor El and Johnathan Kent in this film. In Superman: The Movie (1978) and I believe in the comics, Jor El was a scientist and Kent was an all American farmer. Jor El was all about teaching him to be a savour and Kent was his moral compass, but here both his fathers are heroes in their own right. Crowe’s Jor El is a warrior and Jonathan Kent is trying to help people and is prepared to lay down his life for the greater good as well as his own adopted son.
But the scene in which Jonathan Kent dies is too “on the nose” and has about as much subtly as a sledgehammer! But I can still go with this because the symbolism is there and that’s what I like. There’s no doubt that Costner is one of several cast members who steal the show, but the cast are generally good, though there’s another who stands out to be and that is Antje Traue (Faora-Ul). She makes a fantastic, menacing and sadistic villain, not too far removed from Ursa (Sarah Douglas) in Superman II (1980) but Traue takes it even further.
After Clark or Kal El discovers his true identity, he dons the suit and cape and begins to learn the full extent of powers including flight. Meanwhile, Zod and his followers have escaped the Phantom Zone in which they were sent after Kal El’s escape and have made their way to Earth to retrieve a Codex which was placed aboard his ship. Zod intends to terra-form Earth into a New Krypton and Superman, as he has now been dubbed, after he earns the trust of the Humans, must stop them.
His first major battle is in Smallville and this is one of, if not the best action scene that I have ever seen and certainly the finest superhero smack-down ever. The action here is iconic and has to be seen to be believed. You could freeze frame almost any moment and see a memorable or iconic image. This is surely what we’ve been waiting for? From this point the action continues and the plot kind of stops with everything already explained and set up for a special effects finale.
And what a finale, with skyscrapers falling, supermen and women crashing through buildings, nods to Lex Luthor and I believe Wayne Enterprises (keep an eye on that satellite) if you can spot them and a final duel between Superman and Zod which can only end one way, can’t it? But it isn’t until the end that the bespectacled Clark Kent that we know as his alter ego makes his entrance as the set up for Man Of Steel 2 is in place. But here Lois Lane is well aware that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same and the whole trope of her not knowing is gone.
Probably for the best it was a bit of joke that she would have noticed, right? The chemistry between the two leads was okay but there was a general lack of humour or brevity between the main cast here but I still found them mostly likeable, certainly Laurence Fishbourne as Perry White and Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman. Wasn’t as struck on Diane Lane’s Martha Kent to be honest but she wasn’t that bad.
The spirit of Christopher Nolan can be felt here as I do believe that once he co-wrote the story and produced the film, it was Zack Snyder’s baby and it clearly was, with a combination of stylish action and mega-action which could probably have been reined in a bit, to be honest.
Hans Zimmer’s score was perfect for the tone of this 21st century blockbuster with a new march to contrast rather than rival John Williams still iconic and brilliant theme from 1978. The themes for Zod and Superman convey their traits so well and draw us into their conflict as well as their achievements.
So in the end we have a film which is exactly where it’s needs to be. Smack in the middle of The Avengers and The Dark Knight. With the grounding of the latter but the bombastic action of the former, this is not the same universe and Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as the comic book tone of the alien worlds and the bold hero are well entrenched but there’s a sense that if Superman was real, this is more likely the way it may go down, which is the sort of comments that were made about Batman Begins in 2005.
Plausibility, believability and likelihood are all different things but it’s believability in the characters and motivations which drive good drama and even though here, things are spelt out for us and the drama can be driven home which a sledgehammer, it still has the feel of classic mythology. Superman is already a hero before we begin to watch this movie or any other so it’s all about doing him justice and realising the vision rather than trying to make him particularly plausible.
This is one of those films for which I’m really anticipating the sequel. So what’s the best way to go with that sequel? To me, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy again sets out the right path. With the creation of Batman in Batman Begins, the often remarked “escalation” would take place in The Dark Knight (2008), as with Batman leading the way as a costumed hero, mad, costumed villains would follow, as he was raising the bar and stakes for criminals. Lex Luthor was a reactionary in Superman: The Movie and wanted Superman gone as to not interfere with his genocidal real estate schemes.
To me, this is what may have been set up here. The beginning of the toted Justice League as Superman’s presence has literally changed the world. The idea that an alien would have a dramatic impact of the way the world works is hinted at throughout this film and I hope that it is not only continued but built upon, only adding credibility to this film’s message. But I also hope that the action is toned down just a bit. The destruction here was great fun and I loved it, as it sends a strong signal to the audience that the DC universe is here and here with bang and scale like we’ve never seen before but I think that the action should be more focused next time.
My biggest complaint was the 3D, which was one of the most ineffective conversions which I’ve seen to date.
Highly recommended, great fun but not quite the same tone as The Dark Knight trilogy but nor should it be. Here the tone is spot of for the beginnings of The Justice League, just as Iron Man (2008) was for The Avengers.