2006 ushered in the return of the single most overpowered super hero ever created with Superman Returns. The return, however, was short lived. Despite having fairly good reviews, the film failed to be all that compelling, a problem that I have personally felt has plagued the Superman films since the late 70s. What was intended to be re-boot of the always-popular franchise failed to produce a sequel. We now have another reboot in Man of Steel. Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan present us with a darker take on the coming of age of Superman, with beautiful cinematography and new insight into one of the most well known origin stories in cinematic history.
Man of Steel had to re-introduce the world to a character that literally everyone already knew. Superman’s origin story is, arguably, even more well known than Batman’s. We’re talking about the most recognizable icon in pop-culture history, and Snyder had to come up with a way to say “hey, this is Superman” in a way that would keep the audiences attention. He succeeded. We are given a far better look at Krypton than we’ve ever seen before, and we’re introduced to Kal-El’s back story with his human family through a series of flashbacks during the time that he comes to realize his full potential. What makes this retelling so interesting is that it’s more a coming of age story than an origins story. We know where Kal comes from and we know what happens with his family, but the details have always been a bit fuzzy. We get to see a young Clark Kent struggle as a child to hone his skills, struggle emotionally with situations on a level unparalleled with other chapters of Superman history. The story is told in a way that makes it evident that Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s only weakness, his emotions and psyche are often times just as dangerous to him. When General Zod attacks, the distinction is made that, despite being of the same race, Kal and Zod are on different factions of an inter-species war.
Visually speaking, this is the best of the Superman films. It’s not as light as Superman Returns which many people found upsetting, but it was time for something new. Superman Returns offered the general public what was expected from Superman, a fun and bright story with romance and lots and lots of kryptonite to keep things interesting. This failed. In Man of Steel there is little to no kryptonite to be found, the romance is kept on the back burner (though certainly not forgotten) and the darker tone ads a layer of seriousness that is unexpected from the films. The motivation of the villains is clear, and the choices put before Kal-El are intriguing. In one film we’re introduced to Superman as if he was an old friend that we gladly welcome back into our lives. The darkness was not without its laughs, however. Kent remains a Kansas farm boy at heart, and the film even finds room for some corny jokes. I particularly enjoyed during one of the most intense scenes, Superman bashing into a sign that boasts how many injury free days that work environment has enjoyed. As he ricochets off the wall and onto the ground, the numbers fall off the sign leaving a zero in their place. The fact is, the film deals with some incredibly huge stakes, and to bog that down with an overtly light tone would have been a detriment.
The acting is superb, Amy Adams is an interesting and true-to-character Lois Lane, Henry Cavill is a less clean cut Superman, but one that offers a nice change from the last few decades of Superman films. Michael Shannon gives an awesome performance as the zealous and terrifying General Zod. We not only get an interesting story with compelling characters and situations, we’re also given front row seats to some of the most awe inspiring “super fights” in recent cinematic history. Sure it’s all CG, but the cinematography and emotional attachment that’s used throughout the film prepares you for it, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself enthralled by the CGI.
Man of Steel is my favorite Superman movie. I understand those that will stand firm next to the Christopher Reeves films (at least the first two), but the removal of the slapstick humor and the advancement of special effects as well as an interesting story acted out by passionate and talented actors puts this film as not only my favorite Superman film, but one of my favorite films of 2013, so far.