Man of Steel is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe. It is the first installment of the DC Extended Universe.
There are a lot of ways that I could begin discussing Man of Steel, and I think the best place to start is in the production beginnings, most notably in the friendship and ongoing relationship between Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. In 2008, Warner Bros. was hoping to give the Superman franchise a modern-day reboot, and Goyer was able to convince Nolan with a successful idea that would eventually grow into another superhero universe. This is not Nolan's film, however, for his only big credit for Man of Steel would be producer. This is Zack Snyder's film, and now having seen it twice myself, I can easily say that Snyder is trying oh so hard to make his own Batman Begins. For how much Nolan analyzed and explored the origins and motivations of Batman in the first installment of his Dark Knight trilogy, Snyder attempts to do the same thing here with Superman. But for whatever reason, Snyder goes for the darker, no-nonsense approach. More on that later.
The plot for Man of Steel is more so a mash-up of the plots of the two Richard Donner Superman movies. The planet Krypton is facing destructive implosion after years of becoming unstable. Jor-El (Crowe), the chief advisor of Krypton's supreme council, orders that the council give him possession of Krypton's genetic codex. Suddenly, an uprising takes place, led by General Zod (Shannon). Knowing that Krypton is doomed, Jor-El steals the codex and infuses them into his recently born son, Kal-El, who was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. The baby Kal-El is sent away on a rocket, just as Zod arrives to kill Jor-El. Zod's rebellion is repressed, leading to his arrest and banishment into the Phantom Zone. Krypton explodes, and Kal-El's rocket eventually makes its way to Earth and crashes in Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El is discovered by the couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, and the two raise the baby as their child, giving him the name Clark. Clark grows up, eventually seeking to find out who he really is and where he came from. As Clark begins to discover his purpose and who he is, General Zod escapes from the Phantom Zone, eventually making his way to Earth.
Like the first Superman, we get the back-story of Superman, witnessing Krypton's destruction and moments of Clark's childhood. And like the second Superman, General Zod and his evil gang serve as the main antagonists, making their way to Earth after escaping the Phantom Zone (but this time, not because of a mistake made by Superman). How much you will like or dislike Man of Steel will mostly depend on how passionate you are about Superman, his motivations, and his back-story. I am not the most hyperactive Superman fan out there, which is why I find myself wedged right in the middle in terms of Man of Steel's approval scale. Is it a masterpiece? Not by a long shot? Is it terrible? Not at all. The best word that I can come up with to describe Man of Steel is serviceable. For anyone who desires nothing more than to watch Superman fly through the skies and punch out evil Zod henchmen, Snyder delivers those goods as well as anyone else could. As for those who also want to see memorable storytelling and complex character development, well, you won't really find it here.
- The action and visuals excel, fueled by an adrenaline boosting Hans Zimmer score (sadly, we don't ever hear the John Williams' Superman theme). The film does admittedly flirt with a Michael Bay-esque explosion and destruction overload, though most of it comes in the film's third act.
- A special shout-out should be given to Kristy Carlson and Lora Kennedy, who made as good of casting choices as you possibly could for this kind of movie. Henry Cavill perfectly matches the muscular build and curly black hair that are normally associated with Superman. Amy Adams, who was going on her third attempt at landing a Lois Lane part, thrives as Ms. Lane and doesn't come off as a completely helpless damsel in distress that she could so easily be reduced to. Russell Crowe also shows as Jor-El that he has quite a knack for playing the all-knowing character that gets other characters up to speed (another example would be his role as Dr. Jekyll in the most recent Mummy). Michael Shannon makes Zod convincing, and Kevin Costner fits as a solemn Jonathan Kent. Carlson and Kennedy would also be back for the casting Batman v Superman, and joining them was someone by the name of Jo Edna Boldin. I'll bet Boldin was the one who casted Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.
- Back to that whole Man of Steel trying to be Batman Begins thing. There are some striking comparisons between the two films that just cannot go untold. Man of Steel is told in a nonlinear format and puts a lot of focus on the origins of its central hero. It also relies on getting its female lead closer to the hero because the female lead dives too deep into forces beyond their control. Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes were childhood friends, though. Lois Lane, at least in this film, is an overly curious reporter whose ambition leads her to finding Superman. I know these sound like nitpicks, but hear me out.
The main thing I'm trying to get at is that Snyder is trying to recapture the magic that Christopher Nolan displayed with Batman Begins. He's trying to provide a deeply layered psychoanalysis of one of the world's most beloved superheroes and believes giving Superman a darker edge will help him get his intended effect. Snyder tries to enhance this effort by making scenes look de-saturated, ignoring any basic form of color correction as well. This darker, more serious take on Superman is the low point. It just doesn't fit. It fits for someone like Batman because he's a superhero that thrives in the darkness and having his appearances as concealed as possible. Not Superman, though. We can agree that Superman is meant to embody hope, justice, and the American way, proudly saving the citizens of Metropolis and putting evil criminals away. This is a version of Superman that doesn't smile or appear to be radiating confidence, which I blame more on Snyder's direction than Henry Cavill's acting. What we get here is a Superman that is troubled and brooding. If Richard Donner's 1978 Superman showed us anything, it's that Superman can learn his origins and not be in a sour, mopey mood while doing it.
I can see where Snyder was going with his darker, more serious approach to Superman. He was hoping to make Superman more human and relatable. A nice ambition, but one that amounts to attempting to fit a round peg into a square hole. Some people might have bought into a darker, no-nonsense Superman, but I'm sure there were many others who didn't. The best thing that Man of Steel has going for it to distinguish itself from other Superman movies is that it gives Superman a much-needed 21st century overhaul. The action and effects stand out, and the cast is as good as you could make it. I really think Henry Cavill can make this Superman work. That just might depend on what kind of tone and direction his next solo Superman film gets.
Recommend? Yes. It's worth seeing once.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: