You know what everyone loves? Comic book movies and reboots. And Man of Steel is both. Henry Cavill stars as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman/the Man of Steel in Zack Snyder’s latest comic book adaption. The movie begins fittingly on Krypton during its final days. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) decides the best way to preserve the Kryptonian race is to send his infant son to Earth. That pisses off General Zod (Michael Shannon) and he vows to track down Kal-El, thus setting the plot in motion. The movie jumps ahead a few years, and you see a dejected Clark Kent trying to find his place in the world. He moves around, he uses false names, he is running from something, but he doesn’t know what. All that changes when he comes across a spaceship, meets the electronic ghost of his alien father, learns his true name and history, and gets a spiffy new spandex suit complete with cape. He spends a few glorious minutes teaching himself how to fly, and then General Zod arrives with his Kryptonian henchmen, eager for some space vengeance. Zod demands that the people of Earth must hand over Superman, but he’s got ulterior motives involving terraforming the Earth into a new Krypton. And Supes isn’t having any of that.
There have been a lot of mixed reviews about this movie. I don’t know why. It’s pretty solid. The action scenes are cool, and some of the dialog/exposition scenes are cheesy, but it’s a summer blockbuster and that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s smarter than most comic book flicks. The movie is non-linear and a lot of important moments are revealed in flashbacks. It’s important to note that aside from the opening scene, Clark has no direct contact with his two father figures. He only experiences Jor-El through the holographic representation of his consciousness, and you only know Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) through flashbacks. There are a few notable changes from the comics. For starters, Lois knows that Clark Kent is Superman pretty quickly. That kind of changes their whole relationship (traditionally she worships Superman and ignores Clark). For some unnecessary reason, Perry White is black and Jimmy Olsen had a sex change and became Jenny Olsen. Neither change has any effect on the plot whatsoever.
Superman is a Christian allegory and this movie really rubs it in your face. You only know Jesus as a baby, then briefly as a young adolescent, and then when he finally returns as a savior at the ripe old age of 33. That’s how you experience the Man of Steel in this movie. As a baby, as a tween, and again as an adult who mentions that he’s 33 a few times throughout the movie. He even does the obligatory crucifixion pose.
This isn’t your Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman… this is Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan’s version of Superman. It’s noticeably darker, more intense, and more gritty. It strives to be more realistic than fantastic and it succeeds for the most part. But Superman isn’t supposed to be gritty. He’s supposed to be about hope and he’s supposed to inspire you. That’s where this film falls short. It’s not as fun and not as thrilling as what you’d want from a Superman movie. There isn’t as much of a sense of wonder. There are no reaction shots of citizens craning their necks to the sky as Superman does something spectacular.
There are two major fight scenes that deserve to be discussed. The first takes place in Kansas, and Superman takes on two of Zod’s soldiers while simultaneously being attacked by the US Army. I think this is the best sequence of the film. The fight choreography is intense and explosive, and it’s set amidst a backdrop of Americana. A small town is suddenly host to an intergalactic battle, and the local 7-Eleven, IHOP, and Sears are all demolished in the process. The climactic fight between Superman and Zod takes place in Metropolis and the city gets leveled in the process. Building after building gets destroyed, and after a while you stop caring. It gets boring. The two invincible foes exchange punch after punch, blow after blow, fly around smashing into buildings and landmarks, and are stuck in a complete stalemate (until someone gets the upper hand and wins. Spoiler: Superman wins).
Man of Steel is not a perfect movie. But you can say that about any movie. I will be bold and say that this is the best Superman movie to date. It has great action sequences, great characters, great actors, and a serviceable plot. If you see one movie this summer, you should see the movie I made with your mom last night. If you see two movies this summer, Man of Steel should be the second.
Critically Rated at 15/17
Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young