If Batman is considered a comics legend then the only way to describe Superman is iconic. The Dark Knight is the most popular hero character going today, but for 75 years the Man of Steel has been the most recognizable superhero in the world, even if his movies have let him down more often than not.
Warner Bros. recognized this after Bryan Singer’s valiant, but boring, effort in the form of 2006’s Superman Returns. They called upon the master of Batman reboots Christopher Nolan to begin crafting Superman’s next cinematic adventure. He first got friend and Dark Knight Trilogy story head David S. Goyer to come on board as screenwriter and then to some people’s dismay (and my excitement), Nolan decided on Zack Snyder, who expertly brought Watchmen to life, to direct this new vision of the big, blue boyscout.
Would this gamble pay off? Could Warner entrust the return of Superman to the man that brought Batman back to the forefront of movie pop culture?
The answer is a resounding YES.
Like Richard Donner’s classic, Superman: The Movie, Man of Steel begins on Krypton and instead of a white-haired, scene-chewing Marlon Brando, we get a soft-voiced and poignant Russell Crowe portraying Jor-El. As Krypton’s foremost mind of science he is trying to warn others of the planets ultimate destruction. Yes, this is old hat, but new to the equation is General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempting a takeover of the Kryptonian government. As the planet erupts around them Jor-El and Lara send their child to Earth.
“This sounds like the beginning to Superman: The Movie!”
I hear you, I hear you, but where Snyder and Goyer have gone so completely right is how fully fleshed out Krypton is as a world. No one, outside of comic readers, have truly seen any type of Kryptonian environment represented on the big screen. Full of mountains and flying creatures, it was great getting to see a true eco-system that makes you feel more connected to this doomed world, and therefore, feel more of a connection when the inevitable happens.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
Going into Man of Steel I can sense some of you feeling some trepidation that you will have to sit through an entire origin story that you already, for the most part, know backwards and forwards. I am hear to tell you to have no fear because one of the best aspects of this movie is the way Goyer has interweaved Clark’s early years into the story of Man of Steel. You will not be sitting through 45 minutes of young Kent exposition to bring about the birth of Superman. Rather you will be getting adult Clark looking back on his life as moments remind him of his childhood years. Such a simple and completely satisfying way to watch an origin story, even one you already know all too well.
The wonderful thing that Man of Steel does is show Clark’s need to be more. His want to help, even in the face of people learning his secret. This is the essence of a hero and the biggest reason why Superman is who he is. He is learning the hero thing as we watch. The lessons that both of his fathers instill in him are the bedrock of the film. Will the world reject a savior? Even if they do, is it still his responsibility to use his gifts for the good of mankind?
As adult Clark drifts through life from job to job trying to figure out what his role is on this planet, he has reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) hot on his heels after meeting in an earlier encounter. Now she is trying to find out who this mysterious helper is. Yes, Lois finds out who Clark is before anyone else and even before he begins to work at The Daily Planet. Get over it. One of the wonderful things about Superman canon is that there is no real set canon. Pa Kent is alive in some universes, he is dead in others. Lois knows Clark’s secret in some, in others she is oblivious. I am glad that she finds out this early because I have always thought it was insulting to the character of Lois, who is supposed to be one of the world’s premier investigative journalists, that she could not determine that Clark was Superman. Man of Steel deals with this in a realistic manner and proves Lois to be worth her weight in smarts.
Zod comes to Earth after a thirty year search for the son of Jor-El that has sent him across the stars. He and his defectors were freed from their prison (you know what it is called) when Krypton went ka-boom and he needs Superman for more than just revenge. He has given the planet 24 hours to turn over the Man of Steel or suffer the consequences. From here on out it begins to be apparent that this is a tale of two minds. While Man of Steel has one screenwriter (Goyer), it very much feels like the first half was a Christopher Nolan exploration of the character of Superman. Who am I? Why am I here? What do I do to make things better? It is very introspective and thought provoking.
When Zod comes to town and Supes realizes it is time for fight AND flight, this is where Zack Snyder shines through. No matter what haters have to say about the director he knows his way around filming action scenes. Man of Steel has heard your cries of “we want to see Superman punch things!”. Get ready for the thunder because you have seen nothing like this outside of the comics. I love Superman 2 as much as the next guy (even though the foil “S” symbol was just…the worst), and when I was a kid, the fight between Zod, Ursa, Non and Superman wowed my undeveloped brain, but this is how Superman should throw down in every single movie from here on out. Punches thunder through the air, skyscrapers fall over and no IHOP is safe.
When all is said and done is Man of Steel the greatest comic book movie ever? No, but it is way up there. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt on par with Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie for the best Superman movie. It is hard for me to put one ahead of the other for different reasons. Man of Steel is this generation’s definitive Superman flick the same way Donner’s was back in 1978.
The best connection between the 1978 original and this year’s reboot are the quality of the Supermen. Henry Cavill is built from the ground up to be Superman. Like seriously, the dude is jacked. When he simply walks in the costume it is not like watching a man playing dress up, but your imaginations of Superman brought out for all to see (a lot like Christopher Reeve in my childhood years). This is a very human tale about a not so human person and Cavill brings the force of will, and oddly enough, fragility to the most powerful being on Earth.
For seven years we were spoiled with The Dark Knight Trilogy as Superman waited in the wings for his return (and not in 2006). Now in 2013 it is the Man of Steel’s time to shine and Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer have taken the proper care and taken the right steps to make sure that Man of Steel is more than just a single Superman story. This is just the beginning of something larger and the re-establishment of DC’s greatest hero has set things on the right course.