This marks the 50th anniversary of the man of steel. Created by a pair of poor immigrant kids Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was from a far off world, an alien who landed on our planet to protect the innocent, fight corruption and soar above the concerns of the everyday. After a radio show, several animated features, weekly cartoons, a TV program and five movies, it was decided by Warner Bros. to modernize their most popular and recognizable character. Using the production team of the Dark Knight series and the director of Watchmen, they have released one of the most successful versions of Superman on the big screen.
A simple farm boy who grew up Smallville, Clark Kent was frustrated to find that he was different from the other kids. Encouraged to hide his ‘gifts’ by his parents, Clark Kent tried to lead a quiet life. His father told him that the world was not ready for someone like him and he must never let anyone know the real him. As the story of Clark Kent unfolds, Man of Steel also shares the details of his true home on Krytpton with the viewers.
A once proud and vibrant power in the universe, Krypton is on the brink of extinction. Its genetic pool dry, its many outposts on other worlds forgotten, only the brilliant scientist Joe-El can see a ray of hope for his peoples’ future. By sending his son to another, younger world, he hopes that the Kryptonian blood line will survive, albeit as part of a hybrid race with the humans. Stealing the genetic codex from the core of the breeding center, Jor-El imprints the data into his only son and sends him off, a last hope.
As Jor-El fights for the future, General Zod passionately fights to preserve the legacy of Krypton, taking up arms in a violent coup. The revolution is quelled and Zod is sent to the Phantom Zone along with his followers, but not for long. The very destruction that Jor-El predicted comes to pass and its violence tears open the Phantom Zone, freeing its occupants. Finally escaped from their prison but without a home, Zod leads the few survivors in a quest to rebuild the empire from Krypton. Salvaging relics from colonies on other worlds, he builds an arsenal and a scheme to make his world live again at any cost.
When Clark finds a forgotten colony ship frozen in the ice, he inadvertently sends a signal to Zod who comes to claim the planet Earth as a new Krypton. But Clark has gone native and even though he is an outsider, he is determined to fight for his adopted home.
The plot of Man of Steel is interesting in that it circumnavigates the troublesome ‘origin story’ issue by inserting flashbacks throughout the film. It also uses ideas and characters that are almost too familiar to viewers such as Jor-El in new ways. I have to give credit to the film makers for cleverly combining the introduction of the hero and an opposing force worthy of his mettle.
The only major drawback is that Man of Steel lacks soul. The character of Superman is so empty that his most common expression is one of slight concern. He has been cited as being brooding or grim, but I think that’s giving him far too much range. Whereas the Christopher Reeve Superman exuded wholesomeness and purity no matter what he faced, this version was barely present.
Likewise, Amy Adams is a mere shadow as Lois Lane, a character who should appear as feisty and full of life is mostly limp. For as reporter, she doesn’t do much writing and what research she does is discarded to hush up her story. She does play an active role in the events of Man of Steel, but she barely makes any impact on the viewers so that when she has the inevitable kissing scene with Superman it feels fake and forced.
This does make the drama and danger of Man of Steel much more dynamic, a quality where the movie excels. The visuals, pacing and camera work are inspired. This is a very well crafted motion picture. As many others have pointed out, the fight sequences between Superman and the invading Kryptonians is awe-inspiring… but as the level of destruction heightens and our hero fails to save a single person not named Lois, it all gets very stark and hopeless. This is weird given that the meaning of the House of El’s symbol is said to be ‘hope,’ there is very little to hope for. Smallville and Metropolis are nearly reduced to rubble, the Kryptonian race exiled forever and our hero must become a killer to protect his new home.
The conclusion to Man of Steel is written and performed in a mostly light-hearted manner, but after all of the carnage that I had been exposed to, I couldn’t join in the humor. Lois welcomes awkward Clark Kent to ‘the Planet’ and I almost expected a knowing wink from Cavill targeted at the viewer. But… why was there no humor or any sign of a light touch elsewhere in the film?
Like many others, I was drawn in by the trailers for Man of Steel. One of my main complaints of past superhero films such as the Tim Burton Batman film and the Richard Donner Superman flick is that they both lacked a string opponent. I felt like I was being force fed these words in Man of Steel, a movie brimming over with overwhelming odds, but sadly lacking in charisma, flair or heart… which is what Superman means to so many.
I am familiar with Superman mostly from the comics, but am a fan of the serials, TV show, cartoon and the first two feature films. Almost all of them lack some quality or another, but one thing that they all had in common was strength in character. In each of these other Superman projects, the hero is a beacon of hope, a sentinel of justice and an avatar of tomorrow, of what we can only dream of achieving. My best guess is that somewhere along the way the production crew decided that these were old-fashioned and hackneyed concepts that a modern audience would reject. These qualities are missing entirely here and in their place is a disaster movie of epic proportions, daring the viewer to watch.
The modern day superhero has become far cooler and acceptable than ever before which is a good thing. Comic book heroes are, after all, out modern mythology. But that mythology is built on wish fulfillment and escapism, on fantastic adventure and the hope of a better world. In this vision of Superman, there is no fantasy (despite breathtaking imagery) and no escapism, only devastation on a cataclysmic scale that is both terrifying and close to home for some.
It is true that the Avengers movie also had a very loud and violent invasion similar to the attack from Zod’s forces. But in that case, humor and character were seeded along the way so that the viewer had someone to cheer on, and a reason to hope for a positive resolution. That is lacking here. I had no investment in Lois Lane, Perry White, ‘Jenny’ Olsen or any of the other supporting cast. And as for Clark Kent/Superman, he seemed confused with Bruce Banner, a lonely outsider obsessed with keeping his ‘other side’ a secret.
I wanted to like this movie and am very impressed by the skill that was put into this project but in the end it is such a joyless experience that I can’t join in the excitement. Recently news broke that a sequel has been fast-tracked, but the much-anticipated Justice League movie that many expected to spawn from this film is not coming. All I can say is that, if this is true then I am glad. A Justice League movie set in a world this empty is not something that I would want to witness.