Man of Steel director Zack Snyder had a daunting task ahead of him – how to re-launch a Superman film (and hopeful series) that stands apart from the Richard Donner classics and stands on it’s own. With the help of executive producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, Snyder has pulled off what many people doubted – a grounded and realistic Superman.
Superman inherently isn’t realistic. He’s essentially a god on Earth, but that’s ok, because his Kryptonian origin provides the reasoning behind it. The real issue was establishing a realistic world for him to exist in. As Marvel has reveled in the success with their recent film franchises (very much based in a comic book world), DC Comics has followed the path of Nolan’s Batman trilogy which was set as much as possible in a world of realism. Man of Steel follows suit.
The film begins on Krypton with Jor-el (Russel Crowe), trying to convince the High Council of their errant ways. This is where we’re introduced to the brooding and angry General Zod (Michael Shannon). Thanks to Goyer’s story and Snyder’s balanced direction, we’re allowed to witness and understand the motivations for General Zod and why he’ll eventually end up at Earth in hunt of Kal-el (Superman). The Kyrpton sequences are stunning, albeit heavy CGI. The audience is given a far more detailed looking into the famous planet than in any previous film installment. It gave time to establish character motivations and time to strike home the vastly different aspects of Krypton vs Earth. This is not the world of realism – but it never was supposed to be.
Our true sense of realism comes at home on Earth. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is 33 and trying to find his place in the world. He uses false identities and struggles to figure out who he is and why he’s here. The flashbacks to his past with Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner respectively), are well done and properly spaced out in the context of real-time events unfolding in our story. Kent’s early introduction to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is refreshing, as is their relationship. Adams’ Lois Lane is only a glimmer of the classic damsel in distress. She’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and for the most part plenty capable of defending herself. It’s a great take for a modern and strong Lois Lane.
The film is wonderfully acted, in particular from Crowe, Costner and Cavill. Shannon plays Zod with the appropriate levels of brood, anger and although he at times is over the top, we at least understand the reason for his motivations. Cavill gives a fantastically balanced performance of internal conflict, courage, morality and heroism. He never seeks out to be a hero, he just accepts that he can and has to be when called upon. Kal-el/ Clark Kent’s Christ-like storyline is hard to miss, as are the obvious parallels, and Snyder has even admitted that the parallels are there and very much intentional.
What Man of Steel says about religion is up to you decide, but what it says about faith is clear-cut. Faith in Man of Steel isn’t intended to carry religious overtones, although they are there, it’s meant to support Superman’s convictions. Jor-el and Jonathan Kent both teach different sides to the same coin of parenting. They inspire greatness, but from different approaches. They both have faith that Kal-el/ Kent will realize his greatness, but both push for that moment at different paces.
Ultimately Man of Steel is a blast to watch. There is more action in the film than nearly all other Superman movies combined. The pacing is handled well, the visuals are stunning and the CGI is top-notch. Thanks to strong performances from the all-star cast, Man of Steel has brought Superman into a modern and realistic world. One with traces to the DC film universe which Nolan established (I won’t spoil those for you now). It’s a fun movie and absolutely nailed what it tried to accomplish – entertain and resurrect Superman for a new generation.