Amy Adams, Antje Traue, Aylet Zurer, Christopher Nolan, Clark Kent, David Goyer, DC Entertainment, Diane Lane, Faora, film, General Zod, Henry Cavill, Jonathan Kent, Jor-El, Kal-El, Kevin Costner, Lara, Laurence Fishburne, live action, Lois Lane, Man of Steel, Martha Kent, Michael Shannon, Perry White, Superman, Warner Brothers, Zack Snyder
By: Adam Basciano
“A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.” (Warner Brothers)”
If you only know Superman from the movies, check your pre-conceived notions at the door and get ready for a Superman you’ve never seen before! If you’re a new or long time reader of the comic book, get ready for a Superman movie that cherry picks from various Superman stories, delivers the action you’ve seen on the page and always dreamed of seeing in live action, but also makes some changes to the mythos that actually work for the better. This film differentiates itself from past incarnations by focusing more so on the alien nature of Superman, more than any other incarnation brought to the screen….big or small! Sure, the alien angle has been seen in fits and spurts on “Smallvillle” and “Superman: The Animated Series”, and to a lesser extent “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, but it’s expanded a great deal for this film. To do this, the film makers drew on several Superman stories including, “Man of Steel” (1986), “Birthright”, and “Earth One.” There were also nods to “For Tomorrow”, “All-Star Superman”, and “For All Seasons.” All this, gives us a Kal-El who is torn between two world’s, two fathers, someone who is trying to find his place in the world, someone who’s presence makes humanity call our beliefs into question, and someone who ultimately chooses to become the protector and inspiration of hope for Earth. This film is as much a superhero origin tale as it is a first contact/alien invasion story. With that in mind, the Zack Snyder film takes the majority of its cues from “Earth One” and “Birthright”, with Zod being one of the major differences from those stories. Speaking of Zod, as a hard-core Superman fan I’ve seen and read many stories where Kryptonian’s attack, want to enslave, or transform Earth into Krypton. However, I’ve never seen it done quite like this, on this grand of a scale.
I’m going to touch on some of the aspects of the film I loved. Where do I start? Well how about like the film…on Krypton! I loved absolutely every aspect of everything on Krypton! I wish the film would’ve spent more time there, hell I’d watch a prequel movie about Krypton and its civilization. Everything from the technology, to the wardrobe, to the weaponry. It created this regal and ancient, yet advanced civilization. I especially enjoyed the liquid metal effect used for some of the technology. Seeing the Kryptonian landscape and the indigenous wild life made this advanced alien world more breathtaking and brought it to life like never before. At the end of these sequences, you want to spend more time on Krypton, and feel a sense of loss when the planet explodes I liked the fact that this film took the non linear approach to tell the story post the Krypton scenes. I enjoyed that most of these moments were quieter moments, that helped us to connect to our main characters, so that once all the action and fighting got thrown at us it had meaning and we cared. With “Smallville” having been on the air for 10 years, we’ve arguably seen just about everything there is to see with Clark growing up. It was wise of the filmmakers then, to only show us the bits that were pertinent to the characters development. All this while putting a new spin on those situations. I really liked the bus saving sequence, in fact I wish they would’ve visually shown more of that particular moment. Specifically, from Clark’s perspective while saving the bus and its occupants. This would’ve given more grandeur to the moment. The reworked look of x-ray vision was unique. It leaves you taken a back, scared, and flustered at first, much like it left young Clark in that moment. My only complaint here is the pacing of the flashbacks. They all felt a little too quick. I feel they would’ve been more effective had each one been slightly longer, and possibly more separated from one another. On to the action and fight scenes. I’ll start with often overused, but in this case necessary cliché’s, absolutely breathtaking and spectacular. The Smallville Battle, and what I’m referring to as Mayhem in Metropolis, epitomized what as Superman fans, we’ve seen in the comic books, and the Justice League animated series finally realized on screen in live action. The fights depict a speed and ferocity when the Kryptonian’s do battle, which would be expected of people with that much power, especially those bred to be warriors. There’s a moment between Superman and Faora early on in the Smallville battle that feels like a classic scene from the old Western film. The third act is like a mix of Independence Day and The Matrix, but amplified. For my money, the action scenes and special effects are the best we’ve seen to date in the superhero film genre.
With the strong cast assembled for “Man of Steel”, I expected good performances from all involved, and I was not disappointed. From the word go, Henry Cavill had the look to play Superman. Then you see him in costume, and that belief is reaffirmed. After seeing the film, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Henry Cavill, from an acting standpoint, was a perfect choice to play the modern-day version of Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman! Cavill gives us an emotionally conflicted Kal, who shelters himself from the human race out of necessity. In part because of fear and constant persecution from humans. Also however, because if he asserted himself he could potentially hurt those who persecuted him, or reveal himself to the world via his rescues. This is all on display in the oil rig, and bar scene respectively After counselling from the spirit of his birth father, the lost outsider becomes more at ease with his role as a bridge between his two worlds. Once the character steps out from the scout ship donning the most famous uniform in comic book history, Cavill gets to play a whole new side of the character. As Superman, Henry is more confident and assertive, yet still a bit raw as a superhero. You see this assertive confidence in his interaction with the military, while his rawness as a superhero is evident in his battles with the Kryptonians. Here he’s more reactionary, instead of controlling where and how the battle takes place. The farm boy Clark Kent comes through whenever Henry Cavill is interacting with Diane Lane’s Martha Kent, as well as with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. In these moments we see a Clark Kent who is more open, trusting, conveys a sense of warmth and even cracks a smile and laughs. This movie didn’t give us an opportunity to see how Henry Cavill will handle the secret identity “Clark Kent” but he’s managed to check off all the boxes for the rest of the characters personality with fine form. At times Henry is very emotive with his facial expressions, without saying a word. These moments include the pain, agony, and sadness over Jonathan’s death and the final outcome with Zod. Then we see pure joy from his first flight, punctuated with a big smile. All three instances are effective and very powerful. Thanks to Henry’s facial expression, visual effects and camera angles, for the first time ever in a Superman film, I got the sense of what it must feel like when Superman flies. For once I felt like an active participant, not a casual spectator. It was fantastic, and reaffirmed that if I could, I’d choose Superman’s power of flight over any other.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane….Finally, we have a big screen Lois Lane that doesn’t come off as a colossal idiot or a poor excuse for a reporter! Lois Lane as played by Amy Adams is a go-getter, tough as nails, a damn good investigative reporter, and integral to the resolution of the plot. Granted, part of the credit for this Lois has to go to Snyder and Goyer, but it wouldn’t have been the same without an actress of this caliber. Amy balanced the feistiness of Lois when dealing with co-workers like Steve Lomabard, and a level of compassion with Clark/Superman perfectly. The development of the Superman/Lois relationship may have moved a little quickly, but I believed it, because there was a trust that began and kept building from the first moment Superman saved her, and kept growing throughout the film. From Clark’s point of view, Lois is the first human being, aside from his adoptive parents, to show him an ounce of respect or trust. Even when he turned himself over to the authorities she was there every step of the way. So for me, that impassioned kiss was earned and completely justified for both parties. Amy and Henry sold the beginnings of this relationship quite well. I think it’s fantastic that Lois Lane knows Clark is Superman. Going forward she can be even more integral to the plot by helping Clark cover up and hone his secret identity, instead of being relegated to a by the numbers damsel in distress/love interest.
Looking at both of Kal-El’s parental units in the film, one thing is clear; the emphasis is on the fathers, while the mothers get shafted in terms of screen time and story. Russell Crowe was absolutely brilliant as Jor-El. He really had a strong presence in this film. Crowe’s authoritative discourse with the council, gave Jor-El that sense of importance in Kryptonian society, that we’ve read about in the source material all these years. I liked that Jor-El was capable of handling himself in a fight. It’s an aspect we’ve never seen on film before. Jor-El didn’t seem to shed a tear as he sent his son into space, but you could sense his pain and sadness through Russell Crowe’s eye’s, mannerisms and movements. I applaud the filmmakers choice of having Russell Crowe’s Jor-El physically present in scenes with his adult son. This made the scenes more tangible, and the actors performance more credible and immersive. Aylet Zurer was severely underused as Lara Lor-Van. Despite this, her limited time on-screen yields an extremely emotional performance. The way she evokes her fears and sadness about losing their son forever, puts the audience in the same head space as the character. Having to imagined sending a young loved one away, knowing you’ll never see them again brought tears to my eyes.
Next up are Clark’s earthly parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, played wonderfully by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. While I wouldn’t say these two actors were under used, I would’ve like to see the scenes they were in, lengthened just a bit. I know some people had issues with the way these actors portrayed the roles. Some said that Kevin Costner’s take on Jonathan made him seem like a jerk. I disagree. I just believe that Costner was more steadfast and decisive in Clark keeping his secret hidden, because he feared his son would be taken away from him. Sure the execution is slightly different, but his motivations are in league with other iterations of the character, namely the “Smallville” version. Kevin Costner’s scenes were the emotional heartbeat of this film. Two scenes in particular. The scene where he tells Clark about his true heritage, and the death scenes. In the first scene, there’s a genuine crack in Costner’s voice that solidifies the love this man has for his son. His death scene emphasized the lengths a man would go to in protecting his son. The look on Costner’s face as the tornado got to him, caused another tear or two to roll down my face…again. Diane Lane’s moments with her on-screen son, both young and adult, were filled with emotion and a palpable love that really sold the mother son dynamic. The scenes where she comforts young Clark as he struggles to come to grips with his emerging x-ray vision, and the scene where she relates her fears of losing her son to his heritage are examples of Diane Lane’s skill and talent. Her performance made the scene where Superman beats the crap out of Zod for threatening his mother so much more rewarding. As a son who loves his mother, coupled with Diane Lane’s performance, I could relate to Superman most, through his relationship with his mother. Costner and Lane have tied Michael Caine for the amount of times they’ve made me cry in a superhero movie. Well done.
The main villain of the piece of course is General Zod, brought to life this time around by Michael Shannon. Some people have compared Shannon’s performance as Zod to that of Heath Ledger as the Joker. I think that is unfair and inaccurate. Nor do I think Michael Shannon is the only actor fit to play General Zod. Having said that, Michael Shannon gives viewers a militaristic leader worthy of the title General. The character is focused and dedicated on one cause….the betterment and protection of Krypton, its way of life, and it’s citizens. The course of events throughout the film see Zod erupt in fits of incredible intensity, rage and anger. Due to Michael Shannon’s performance, Zod never degenerates into a megalomaniac or cartoonish one-dimensional villain. Instead, there were times when I got sucked into his performance, that I could understand his perspective and sympathise with him. Those feelings get shot to hell of course, when you realise that his endgame results in the genocide of the human race, but still. Highlights from his performance are the Krypton scenes, with Jor-El and the council, as well as his final exchanges of dialogue with Henry Cavill’s Superman. As far as villain’s go, Antje Traue stole the show as Faora. She was a villain, and there’s no two ways about it. She was aggressive, vicious, and when she killed, it didn’t faze her one bit. She actually seemed to enjoy exerting her power over others at certain points throughout the film. Faora, even though she was second in command to Zod, felt very much his equal. Credit goes to actress Antje Traue, for her spine-tingling and convincing performance that epitomized evil. One last performance that deserves mentioning is Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White. As is typically the case in Superman films, I felt the actor and character were both underused in the film. Yet, Fishburne was able to convey his sternness and journalistic integrity, without his performance coming off as an overdone caricature, as has been the case in previous adaptations. With his involvement in the final act, we get to see something rarely reserved for the comic books, the characters care and compassion he has for his employees. As a fan, I really appreciated his scenes with Jenny.
There will be those who flat-out don’t like this film. You know what, that’s expected and completely fine. However, there are some criticism’s of this film, that I strongly disagree with and want to share my thought’s on. One complaint I’ve read is that there’s too much destruction in this film. Ok fine, but have you read the Superman comic books or watched any other superhero movies? Here are some examples that spring to mind featuring ample destruction; “The Death of Superman”, “Birthright”, “Earth One”, “New Krypton.” Here are some movie examples, “The Avengers”, “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Iron-Man 3”, “The Incredible Hulk”, all three “Transformers” films and the list goes on. Destruction in a superhero comic book or film is par for the course. To go along with this complaint, is that Superman caused a fair amount of that destruction. The way I saw it was that Zod, his cronies, and the world engine initiated a majority of the destruction. Superman, in a reactionary sense may have contributed to said property damage, but again, this has happened before…see said comic books and animated series such as Justice League for examples. While I’m on the subject of property damage, some fans contend that the film should’ve had a scene where Superman helped repair the damage. Really? Did The Avengers help repair the damage to New York? No…they ate Shawarma! Did Batman repair damage to Gotham sustained in The Dark Knight Trilogy?….No…unless you count rebuilding Wayne Manor? And if so, since he rebuilt his own house, does that make him selfish? In the case of comic books, I remember an issue where a member of Metropolis’ Special Crimes Unit bemoaned about the fact that these super powered beings get into these fights and leave them to clean up the mess. Clearly, this isn’t an isolated incident only appearing in this film.
I’ve also heard the complaint that Superman “didn’t care about humanity” because he let innocent people die instead of getting them out of Metropolis. Ah yes…Superman didn’t care about humanity. If that’s true, why did he hand himself over to the authorities, to be handed over to Zod? Oh yeah, to spare them from Zod’s wrath. Even though, through the course of his life with the exception of the Kent’s and Lois, most humans he encountered treated him like s#^+. I call BS (no, not Bryan Singer) on the him not caring about humanity claim. Also, even if he evacuated all of Metropolis, that wouldn’t have stopped Zod from carrying out his plan. The World Engine….was targeting….wait for it…THE WORLD! Superman took the sensible, logical course of action, disabling the device. While doing this, people died yes, but Superman saved humanity as a whole, saving far more lives than the lives that would’ve been lost had he evacuated all of Metropolis. As for making random rescues throughout the film…he did, but that’s another criticism I’ve seen thrown around. Pete Ross, the random soldier falling from the sky, Col. Hardy, and Lois all come to mind.
On to the big one….Superman kills Zod in the third act, by snapping his neck. Here’s my take on the situation itself. I was fine with it for several reason. He had no other choice, The Phantom Zone was gone, he had pleaded with Zod to stop, to which Zod said never. Either Superman would have to cover Zod’s eye’s for God knows how long, or turn him over to the authorities, where he would’ve escapes. Or he could’ve let him continue on his killing spree, specifically, watching him burn a family to death with heat vision. Since none of these were an option, Superman did the only thing he could in that moment. The other reason I was okay with Superman killing Zod, was because of Superman’s reaction afterwards. He fell to his knees and began to weep. Clearly, he was torn up by the choice he had to make, and didn’t want to have to take that course of action, as evidenced with him pleading with Zod to stop. Surely, many will point out that Superman has a rule against killing in the comic books. This is true, but that rule was born out of the fact that he had killed three Kryptonians from the Pocket Universe, was so distraught over it, and vowed never to do it again. Of course, he would later break that vow in his fight to the death with Doomsday, out of absolute necessity of course. Some who are against the scene may cry foul because the beloved Christopher Reeve version has never killed before. That’s all well and good, but are we sure about that? In “Superman II” he throws three powerless Kryptonian’s into a bottomless void presumably killing them. Yeah I know, in the Donner Cut of II the Kryptonians were arrested, but that version was never intended to be seen, ergo I don’t count it. In Superman IV, Kal-El throws Nuclear Man into a power plant there by killing him. My point is, it’s been done before, so I wasn’t offended by it, nor did I find it completely out of character. Ultimately, Zack Snyder said that much like the comics, they are going to use this moment to establish Superman’s no killing policy going forward. I for one look forward to how that will play itself out.
The wait for “Man of Steel” was a long two and a half years. After seeing it twice in theaters, it was without a doubt worth the wait! The film has the character journey from “Batman Begins”, mixed with the sci-fi action adventure from “The Avengers.” As a film goer, this Superman tale feels completely fresh. As a comic book reader, this take on the character calls to mind the Superman on the page from 1986 to today. For me, this film is the perfect blend of fresh yet familiar. “Man of Steel” has managed to recapture in me the same sense of awe and wonder from when I first discovered Superman as a 10-year-old boy. The Superman film franchise is up, up, and away again, and if the filmmakers play their cards right, the Man of Steel will be soaring on film for years to come.
Overall Grade: 9.5/10