It’s no secret that DC comics have had some problems getting some of their characters onto the big screen. We have all been waiting for a Wonder Woman or a Flash film to hit cinemas. Instead, Warner Bros/DC Comics makes films like “Catwoman” (2003). They have had huge success with the likes of Batman with Directors Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films amounting to huge critical, audience and commercial success. Superman is the only other character that they have done any justice to. “Superman: The Movie” (1978) and “Superman II” (1980) were also big success, and “Superman Returns” (2006), depending on who you ask, will tell either it was a great addition to the Superman films or a horrible boring entry. Whatever their answer may be on that film, it effectively ended, “the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve, superman era.” Christopher Nolan’s Batman films introduced a darker, grittier, more serious and more realistic superhero film which amounted to huge success. But then after that, there is nothing that DC has done to compete with their fellow rivals, Marvel. “Watchmen” (2009) underperformed at the box office, and “The Green Lantern” (2011) was hated by critics and fans alike.
Meanwhile over at Marvel, they have created a “Cinematic Universe” where several different characters co-exist in the same timeline and world, so they could all team up in, “The Avengers” (2012). Their formula for success was introduce the characters in a fun light hearted fashion and intertwine the films so they could all end up together in the end. For the most part, with only a few exceptions, the films were well accepted by fans and critics alike and took in huge money at the box office.
Now DC wants to create their own, “Cinematic Universe.” To start off this universe, DC has elected Superman to be the first in their set of films to lead up to inevitable “Justice League” movie. Drawing from some inspiration from “The Dark Knight” trilogy, the new Superman would be more serious, a little darker, and focused into a more realistic world, one more like the one we live in. The newest Superman movie would be simply called, “Man of Steel”, and had huge amounts of hype leading to the movie’s release. Many thought this would do for Superman that “Batman Begins” (2005) did for Batman. While this adaptation of Superman doesn’t quite reach the levels of success that Batman enjoyed, it still is a well made story/character driven, action packed ride that can easily go toe to toe with the best Superman movies around.
After being sent away to Earth by his parents, to avoid the destruction of their planet and secure the survival their race, Kal-El (or Clark Kent, his human name) is gifted with many different powers. These powers make him different than anyone else on the planet, but he wants nothing more than to fit in. His whole life is a self discovery quest for him. But soon he’ll have to decide who he will be, when another survivor of his home planet, General Zod, arrives on Earth to find him, and threaten the human race. Who does Kal-El side with? His new home or the home he left behind?
This Superman film is more of a character driven piece than any of the Superman movies that have come before it. This film really centers in and focuses a lot on the actual character of Kal-El. In previous incarnations of Superman, he has always been a little cold and distant from us once he put on the red cape. Here we really understand the character, what drives him, and what moments in his life have impacted him the most. He is a much more relatable character because he isn’t perfect, in fact( minus the powers), and he is no different than you and me. There is a certain amount of ethos that is established between the audience and the character. This film deals a lot of time pushing that point across to audiences and cleverly uses the tactic of flashbacks or a non linear timeline to show this.
To further explore the Superman character, the story delves into two different father figures in Kal-El’s life. His real father from his home planet, Jor-El, and his earth father Jonathan Kent. Each person is giving him advice that will shape his life, and the differences and parallels between the two is how Kal-El becomes the man he would become. Played by Russel Crowe and Kevin Costner, these characters shine in this film because of these amazing performances by these two actors.
Kal-El/Superman in this incarnation is portrayed by up and coming actor Henry Cavill. Henry completely owns the role of Superman and makes it his own. He has got great charisma when the script allows him to use it and features some great emotional moments. I only wish the script by David Goyer would allow more dialogue for Kal-El, I felt there was a little more needed. Whether or not he is better than Christopher Reeve is like asking what version of Superman in the comic books do you prefer? They both define what Superman is. What Henry Cavill brought to the role was the ability to really flesh out the character of Superman and give him a wide range of emotions and feelings; hopefully he stays on as Superman for a really long time.
As with any character in mythology, or legend or popular fiction, the main character has to not only overcome of the troubles of who they are and the demons that lurk within, but also the other side threat that comes and threatens the hero and/or his or her loved ones. In this case, that treat is General Zod, a man that has personal business with Kal-El and a plan to save his race by committing the mass genocide of earth. Michael Shannon this time steps into the role, replacing Terence Stamp from “Superman II” (1980) and Shannon completely owns this role far better than even the great Terence Stamp. More layers are added onto the character, making the final confirmation at the end between him and Kal-El even more personal. This adds to the tension of any scene they are in together. I wouldn’t put this performance on the greatest of all time lists, but he is above the average villain performance.
There are a few gripes I have though. The pacing at the beginning is a little jarring at times and some things that were only glossed over should have been slowed and explored in greater detail. It is obvious that some things were shortened up for the action sequences to be longer and a longer running time would have helped the film be better rounded. Laurence Fishburne was underused, but the biggest gripes I have for the movie is the handling of Lois Lane’s character. I could see what they were trying to do and I thought it was a great idea; however, the way they intertwined her into the story wasn’t the right way to do it. At times it felt a little forced, but on a positive side of the Lois Lane character, I applaud the way they were trying to do the Clark Kent/ Lois Lane relationship even if it’s underdeveloped. Amy Adams also under performs as Lois Lane, which is surprising because I really thought her version was going to be the definitive version.
What we arrive to, by the ending credits, is a completely new vision for Superman, one that will be either loved or hated. Either way, this is an incredible vision of Superman; one that is fresh, new and different. Even with the film’s flaws, this is a great launching point for other DC characters to follow. Even if you didn’t enjoy the film, you could tell that the filmmakers gave it their all making this movie, which is more than you can say about movies like “The Green Lantern” (2011), where it was clear no one took any care into making that movie. Director Zack Snyder’s and writer David Goyer’s vision is realized in spectacular fashion, even with its flaws, it is as good as any Superman movie before it, and is a great way to start their cinematic universe.