With the highly anticipated release of Justice League tomorrow night, it is time to go back and review the previous films in the DC universe. The universe has been the subject of much debate across the internet between comic book fanboys, and critics alike. As a lifelong DC fan, I look forward to every single release with the hopes of a good movie (much like any movie but it would be a lie to say I don’t go in with more hope optimism with DC films). The DC universe kicked off in 2013 following the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, with the Zack Snyder directed film, Man of Steel; the latest Superman reboot.
Man of Steel (like the majority of DC’s movie) was and still is a very divisive film. There was some absolute love for this movie and much hatred. Produced by Christopher Nolan, with a screenplay written by David Goyer (based on a story by Goyer and Nolan) Man of Steel does have a lot of Dark Knight influence in the movie. The origin story is told in a non-linear structure, the same type that was employed by Nolan with Batman Begins, and the movie attempts to be grounded in a semi-realistic world. Man of Steel asks the question what would a man born of another world choose to become?
That becomes the running theme throughout the movie, the power of choice. Man of Steel is about the journey of a man trying to find his place in the world. Effectively this is unlike any previous Superman films. Taking the story from square one, going back to Krypton, as we witness the destruction of the planet. A well-known story to people who have never even stepped near a comic book, in Man of Steel there is a bit more time spent on developing the world of Krypton. The world is based on classes, everyone is born and bred to be a certain type of person. Natural birth is long dead. Superman’s father and mother have given birth to Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries. With the destruction of Krypton looming in the background, a military coup by General Zod begins. The power structures of the world prove to be Krypton’s undoing and Jor-El sends his young child to Earth.
The entire opening of Man of Steel is absolutely masterful. It introduces key themes that the movie will continue to revisit, provides an incredible Sci-Fi world that lush and dynamic, and introduces Michael Shannon’s General Zod in grand fashion. The action is exhilarating and Hans Zimmer’s music is heart pounding. It is almost a shame the planet had to blow up.
The rest of films deals with the ramifications of these events on Krypton. David Goyer’s screenplay constantly tests Clark Kent as a would-be hero. Kent wants to be a good-natured person and save people but he struggles with the possible ramifications of his actions, a concern his Earth father, Johnathon Kent, shares. This theme of choice manifests itself in some poignant and well-done scenes. The tornado scene is arguably one of the best scenes in the movie (and often one of the most debated scene) because of how it deals with the film’s theme of individual choices.
Man of Steel is by no means, perfect but every time I’ve rewatched this movie I enjoy it a bit more or at the very least find new things to appreciate it. Upon first viewing of Man of Steel I originally just really liked it but my appreciation soars more and more. There are plenty of things to enjoy upon first viewing, the incredible (albeit at times numbing) action sequences, well done special effects and performances. But, there is more resting beneath the surface of Man of Steel than just another action superhero epic.
Wrongly people take the dark tone around Superman for saying Superman himself is a dark Batman-like character. While the burden of Kal-El/Clark Kent’s choices as a hero rests much more strongly on his shoulders than Christopher Reeve’s rendition, Superman is by no means a dark hero. He saves people (despite what some on the Internet would have you believe he does indeed save people), shows incredible joy when he first takes flight, and humbles himself seeking advice from a priest. This is Superman in his earliest stages. By the end of the film, he isn’t exactly the Superman we are used to seeing (that’s the sequels job to develop him further) but he takes on the first steps to becoming the hero he will eventually become. He reveals himself to the world and embraces his role as a hero. Henry Cavill triumphantly plays the role of Superman and makes it his own. There are winks and nods to past performances but Cavill is the modern Superman.
Populated with Henry Cavill is a large cast of great veteran actors. Michael Shannon’s Zod is still easily DCEU’s best on-screen villain and one of the better ones in recent comic book movies. He is richly characterized and performed with confidence and intimidation. Russel Crowe’s Jor-El makes a lasting impression on the entire film and perfectly balances with Kevin Costner’s Johnathon Kent. I’ve also come around to Amy Adams’s Lois Lane. I initially didn’t love the way she was written into the film but over time it has grown on me a bit. The rest of the cast is made up of very strong supporting characters like Michael Kelly, Laurence Fishburne, and Richard Schiff that all bring a credibility to the movie.
The third act scenes of destruction are both enthralling and tiring. The biggest mistake made in the movie was splitting Superman away from the main action (which added a lot of time to the final battle) when Superman and Zod finally faced off against one another we’re already tired by that point. After re-watching the movie, this long third act becomes less of a chore but for first-time viewers, it can be a bit overwhelming. Regardless of how much action there is, the action that is here is incredible. This is easily the best of Zack Snyder’s work and features some of the best fight scenes in superhero film history.
Man of Steel is a well-done superhero epic; one that is thematic sound, action-packed, and well-acted. This might not be the Superman movie people initially wanted but given some more time passing, the more the expectations will relinquish, and the movie can be seen for it is a really good Superman movie.