Yesterday, I finally made the time to watch Man of Steel, a full seven years after its theatrical release! I had been put off this movie for a number of reasons over the years, but I have to say, my short review is that it certainly was an entertaining film, and succeeded in making me both interested and invested in Superman, something I’d previously not thought possible!
This is an origin story for Superman, but following the initial sequence on Krypton with the birth of Kal-El and the military coup of General Zod, pretty much the entirety of Superman’s origins is told through flashbacks. It was probably the best way of doing this, really, as the origin of Superman is probably the most well-known of any superhero by mainstream audiences, I would have thought.
The first story catalyst seems to be Lois Lane stumbling across Superman’s Fortress of Solitude while pursuing a story, leading her to meeting Superman and wanting to find out more about him. She does so, though it’s hardly the expected montage that we might have expected at this point, and she decides to keep his secret for him.
However, General Zod appears with his followers in pursuit of Superman, attempting to recover a Codex of Kryptonian genetic material that will ensure the survival of their race that Jor-El had sent to Earth with his son. He gives the world 24 hours to turn Superman over to him, or face the consequences, launching a massive FBI/military action to find Lois Lane – who is revealed to know who Superman is.
Seeing the danger he has caused, Superman turns himself over to Zod, but he and Lois manage to escape the Kryptonians, Lois along the way receiving the knowledge of how to defeat them from a projection of Superman’s father. Zod learns that the Codex he seeks has been genetically imprinted within Superman’s DNA, and so attempts to recover him, dead or alive, while launching a direct attack on Earth with his World Engine – a device that will terraform Earth to be a New Krypton. The attack is centred over Metropolis, but Superman manages to destroy the World Engine in the Indian Ocean, which foils the plans over Krypton.
This just makes Zod mad, and so a massive brawl ensues with Superman and Zod coming to blows quite spectacularly – a fight that only ends when Superman breaks Zod’s neck.
I think I’d been avoiding this movie for far too long! I was under the impression, for some reason, that it was something of a sequel to Superman Returns, though I don’t know where I had that from! The movie effectively launched the DC Extended Universe back in 2013, and made no attempt to connect to previous Superman movies, being entirely its own thing.
Now, I am not a Superman fan, although in recent years I have come to enjoy certain aspects of the character. I think the idea that he embodies the best of humanity, and provides a shining example of goodness, is certainly something to admire. Henry Cavill does a pretty good job, as well. There is something of a repressed/frustrated aspect to his portrayal, where he is holding back his power in order to appear more normal, but his introduction and some of the flashbacks to his youth show him to be not above using his power to help others when he can, even as a teenager. There’s a quiet side to the guy that I really enjoyed, and thought fit in with him as a good person. Seeing him bullied at school, it adds a lot of nuance to the guy, as you know he could have just wrecked those kids with ease. But he is dedicated to using his powers for good, and that is definitely something to admire.
We don’t spend a lot of time on Krypton, but it is shown to be far from the utopia that it was in the Christopher Reeve movies. There’s an excellent article here that shows the influences from the comic books for this movie, and it seems to be The Man of Steel from 1986 that first depicted the planet as a sort of sterile world, where children are grown and not conceived naturally. It’s an interesting idea, and adds an extra layer of depth to the classic discussion of Superman as an alien trying to be a man. It also makes you question Zod’s motives a little bit, when we learn that he’s trying to remake Earth as a New Krypton – why would you want to do that? Zod tells us that he was genetically predetermined for his role as a military leader, and that was all he was ever intended for in life – why would you want a society where free will doesn’t exist?
I think this movie has got a lot to commend it. The climax, with the attack on Earth and the Superman vs Zod fight, is a bit of an orgy of destruction, for sure, and we were a bit surprised, watching it last night, how badly the CGI effects have held up over the years, but even so! As a Superman origin story, it works really well in terms of the pacing, and I certainly didn’t grow bored waiting for something to happen. Indeed, the pacing felt quite relentless, while somehow still allowing for some character moments to come through. There are some nice flashback scenes of Superman witnessing his adoptive father’s death, for instance, in the middle of the movie where the American government is trying to track him down to appease Zod.
It also works pretty well as a launch pad for the DC movies to come. DC of course were seeming to play a bit of catch-up with Marvel in terms of the movie multiverse, and by the time Man of Steel was released, Marvel had already released the first Avengers movie. However, the whole Marvel vs DC debate has already been done to death, and will no doubt rage on for a while yet. I do like my DC guys, of course, but when it comes down to a consumer level, I think we’re perfectly allowed to like both, if we so wish, without need for infinite comparisons and “Marvel/DC is better because…” There is certainly a darker tone to the DC movies from Zack Snyder, but I think it kinda works for them. Not because they need to be set apart from the Marvel films, just because the stories that they’re telling are, at times, pretty grim. Man of Steel – and Batman vs Superman after it – deals with humanity’s inability to deal with their saviour because they don’t feel they can control him. I mean, that in itself is a fairly grim idea, don’t you think?
8/10, would watch again!