Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was a very divisive film when it came out in 2013. Expectations were high because, in my opinion, there wasn’t yet a definitive Superman movie. There were a lot of things that everyone expected it to do and to be.
Man of Steel also wasn’t helped by the fact that it followed Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Many have hailed it as one of the very best comic book movie sagas. I’ll grant that the second movie was exceptional but the first and the third were a little underwhelming for me.
Nolan’s Dark Knight signalled what I think to be a shift in Superhero movies. It was relatively grounded as superhero movies go, and a good number of people who weren’t Batman fans took to it.
So what does Nolan’s Batman have anything to do with Man of Steel? Well, Nolan had, I think established an identity for DC or what DC movies were going to look like going forward. Dark, contemplative or even broody elements of The Dark Knight I think found their way into Man of Steel.
This may be because Nolan was a producer on the film, he reportedly picked Snyder to direct it and the movie was written by David Goyer (who also wrote the Dark Knight trilogy). It all looked like a recipe for a classic but… It didn’t quite land that way. But having revisited the movie I think it has held up better than I expected.
I really enjoyed the opening act of the movie on Krypton. It was a feast for the eyes, the visuals, costume design and the world that was crafted was unlike anything I had seen before. Jor-El rose in stature in that first act, thanks mostly to a very good performance by Russell Crowe.
The fate of Krypton is as well known as Batman’s origins but the way it was executed blew me away. After this all ended my first problem with the movie arose.
When the Krypton part of the movie ended it felt like I had hit a brick wall and brought to a sudden stop. Past me thought we would quickly see a fully formed Clark Kent and the events of his life up until he was an adult would occur in few flashbacks.
This, however, wasn’t the case and is the first reason why this movie has aged better than I thought. What I mean by this is that Superman had to be properly reintroduced. This was a whole new take on the character and they had to build him for the ground up.
Cavill’s Superman, as it is apparent now, is probably the best live-action version of the character and he needed to be properly fleshed out especially in his youth.
I am not the biggest Superman fan but I would always watch live-action or animated movie when it came out. The one thing that I wasn’t aware of and rarely ever thought about was Superman’s upbringing. This was another aspect of the movie that I didn’t enjoy when it came out. I didn’t care about all of that, all I wanted to see was a fully formed Clark Kent doing his thing.
Looking back, I was a little too harsh. At the time I didn’t try to understand the decisions made by the creative team This resulted in me misunderstand what they were trying to do.
I should preface the following by saying that this is what I think they were trying to do.
We were going to get a fully formed Superman (before the Snyderverse went belly up) but I think we had to understand his journey first. The best example of this was the scene where a young Clark Kent ran to a maintenance closet because he was overwhelmed by all the things he could see and feel.
This part of the movie made me realise something, there is more to Superman than what I thought I knew. That scene was only a brief look into what he had to battle from that point on. He had to learn and master abilities that no one was equipped to help him with or could even begin to understand.
The tone of the movie after Krypton onwards was far from anything I had ever experienced in a film about the Blue Boy Scout. It was melancholic and subdued. I was accustomed to seeing Superman race around preaching about hope and humanity. The way Man of Steel felt was totally the opposite.
This was another thing that I failed to understand at the time. He wasn’t of this world and this world affected him in ways that couldn’t be properly described. So I guess he wouldn’t have been the happiest guy for a long time.
He didn’t know what he was or why he was different. That is yet another aspect I had never thought to consider. My impatience to get to the character I knew, made me overlook that he only becomes that after overcoming a lot.
The ending is strangely something I didn’t have any problems with. Superman (and most other heroes) hold one rule above all else which is to preserve life.
That big rule had to come from somewhere, and with the movie already on a different path it wasn’t a big shock (at the time). There could have been better ways to deal with Zod in that situation. But a young Superman made the call and well… it didn’t please everyone.
Man of Steel still has some issues. The diner scene, for example, where he destroyed a haulage truck without anyone hearing. There was also the scene where a young Clark Kent pulled the school bus out of the river. I am pretty sure someone saw and that they kept quiet was quite, well… unbelievable.
There were also some choices made that were a little confusing. The biggest one I think is Zod terraforming the earth instead of just adapting to the atmosphere (which he did anyway and in no time at all). If Superman gained all those powers from the yellow sun wouldn’t it have been better to preserve the earth and then rule?
Problems like these are common with Superhero movies. Some of them are easier to overlook than others. I’ll admit that I overlooked a number of these things because I was noticing things that I hadn’t the first go around.
Once I got hooked by the Superman story they were telling, I didn’t focus too much on the issues. That was what changed my opinion of the film. The conclusion that I came to about the film is that it’s a Superman movie for the modern age, flaws and all.
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