You know the story. A young Clark Kent grows up to learn that he is the sole survivor from a distant planet and when a great evil threatens his adopted world he uses his extraordinary powers to become a symbol of hope for all mankind: Superman.
Man of Steel, the Superman reboot directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan opens this weekend and everyone is asking is this the Superman movie we’ve all been waiting for?
Superhero movies that feature an origin story can sometimes be tedious as you spend half the movie waiting for the action to start. Not here. Man of Steel opens big and only gets bigger. We have short breathers between the large action set pieces that familiarize the audience with Clark Kent’s various superpowers but those are surprisingly straightforward thus allowing the filmmakers to spend time on what really matters, a character with depth and history. This groundwork pays off when fists are flying by giving us a solid foundation for each of the tough decisions Superman must make.
Much like Nolan with the Batman franchise, Snyder has filled his principle and supporting cast with dramatic actors. Russell Crowe takes over the role of Jor-El from Marlon Brando while Ayelet Zurer plays Lara, Superman’s birth mother, with strength and poise. On earth, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane take over parenting duties as Jonathan and Martha Kent, managing to give Clark’s adoptive parents depth and complexity never before seen on the silver screen. Amy Adams plays a Lois Lane who is as smart and capable as the character has ever been. A good match against her editor, the gruff but fair Perry White played by Laurence Fishburne. The villain of the film, General Zod, is brought to life by the frighteningly talented Michael Shannon.
This brings us to our hero, Clark Kent/Superman. You may not have heard of Henry Cavill before but make no mistake, the man is a born movie star. The new Superman has a more subtle charm than Christopher Reeve’s more famous portrayal, but Cavill manages to play a wider range without feeling campy. This is someone you can build a franchise around, if not a whole cinematic universe.
Man of Steel is more than just the latest superhero movie. It is DC Entertainment’s chance to reestablish itself as the other major player in the game. Warner Bros.’ competition is keenly felt these days. Marvel Studios have built themselves into a movie making powerhouse with over half a dozen films under their belt including last year’s Marvel’s The Avengers. I am happy to say it appears DC Entertainment has hired the right people for the job. Man of Steel looks and feels entirely different than anything Marvel has produced and Snyder delivers a film that eclipses The Avengers on size, scope, and depth.
The comparison I’ve heard most among those who have seen the film is to The Dark Knight. While I find that encouraging considering The Dark Knight is widely considered the best superhero movie ever made, I think the comparison is misguided. Thematically and structurally, Man of Steel has a lot more in common with Batman Begins than its sequel. Here we see a world full of characters starting to be fleshed out and a hero starting his journey.
Despite the care taken with establishing its characters, most of the screen time is devoted to action. Calling a movie a “non-stop roller coaster ride” seems cliched but walking out of that theater felt more like walking off The Matterhorn than anything else. Thrill-seeking audiences won’t be disappointed, but the action is always driven by character making every fight scene compelling.
I did have some problems with the film but they seem small and petty compared to everything Man of Steel got right. I even liked the parts I thought I would hate. The tweaks from the usual Superman canon can be startling but eventually work better than any changes made in DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ reboot. I was expecting David S. Goyer‘s script to be a weak point only to be pleasantly surprised (Goyer’s Superman story “The Incident” in Action Comics 900 received a lot of backlash from the comics community, myself included). The dark and brooding color correction can sometimes feel like you are watching a movie shot on Instagram but in the film’s brighter moments the colors shine and pop all the more for it. Other visuals such as the cinematography, the costumes, the scenery, and even product placement are rooted in the real world and always feel appropriate for the story being told. Lastly, I don’t have a single complaint about Hans Zimmer’s score which augments the emotional impact of each moment throughout Man of Steel, both the big and small.
Man of Steel is about hope, the hope that our future can be brighter than our past if we strive toward what we know is right. It’s a refreshing message in this age of antiheroes. For the first time in a long time I have hope for the future of this inspirational character. Superman fans are constantly being told that the character’s morality is boring, but Man of Steel proves it’s time we throw that notion out the window. I believe Superman finally has the caliber of movie he deserves, a film that pushes the superhero genre forward. A film that will inspire a new generation to look, up in the sky.