This has been a summer of getting to see beloved childhood characters on the big screen. While Star Trek is near and dear to my heart, there only one character who comes close to owning it: Superman. I grew up with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel; I watched the movies so many times it drove my parents’ nuts. However, after the disappointing Superman Returns, I was very cautious when this year’s reboot, Man of Steel, was announced. Would Zack Snyder and crew be able to capture the “magic” of Superman or would the movie be another dud? I’m happy to say that while Man of Steel was not the movie I expected, it was certainly a bold take on the beloved hero worth seeing on the big screen.
Man of Steel starts with the birth of the baby who will grow up to become Clark Kent. I’ll freely admit I had a moment of panic at this point. One of my complaints about Superman: The Movie was we had to wait seemingly forever to get off Krypton with all the Marlon Brando posturing and blathering. The opening act does focus on Krypton, but it’s more action than talking as Jor-El and Lara work to save their child not only from pending planetary destruction, but a civil war led by one time ally–General Zod. This series of events culminates in the launch of baby Kal-El’s rocket to Earth, setting him on a course which will forever change humankind.
From there the film cuts immediately to an adult Clark Kent and his life as a drifter due to the powers which set him apart from the rest of Earth’s population. There are scenes which deal with Ma and Pa Kent and raising him, but they are confined to flashbacks which spare us lengthy exposition. The audience is also quickly introduced to Lois Lane, who is actually more badass and feisty than previous portrayals of her as a damsel in distress–a change I really loved. Not to say Superman can’t rescue her, and he does several times, but it’s always in the course of Lois proactively investigating her story and eventually helping in the fight against Zod–not simply screaming because she got in over her head.
Zod himself I was less impressed with. Michael Shannon sneers and grows with the best of movie villains, but I wasn’t blown away the character. He seemed more hot air than anything? I honestly felt Faora, Zod’s commander, was more menacing as an antagonist. She was a woman of few words, but she had some brutal fight scenes and little to no moral compass. The other big issue I had was the length of the movie. The fight scenes, particularly at the end, were excessive. I love seeing Superman fly and do battle, but it becomes tedious quickly when it’s not moving the story forward and simply CGI for the sake of CGI. And there’s some irony to be found in becoming bored during Man of Steel as it seemed to be doing everything it could to hold the audience’s attention. The filmmakers seemed scared to let the movie slow down, take a breath, allow for some dialogue and character development. For example, while Henry Cavill and Amy Adams do their best to sell us on Lois and Clark the relationship falls a bit flat. Something I attribute to the writing more than their acting skill. It felt like the writers relied too much on the audiences previous attachments/notions of the pair than building the relationship anew in Man of Steel. That said, there are some great emotional moments in the film, sold mostly by the talented cast and not by the writing itself.
While not perfect, it was nice to see Superman being, well, super, again. It’s certainly colder, and darker, than the Christopher Reeve films, but not grim. Henry Cavill not only captures Superman’s strength, but also his only real vulnerability: his heart. Overall I felt Man of Steel was a solid addition to the line-up of summer superhero movies. Hopefully DC comics can continue to deliver, if not improve upon, this reboot when it comes to other heroes in future franchises.