Why the world needs Superman.
Krypton’s greatest son has dropped back into our box offices this weekend with an almighty sonic boom. Zack Snyder is behind the lens, along with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer on executive producing and writing duties. Whilst the film takes a much more darker and sombre tone to it’s predecessors, what it loses in bravado it certainly makes up for in scale. Right from the very moment to opening titles dissolve we are thrown into a doomed distant planet of Krypton. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) realises his people’s fate and decides to launch his newly born son, the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries, to the distant safety of Earth. Along with baby Kal-El he includes the planet’s genetic codex, an item which General Zod (Michael Shannon) seeks to acquire for his own gain once he escapes the destructing planet. Zod and his team are apprehended as they watch Kal-El’s pod launch and are banished to the Phantom Zone. The pod escapes as Krypton implodes and hurtles toward Earth, crash landing in Kansas to be found by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and, well, you know the rest…
This films starts very strong. Other directors of summer blockbusters have attempted to throw the audience in without a chance to breathe, but Zack Snyder achieves this effortlessly. No stranger to the action or comic book adaptation, he presents glimpse of Krypton not given the right amount of screen time it deserves before in the Hollywood exports. Every child of Krypton is genetically created with a pre-determined purpose in an organic chamber, but Kal-El is the first natural birth to occur on the planet in centuries. He is free to determine his own path and have a luxury that no other Kryptonian has; choice. We get a chance to understand where the Man of Steel hails from and what he seeks to understand, and it’s a thrilling and emotional sequence by the time he leaves the doomed fate of his parents behind. However, Snyder only likes to allow the audience a brief amount of screen time to try and catch their breath.
The non-linear plot that follows certainly has the benefit of avoiding all of the rudimentary origin stories that we’ve seen before. Screen time isn’t wasted with the Kent’s discovering Kal-El’s crashed pod once again. I’m a big fan of this method of story telling as it engages the audience so much more; we’re given pieces of a puzzle to put together. Clark Kent/Superman is such a fascinating character to study. He’s torn between two personas from two very different, but good willed, father figures. The Clark side has been raised as a farm boy with high moral values and to hide his superhuman powers for the greater good, whilst the undiscovered Kal-El side is intriguing but advised to use the god-like powers to lead mankind. It’s nature versus nurture. Which father figure does he lean toward more? Was his real father a good character or bad, and is his DNA coded for the same future? Clark seeks to know himself and whilst roaming the earth as a nomad, he feels that finding his people will answer the questions that have been plaguing him for so long. For me, the heart strings were tugged when Jor-El made the hard decision of letting Kal-El go, and Jonathan Kent doing the same during the tornado sequence. This film is as much about ‘what a father is’ as well as discovering who you are. It’s quite fitting that the film was released on the same weekend as Father’s Day here in the UK.
Henry Cavill brings the gravitas and responsibility that the role requires. He stands tall and you can sense his goodwill and empathy, and he physically embodies the Superman physique. Hats off to his dedication and the fact that no smoke and mirror “ab suits” were needed. The suit itself looks great in the muted dark colours, with notable influences from the Action Comics style. Amy Adams shines as Lois Lane, playing here as ballsy as the character has always been. I was really disappointed with the character in Superman Returns, I thought she was more Mary-Jane Watson than a go-getter Pulitzer prize-winning reporter. Although the real stand out performance is Michael Shannon as General Zod, whom he plays with pure and absolute conviction. Every line spoken by Shannon has a feeling of serious intent behind it. His message demanding the surrender of Kal-El was a brief switch in genre to horror and very effective. Antje Traue is also beautifully menacing as Zod’s second in command, Faora, and is reminiscent of Blade Runner’s Pris and X-Men’s Mystique as statuesquely dangerous.
The Terence Malick-inspired macro shots work beautifully during Clark’s early years and really ground the character. There’s also an echo of the Dr. Manhattan imagery from Watchmen (Snyder’s 2009 superhero magnum opus), when Lois and Kal-El are standing opposite each in the desert. Man of Steel is also action-heavy as you’d quite rightly expect from Zack Snyder, and there is a slight feeling of CGI overdose as you near the end of the 148 minutes. The scale of this movie is HUGE and quite rightly so. I wasn’t keen on seeing yet another finale of a city under attack but it somehow manages to create more destruction. Think of the formula for the Metropolis showdown as Matrix Revolutions + Transformers 3 + Avengers Assemble. Kal-El is thrown through an entire block of skyscrapers and the screen is painted with rubble and explosions. As for the somewhat controversial ending with instead Zod kneeling before Superman, I thought it was surprising and intriguing. Superman doesn’t kill, but why? He was forced into a corner by Zod and is immediately haunted by the decision.
I was worried that the pressure of a DC Universe film would intrude on the individualistic story of the film. I prayed to God that there wouldn’t be an end credits sequence like the Marvel films, but I thought the subtle DC easter eggs were well placed (such as the Wayne Enterprises satellite and the Lex Corp tanker/building). The closing scenes of the Kent’s proudly watching a young Clark play around in a red cape, and present day Clark embarking on his induction at the Daily Planet (along with the perfect “Welcome to the Planet” line) was inspiring with Hans Zimmer’s score pounding in the background. Man Of Steel isn’t quite the in-depth character and morality study a lot of us hoped for, but it is a valiant entry amongst the ocean of Superman interpretations. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.