I would hate to live in a world without Superman in it. While the character is completely fiction his endurance over the last 75 years has engrained him deep into the world’s zeitgeist making him a symbol for millions in every generation. Why then, has Hollywood had such trouble translating him to the big screen?
While the big blue Boy Scout has had great success on the small screen with such ventures as the animated Justice League and the long-running Smallville television shows adapting him to the big screen has proved to be a much harder task. If you want proof just look at Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns, both major cinematic debacles. It is clear that the time had come for a fresh look at Superman and that would come in the form of Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel.
The final result is just what the world needs in a Superman film. A lot of the complaints I have heard is that the film is too dark and doesn’t feel like the average Superman movie, but isn’t that the point? Richard Donner’s masterpiece was great in the 1970s but times, and superheroes, have drastically changed. The lines between good and evil aren’t so clear anymore and those with great power must earn it.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight changed the game forever so having him helm production and help with the screenplay was undoubtedly the right choice if the movie was going to gain acceptance with the current generation. Much of the same elements that made Nolan’s Batman trilogy so great are on display in Man of Steel but just enough to tie them together and make Superman not only feel real but justified. There is an ongoing debate among geeks over who is the better superhero, Batman or Superman. Those that side with Batman claim that he is the better of the two because he’s not superhuman and makes all his own weapons. Fair enough, but what most people don’t appreciate about Superman is that while he may have the abilities of a God his conscious choice to live a quiet, normal life makes him endlessly selfless. Superman could destroy the planet in a heartbeat if he wanted to, the fact that he would decide to play hero speaks volumes about his character. He literally carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and there are times when that responsibility has almost destroyed him.
Man of Steel addresses those issues for the first time in a way that feels totally organic. While there was a sense of loneliness in both Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Superman no one has nailed it with the right amount of depth that Henry Cavill brings to the role. Superman is essentially a man in a one-piece blue suit that flies around in a cape. That can be very hard to pull off if you don’t have the right personality. Cavill’s version of the character feels natural and the audience doesn’t once question the fact that he’s in what should be seen as a silly costume flying around. The same can be said for the rest of the cast.
While her Lois Lane veers a bit from the standard template Amy Adams’ version of the star reporter is honest enough that I fully believed she had the talent to write a Pulitzer Prize winning story. That is something that Kate Bosworth sorely lacked in Superman Returns. Lois Lane might be the damsel in distress but she is also a hard-hitting journalist with a need to seek the truth and can easily take her of herself. Erica Durance handled the role well in Smallville so it was nice to see that tenacity carry over.
But let’s dig a bit deeper into the main plot of Man of Steel. The choice to have Superman face Zod was a controversial one at first. Zod was previously the villain in Superman II, widely considered to be the best of the original series. While the film itself is great and stands up well over time no one in the film had any real character arc. In Snyder’s version not only is Zod given real motivation but he feels like an honest threat to someone that can shoot fire out of his eyes and deflect bullets with his body. If Snyder was ever going to show the world just how powerful Superman can be he needed to be able to face an enemy that would put him in real danger. Not only that the technology and backstory introduced in Snyder’s films seamlessly introduces a variety of other DC characters that would make excellent adversaries in the sequel (my money is on Brainac). MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD!!
Still, Man of Steel is in no way a perfect film. While the decision to take him darker was defiantly the right one, Snyder may have crossed a line. In the final battle Superman does something that is unthinkable for fans that really get the character, he kills Zod. Granted, he was in a position where he had no choice and the only way to end it was to do it but that is a major ethical dilemma for the hero. One of the defining characteristics of Superman is that he never kills. Batman will kill if he has to and so will any number of less defined characters but Superman lives by a very strict moral code. Having him break that so early on says a lot about the direction Snyder has the Superman headed and one I am cautious about in future movies.
Despite all that I stand by the Man of Steel. It is a smart, passionate adaptation of the character that creates a Superman that is ready to give people hope again.
Visit Warner Brother’s Man of Steel.