The film follows the origins of Superman, the ‘Man of Steel’. Krypton is in imminent, planetary danger as its core goes haywire. Meanwhile General Zod attempts a coup on Krypton’s Council, but his failure lead him to his imprisonment. The legacy of the Krytonian race rests on Jor-El and Lara sending their son to Earth. Kal-El, A.K.A Clark Kent crash lands in Smallville where he is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Now grown up, Clark attempts to discover who he is? Who are his real parents? And what his purpose is? Meanwhile General Zod returns to threaten the human race in order to protect his own. I’ve not read many of Superman’s comics, and therefore don’t fully understand the entire story around the hero. But the entire purpose of a reboot and origin story is to educate the audience on the narrative surrounding a particular hero/villain. To be honest, if it fails to do that in an engaging and entertaining level then it's failed. Here David S. Goyer and Snyder, with guidance from Nolan, have created a film that deals with the basic mythos surrounding the character, but in a well-structured and dignified manner.
This film portrays Superman as an outsider on a planet that would dissolve into fear and panic if he were to reveal himself. Goyer’s screenplay does well to demonstrate this conflicted nature of the character and his uncertainty over his existence. The traditional distinct personas of Clark Kent and Superman are swapped for a more subtle definition of the two. Here, Clark is still finding his purpose on Earth and beginning to understand his impact on humanity, thus has remained relatively secret. This torn nature between the character is further developed through his interactions with Zod. Both have the desire to bring Krypton back from the ashes but in different manners, to the point that Superman questions his personal motives and determination.
Henry Cavill certainly looks the part and adds a modern twist on our preconceived notions of the character. He’s not the matured and “leader/savour” of humanity, instead Goyer and Snyder write him as the extraterrestrial he is. His longing for justification and to conform into society is one that Cavill’s “subtle” performance really highlights, even with the minimal dialogue. Amy Adams offers a solid and charming performance that thankfully doesn’t deteriorate into a typical damsel in distress. There are the beginnings of a romance between the two, but it isn’t an instantaneous reaction that often feels too forced in many films. As a matter of fact, many critics and fans have actually criticised the lack of the traditional romantic chemistry between the two. But I would be inclined to argue that it wasn’t necessary to definitively engage with this integral element within the narrative of Superman’s origins.
Michael Shannon is genuinely threatening as General Zod. While his hairstyle is questionable, Shannon brings his own slice of madness to the proceedings. It’s over-the-top at times, but its a performance that manages to still bring some empathy towards the character and his reasoning behind his actions. Russell Crowe gets a surprising amount of screen-time, and puts it to good use. It’s obvious that he enjoyed the role and the freedom with the character, which results in some great moments between father and son. Meanwhile the likes of Kevin Costner, Antje Traue and Diane Lane offer a strong supporting cast that are integrated into the narrative and Superman’s own character development relatively well.
Looking back at all of his films, what Snyder constantly does well is presentation. 300, Watchmen and even Sucker Punch showcased his ability to create visually attractive cinema with engaging set-pieces. Man of Steel continues Snyder’s style of film-making and thankfully brings back the grandeur and gravitas we associate with Superman. From the off, the planet of Krypton is strikingly realised, definitely showing the “alien” nature of the superhero’s background. Simple touches like the “sonic boom” whenever Superman flies away or the dust on his cape, add a lot to the actual visualisation of the character. This certainly goes a long way in the film's many action sequences.
I had some major problems with The Avengers, and one of them was the final “Battle Scene”. It lacked scale and a sense of threat for the inhabitants of New York, making it feel rather subdued. Here there’s a strong sense of power and force to each confrontation as planes get destroyed, trains get thrown and buildings collapse. The population of Metropolis crumbles after ever blow, resulting in a surprisingly high body count for a superhero film. It’s fast, manic and there's something immensely satisfying in seeing Superman punch someone through a building or grinding their faces against endless roads, which this film hates. Hans Zimmer’s score continues his strong form, with some really emotional and intense tones and tempos that complement the ensuing drama and action. My one slight problem with the film becomes clear in the last 20 minutes as the CGI and quick editing start to turn into a sensory overload that increasingly becomes drawn out. In hindsight, the final act simply diverges into a chaos of fistfights, quick exposition and irrelevant “adventures” with Daily Planet journalists. But to be fair, I'm just nitpicking at this point.
Man of Steel is everything I wanted from a Superman film; a solid and engrossing story, interesting characters and intense action. The press haven’t been too kind to the film, and I wonder whether that’s the stigma attached to Zack Snyder’s name. Sure it’s got its problems, but like my uncontrollable love of The Raid, Man of Steel proved that if a film entertains you to the point of wanting to watch it again, then it’s a pretty successful one. The impressive feat of any comic-book film is whether it consequently gets people interested in the character, and with myself wanting to see what they do for Man of Steel II, I think that about sums up my thoughts on this one.