After lagging far behind Marvel in the development of a film universe, DC Comics finally seems on track to do something similar. The Dark Knight trilogy provided the pattern: A serious, adult, even realistic approach to the notion of superhero. Given how good the Christopher Nolan movies turned out to be, Warner Brothers decided to try something similar with the other big ticket in the company’s roster: Mr. Red and Blue Tights, Krypton’s favorite son, Superman.
Man of Steel is serious alright. Far too serious. Director Zack Snyder and screenwriters David S. Goyer and Nolan himself go out of their way to find pathos in the ever reliable superhero. The movie is saddled with infinite debates about assimilation or keeping one’s distance, a dispute that provides Superman with oh-so-many acceptance issues.
As any good reboot, Man of Steel starts in Krypton. Thanks to the irresponsible exploitation of the planet’s core (environmental lesson alert!), the planet is about to go kaboom. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) gets his son Kal-El out of the solar system on time. Kal travels with the genetic codes of most Krypton bloodlines and the planet’s accumulated knowledge. The idea is for Krypton to be reborn on Earth by establishing a symbiotic relationship with mankind.
Jor-El’s sworn enemy, General Zod (Michael Shannon), has a similar idea with a small variation: We get exterminated. The only force standing between us and total annihilation is Kal, and given how objectionably humans have treated him since young age, it’s rather surprising he doesn’t side with Zod.
It’s not the only debate raging in Kal-El’s mind. While his biological father wants him to become a leader and moral beacon, his terrestrial dad (Kevin Costner) fears the effects of his presence (religious turmoil, geopolitical anxiety) among mankind
The starting point of Man of Steel is considerably superior to the denouement. The no-hold-barred battle royale between Superman and General Zod involves far too much CGI for anyone to care about the outcome (being an origin story, there are only so many ways Man of Steel could end), and doesn’t do justice to the provocative setup. A committed performance by Michael Shannon –a villain who thinks of himself as a hero- nearly goes to waste as all his confrontations with Superman are massive, brainless scuffles.
Man of Steel makes you appreciate how good Christopher Reeve was in the role. Reeve’s version of Superman had a glint in his eye, an easy-going demeanor that made him instantly likeable. Henry Cavill’s idea of Supes is that of a boy scout. A very dull one, for that matter. On the plus side, Amy Adams as Lois Lane is leaps and bounds superior to Kate Bosworth, who singlehandedly doomed the last reboot.
The biggest problem of Man of Steel is not Cavill. It’s the tone of the movie: Solemn and humorless. The dark, murky nature of Christopher Nolan’s Batman is a good fit considering the tortured psyche of Bruce Wayne. Supes is a different beast: He is the dean of superheroes because his unambiguous code of ethics. There is a clarity to the character, as seen in the comic’s early years and the Richard Donner movies. Man of Steel may be a better movie than Iron Man 3, but I enjoyed the latter far more.
An aspect of Man of Steel likely to irritate hard core fans is how little effort Kal-El puts into hiding his identity once the Zod hits the fan. It’s borderline ridiculous to watch him adopt his Clark Kent persona after being publicly linked to astounding displays of might. If Zack Snyder thought audiences wouldn’t notice, he doesn’t know comic book fans (and according to Watchmen haters, he really doesn’t).
Three super prairie dogs. “Super doooooogs!”