Directors Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight Trilogy) both made large contributions to the success of comic book films. Now, tasked with a reboot of Superman, the potential for a Justice League film and a last chance for this character hang on their shoulders. Man of Steel boldly sets itself apart from previous Superman adaptations while paving a way for future DC Comics’ films.
Man of Steel retells the origin of Superman (Henry Cavill), born Kal-El on the planet Krypton. Krypton has become endangered, due to the overuse of the planets’ resources. As the planet slides toward destruction, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) disagree on how to protect the Kryptonian citizens.
General Zod’s violent methods land him in exile while Jor-El sends his newborn son, Kal-El, to Earth for a chance at life. Zod vows to find Kal-El and resurrect Krypton. Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and his wife Martha (Diane Lane) find Kal-El, name him Clark and raise him as their own.
The DC “Nolanverse” continues to explore superheroes in a real world setting, showing Clark as a kid, living with super powers. Early on, he can’t control his super-hearing and x-ray vision, encouraging the Kents to hide his abilities. The struggle Clark faces show a side of Superman that fans never consider: having super powers may not always be a blessing.
When Superman leaps into action, Snyder’s special effects bring it to life. Superman and Zod destroy buildings, fly into space, and clash like gods. Their movements are flashy and video game inspired. The CG effects are gorgeous but often overwhelming, making the action tough to keep up with.
Every performance is strong in Man of Steel. Michael Shannon’s Zod is an intense, passionate villain. His blind devotion to a personal crusade make him fascinating to watch. Crowe and Costner as the two fathers deliver unique performances, and a supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Amy Adams and Diane Lane fits surprisingly well.
Man of Steel deviates enough to standout but pays homage to the character’s iconic history. Reflecting the recent change in DC Comics’ New 52 costumes, Superman’s outfit appears more armor-like but still has the popular “S” shield over red and blue.
Hans Zimmer’s score replaces the famous John Williams soundtrack. Much like Clark’s journey, the new theme starts with simple notes and builds with intensity.
Die-hard Superman fans may take issue with one decision near the end of the film, that seems a bit out of character. As a long-time fan, I found it shocking but also liked the risk the filmmakers took. It further establishes that this isn’t a rehash.
Zack Snyder handles adaptations and remakes better than his original concepts (Sucker Punch or Owls of Gahool anyone?) and Man of Steel is some of his best work. Superman in a real world setting presents unique story-telling moments to humanize a character that is anything but.
The darker tone of this movie may turn some off who remember a light-hearted Christopher Reeve character. Man of Steel is deathly serious and intense, but it held my attention for the entire 143 minutes. While it does have some missteps, this Superman still saves the day.