Man of Steel (2013) is the latest reboot of the Superman franchise, directed by Zack Snyder. The Superman film prior to Man of Steel was Superman Returns (2006) directed by Bryan Singer.
The film takes a different approach to a familiar and often-told story. The origin story of Planet Krypton is told in greater detail, illustrating an Avatar-like world that combines advanced technology and weaponry with savage structures and flying beasts. In the final moments before the planet explodes, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his babe son into space, heading for Earth in order to preserve the race, against General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) wishes, who aims to preserve the race himself.
The film, after that point, takes a thoughtful approach to Superman’s upbringing. The next hour of the film has no linear plot. The film progresses through various flashbacks to Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) childhood, which allow the viewer to understand Clark’s present-day morality. They present the trials and tribulations that a young Clark faced, which molded his nomadic adulthood. Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is sensitive, expressing subtle changes in his voice and eyes. He fully utilizes his rugged features to exhibit Clark Kent’s wholesome, small-town America vibe.
The flashbacks continue as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins chasing down leads to write a story about Clark Kent. She delivers a strong portrayal of Lois Lane without risking vulnerability and compassion. Adams creates a driven female journalist with a hint of her signature sweetness.
Man of Steel expresses some religious imagery throughout the film, almost as if Superman is the ‘Man of God’. The way Superman is shown floating in the air is almost Christ-like, which comes as no surprise since his father describes him as a savior of mankind. These depictions are stunning yet curious — is he one of the human race or is he akin to a god? On a similar note, the scenes that showed Superman overcoming a considerable challenge were inspiring. The look on his face, the determination, the struggle, it all drew in focus and inspired. Superman becomes a stirring figure, comparable to a deity.
The film thrives on a thoughtful pace of meaningful memories, mirrored by calm and reflective music by Hans Zimmer, but the film unfortunately takes a turn from that introspective tone. In fact, the film makes such a stark change that it feels like Michael Bay came in and directed the second half of the film. As a concrete plot line is established, the tone and the story feel aggressive and somewhat false. This film tried to capitalize from previous superhero movies, particularly Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, that presented superheroes and villains in an authentic way. That worked incredibly well for Nolan’s Batman films, because his villains were human, albeit crazed and extremely flawed. They worked in a real-world scenario because real life has shown eccentric and despicable beings. It did not work in this film for two reasons: 1) Superman’s world involves aliens and 2) the movie becomes action-centric. Aliens are always challenging to make realistic, and the entire encounter and communication with the human race is not believable.
The movie tries to be exciting and action-packed, like J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek is, but it overshoots the mark. The amount of destruction is laughable. There is a point in all the action when the viewer shuts down and waits for it all to stop. And when that stop finally arrives, the action just picks right back up and bombards the viewer with more. The writing, the one-liners, and the story all took a blow in the second half — where it feels like an entirely different film.
The reboot has tremendous potential, and if the movie gets a sequel, one can only hope that Snyder focuses on the thoughtful and unique storytelling from the first half. That is where the film shined.