It took me a while to warm up to this one. It has its share of problems, but it’s not quite the humorless tragedy-fest I labeled it as the first time I saw it. It does take the Batman Begins template a bit too closely to heart and it makes some odd changes to the established mythology, but it’s a crazy pretty movie, thanks to Zach Snyder’s penchant for heroic visuals. I just wish the script had been as up to snuff.
The studio was in a kind of bind to create a new Superman film as 50% of the rights reverted back to the family of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and, unless they made a new film, Siegel’s family could sue the studio for lost revenue. Matthew Vaughn was considered, and (partnering with Mark Millar) pitched an idea for an epic Godfather-esque trilogy of Superman films outlining the character’s complete story. Guillermo del Toro, Robert Zemeckis, and Darren Aronofsky were also among those considered to direct, but none were willing or available. Ultimately, the job went to Zach Snyder of Watchmen fame. The script was given to David S. Goyer, writer of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, after Nolan suggested him to the studio.
Critical reaction was mixed upon release, but the film was such a financial success that the plan to make this the first in a cinematic universe of DC films went ahead.
In terms of its visual style, the film succeeds brilliantly. It looks fantastic, especially the reimagined Krypton which blends an apocalyptic landscape with the grandiose technology of the Kryptonians. It looks like a grand and ancient civilization that’s at the end of its life, keeping itself alive solely through technology. It’s advanced, but not polished.
Its main problems lie with its script, which substitutes needless plot complications for meaningful character development. We get a good look at Clark’s psyche, but we don’t get much in the way of his and Lois’ interactions, rendering her character rather flat once we get past her wonderful introduction. She goes from adventuresome reporter to timid damsel pretty quickly once she meets Clark.
And I’m not a huge fan of the whole atmosphere thing. Clark gets his superpowers from the sun, which is younger and brighter than Krypton’s sun. Zod (and friends) should gain superpowers when exposed to the sun, but instead, they already have super strength (though that may be a result of their genetic engineering and armor) but don’t get the heightened senses until they breathe Earth’s atmosphere, which seems silly.
I’m also not a fan of how Clark’s dad dies. Jonathan basically commits suicide to make a point, which is probably the reason why this Superman is so messed up and conflicted.
The story element that caused the most controversy is Supes killing Zod, but I think that makes sense. He killed Zod in Superman II. It wasn’t until the Donner Cut that the ending was redone so that, after killing Zod, Supes reverses time and changes things so Zod stays trapped in the Phantom Zone. In Man of Steel, he’s clearly broken up by what he does, and it’s definitely the sort of thing that would lead to him trying to AVOID killing in the future.
But plot holes and silly script decisions aside, the movie IS enjoyable. It’s unfortunate that Lois is so bland, and I think the script is too meandering, but it looks fantastic, and it’s a decent intro to the cinematic universe that follows.
Hopefully DC figures out what they’re doing. We’re three films into the DCEU, and there haven’t been any really rousing successes. But the next film does a pretty good job.
See you next week!