Following the still popular trend of the gritty reboot of the formerly cartoonish superhero tale, Man of Steel retells the story of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) origins, adding in a few dashes of realism. The imminent destruction of their home planet Krypton forces Superman’s parents to jettison their son to the far-off planet Earth in the hopes that he will forge his own destiny. The baby of steel crash-lands in Kansas and gets picked up by the good-hearted Kents. They christen him “Clark” and raise him as their own while simultaneously teaching him to hone his overwhelming superhuman senses. His adoptive father (Kevin Costner) urges his son to keep his skills a secret lest the world become afraid of his power, but Clark just can’t stop himself from helping anyone in need.
Clark grows up, jumping from job to job, successfully hiding his true identity from everyone except intrepid journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who uses her investigative skills to hunt him down. Also hot on his tail is General Zod (Michael Shannon), an evil Kryptonian partially responsible for the destruction of Clark’s home planet. Zod wants to rebuild Krypton from the ground up, with Earth’s people as collateral damage. The time for secrecy is over. Superman dons his red cape and fights for the future of Earth
Man of Steel provides solid summer entertainment. It manages to make the familiar story of Superman interesting again, thanks to the advances in CGI and the addition of Superman’s childhood flashbacks. The visuals are mostly gorgeous, especially with some startling imagery in a “dream” sequence. However, some fight sequences felt repetitive or looked as if they were “skipping” like a scratched DVD would – an ill-advised attempt to show how quickly Kryptonians move compared to humans. Leading man Cavill gives an earnest performance as the titular hero. Yet despite attempts to make his Superman more grounded and relatable, he’s somehow devoid of a strong personality, allowing our previous perceptions of Superman to drive the film instead of his performance itself.
I cannot remember a time I did not know who Superman was. His values and the ideal of humanity he stands for is ingrained in our society from the time we’re old enough to tie a red towel around our shoulders and pretend to fly around the living room. But at some point during my adolescence, I started disliking Superman. I thought his origin story was kooky. He had virtually no weaknesses. He always won and always saved the day. He was basically the Deus ex machina of superheroes, with events always working out in his favor.
For most of the movie, Clark upholds his ideals of simultaneous compassion and strength. But while the movie is more serious than its predecessors, I wasn’t really getting the “gritty” vibe I’d been promised. Then, the last 10 minutes of the movie changed the game.
Superman makes the conscious decision to end someone’s life.
Immediately, the people in the theater drew their breath. A few expletives flew. A fully grown man cried, “He just killed somebody!” – trying to hide the disappointment etched in his voice. It was as if it were the biggest twist in a movie these people had ever seen. Nobody had been expecting it. In this moment, I also felt that I’d been cheated out of something that was supposed to be constant. For all my talk of how boring and predictable Superman is, watching my first superhero break his code of honor proved more difficult than I anticipated. In this moment, I realized that I still looked up to the idea of Superman while simultaneously labeling it outdated. Director Zach Snyder’s awkward moral middle ground was more difficult to embrace than an outright “dark” Superman.
While not entirely morose, Man of Steel successfully chronicles Superman’s life and makes it interesting. Some downfalls are a bit of repetitive fight choreography, some strange-looking CGI at times, and lack of much-needed “quieter” moments to advance characterization. While it’s definitely not my favorite superhero movie, Man of Steel is thought-provoking and one of my favorite Superman stories to date.