If there’s one thing DC Comics has seriously lagged behind Marvel in is its movie franchises, when it comes to television, comics, games, toys and more DC Comics has traditionally dominated Marvel. Yet the one piece in DC’s puzzle that’s been missing all these years is their movie stable. From failed movies like Superman Returns to Green Lantern, DC has historically struggled in the superhero movie market. Unless we’re talking about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, which has been both a commercials and critical success for DC. Unfortunately they haven’t been able to translate the success of the Dark Knight movies to the other franchises DC owns.
Green Lantern was a failure, both commercially and critically. Superman Returns? People would like to forget that one if they could. So when it came time for DC to start fresh, with their version of Marvel’s Phase 1, they chose Superman. Is there a more iconic character than the last son of Krypton? A character that would work so well on the big screen. In order to bring their Superman movie to life they tapped director Zach Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan. They hoped that Nolan would be able to bring some of his magic with the Batman trilogy over to what would be the first piece of DC’s puzzle. Something that would ultimately lead to a Justice League movie, something fans have wanted for years. So it’s with great fanfare that DC Comics and Warner Borthers (DC’s parent company), unleashed the Man of Steel. This was their shot to redeem themselves with the fans, and a chance to kickstart their way to superhero movie domination.
Fair warning now, from here on out you will be exposed to spoilers so please proceed with that in mind. The origin myth is perhaps the most interesting part of any superhero story. Man of Steel is Superman’s coming out party. It’s his origin story, both as the alien Kal-El and as the man who grows into Superman. It chronicles Clark Kent’s life from his birth on Krypton to his various travels as he finds himself and what it mean to posses god like powers. This is a very different Clark Kent than what we’ve seen. There’s no Smallville High School football star here, this is a Clark Kent that is introverted and alone. A boy that’s struggling with who he is and the powers he’s manifested. A man that is conflicted over his abilities to save people and the struggle to contain himself. The best thing to happen to Clark Kent is the arrival of General Zod and his troops. It’s allowed Clark to come out of the shadows and show Earth who he truly is, and what he can do. It’s just a shame that an alien invasion was needed to do it.
From the early scenes, taking part on a dying Krypton, you can tell that Snyder is trying to portray a grandiose story that is intent on wowing the audience. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed with the opening of the film. As a fan of the Superman comics it’s something very familiar yet still different. Krypton is dying, but the ruling class refuse to do anything about it. After a lot of pleading to the ruling council by Jor-El (Superman’s birth father and played by Russel Crowe), and the refusal to act upon his pleas, General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts a coup d’état to save Krypton. This goes against Jor-El’s beliefs and conflict ensues. Jor-El manages to escape back to his home only after obtaining the codex, apparently on this new Krypton babies are not naturally born, rather they are genetically grown to fit into a specific caste. We have already seen Lara (Jor-El’s wife and played by Ayelet Zurer) naturally give birth to their baby boy Kal-El, something that has not happened on Krypton in centuries. In his final moments Jor-El and Lara manage to put their son into a small space ship and send him off to a far away planet to grow and live out his days. That planet is Earth, where Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) take in the alien baby and raise them as his own. Unfortunately back on Krypton Jor-El is killed by Zod as the battled over Kal-El’s trip among the stars.
Fast forward a couple weeks and Genral Zod and his soldiers, who have been defeated in battle, are expelled to the Negative Zone for 300 cycles. Unfortunately for Krypton Jor-El’s predictions have come true and the planet is destroying itself and all of those on it. Fortunately for Zod the destruction of the planet has freed them from the Negative Zone and allowed them to search out for Kal-El and the codex, which has the genetic imprint of all future Kryptonians on it. They plan on founding a new Krypton and bringing their people back. Unfortunately it takes them 33 years to get the resources necessary to travel to Earth and search the planet for the lost Kryptonian.
During those 33 years it took Zod to get to Earth, Kal-El has grown up as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) in Smallville, Kansas and has managed to travel the earth, from working on a fishing boat to somehow getting his way into a secret military compound working manual labor. Clark has seen and done it all, all while trying to figure out who he is and the best way to keep his secret hidden. Throughout the movie we’re littered with flashbacks to Clark’s childhood, and it surprisingly works well. We get glimpses into how Clark was raised, the impact his father had on him and how he reacted when he finally found out that he was an alien. It was nice to see Clark’s back story slowly unfold in a natural and compelling way. Through it all, you can see Clark struggle to contain his raw power while still trying to be a good person that can blend in with the humans surrounding him.
Clarks life changed forever when Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) travels to northern Canada to write a story on a military expedition that’s stumbled on some unexpected technology buried deep in the northern ice. There, she crosses paths with Clark as they both stumble into a mysterious Kryptonian vessel that landed on Earth thousands of years ago. Clark finally learns who, and what, he is and gets the chance to meet his true father. Although the projection of Jor-El is merely a construct using an uploaded consciousnesses. Unfortunately the ships defenses don’t take kindly to unwelcomed intruders and Clark is forced to reveal himself and his powers to Lois. Now the cat’s been let out of the bag, and Lois Lane has him in her sights. Luckily, Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) refuses to run a story about an alien, unfortunately Lois goes around him and gives to to a blogger to leak on his website. Now there’s talk of an alien walking among humans, and the U.S. government is not pleased.
Yet there are even bigger things to worry about now, because General Zod has tracked a distress beacon to Earth and believes that it is the location of the long lost Kal-El. In an message delivered across every screen in the world, Zod demands the surrender of the hidden Kryptonian or he’ll destroy the planet. With the talk of an alien now confirmed the U.S. government goes into full blown panic mode and they pick up Lois to try and find out exactly what she knows about the world’s most famous secret ransom.
After some soul searching, Clark decides that it’s now his time to protect the planet. This is the opportunity he’s been waiting for, so he turns himself in to the government so they can decide on what to do with him. He leaves his fate in the hands of the U.S. military, and like countless of movies before this doesn’t end well. Clark is taken into custody by Zod’s forces, and they’ve also demanded Lois Lane be taken into custody as well. Why? Well a clear answer is never given, but one would assume that the writers did it to give Lois more screen time, because realistically there’s no advantage in taking Lois hostage.
On Zod’s ship Superman is subjected to a mental projection of Zod’s true intentions, terraforming Earth into a new Krypton and bringing back millions of new Kryptionian inhabitants. After learning a way to stop Zod and his cronies, from another projection of Jor-El, and an assist on escaping the ship, Lois Lane has now become the fly in Zod’s soup. Fast forward a few scenes best left to watch and now we enter the combat zone. Nearly the final 45 minutes of the film is just one big action scene. From Superman fighting Zod’s henchmen Faora and Non on the streets of Smallville to the epic fights through out Metropolis. The amount of damage inflicted to building in this movie is massive. Nevermind the fact that Zod has managed to start terraforming Earth, with his ship at the center of Metropolis, the destruction is just massive. There’s so much fighting that it would be useless to describe it all. Just sit back and take it all in.
From this point on, things start to descend into a bit more stereotypical comic book movie territory. Superman and the military are forced to work together to Zods evil plan and the ultimate final battle between Superman and Zod. It’s cgi destruction to the maximum, sprinkled in with noble sacrifices and cliched lines. Then there’s the surprising scene at the end of Zod and Supermans battle, with a moment that casts this version of Superman in a very different light than what audiences have come to expect from the Last Son of Krypton. Superman kills Zod. Yes, that’s right, he killed Zod. It was a terribly written scene where Zod was using one of his new founded powers, heat vision, on a family of four. He was attempting to take the heat and kill two parents with their two children. It was unnecessary because the family could have easily escaped, except for the poorly written drama that was trying to be built. There was no reason for the family to be in the position they were in, and there was no reason for Superman to kill Zod. Call me old fashion, or what you will, but Superman doesn’t kill.
Still, I actually enjoyed this movie. Despite its flaws, I liked the new approach they took to Superman and like the serious tone they tried to set. Even though there were moments that were unintentionally funny, the movies wasn’t bad. The acting was good, the cgi looked great and the tone it set was nice. Considering it was a contrived and poorly written script, the movie made the best of it. I can only imagine how great the movie could have been had they had a better script. It could have easily been one of the best comic book movies ever, instead it’s probably in the top five or so.
Despite my grumblings, and the flaws I found in it, Man of Steel is a good movie. Synder worked well with what he had and made what is probably the best Superman film ever made. Fans of the comics will like the movie, although they might find the ending a bit hard to stomach, where as others will see Superman’s actions as being reasonable and something that couldn’t be avoided. In any case, Man of Steel deserves to be seen. If DC Comics and Warner Brothers can build upon this movie, they might be able to someday catch up to Marvel’s movie dominance.