Man of Steel is, essentially, the origin story for Superman. And why not? We’ve had Batman, Spider-Man (twice), X-Men (old and new) along with the characters that make up The Avengers. So why not Superman?
Because, more so than the others, Superman can be hard to do. We’ve had Smallville, which tackled this superhero from the angle of a teenager just trying to be normal. We had Superman Returns, which was, well, not that great. But to do a complete origin story of a character that is essentially Godlike, to go up against the films of the all-American Captain, of the actual Norse God Thor, and the billionaire playboys Batman and Iron Man, well, personally I reckon the makers of this film had a hard task before them. Because how do you help an audience connect to a character that is virtually indestructible?
Well, you could pit him against people of his own kind.
The film starts off on Krypton, and here we see Jor-El – the father of Superman – pleading with the council to let him try to save their race. Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe, is a scientist, but that doesn’t mean he can’t kick arse. The opening sequence was strong, with some nice shots and action scenes as Jor-El tries to do what he can to ensure his race and his son survives. The world created was stunning, and part of me really, really wants to see a film that’s just Krypton. Before Superman, before he arrives on Earth. There’s a lot that could be done with that world, and the basics – thanks to Man of Steel – are already there.
The story doesn’t then jump into Clark being found, Clark growing up, Clark discovering what he can do etc. It skips this and delves straight into the heart of the story; Clark on a journey. Instead of spending the first half of the film focusing on him growing up, we get the main points told in flashback. We see how his powers affected his childhood and family, how he discovers that he actually is from another planet. It’s done nicely, and between it we get some nice
Henry Cavill topless Superman doing what Superman does best scenes.
We also get the introduction of Lois Lane.
As a character, I’m not usually a fan of Ms Lane. But I did really like the way the character was done in Smallville, especially when compared with the show’s drab, boring Lana Lang. To me, Smallville’s Lois Lane was a character it made sense for Clark to fall in love with. She was strong and feisty. And in truth, Man of Steel’s portrayal of Lois was almost on par with that. Almost. Except…I don’t know. Something about her really bugged me. Maybe it’s how easily Superman falls in love with her, or how much it seemed like she was trying hard to be all tough and not-need-saving when…well, she seemed like the only character Superman actively tried to save throughout the film. She also had an annoying habit of seeming to have the ability to be everywhere at once. But Amy Adams, despite this, was good. As good as she could be in the role she was given, anyway.
And then, you have Zod. And Faora. But, and this is a real shame, nothing even close to the line “Kneel before Zod, son of Jor-El!” Okay, maybe it would have been a little campy for the film, but anyway. Zod and Faora make a brilliant pairing, with Zod as the general, Krypton’s Military Leader eager to do anything to bring his people back, and Faora as his second-in-command. I feel like Faora is almost a counter-point to the typical female; she’s brutal, harsh and lacks emotions. Her whole purpose is to serve Zod and her people, and she moves through the film as a kind of graceful warrior, happily wrecking destruction and delivering the line “A good death is its own reward” with no indication that she doesn’t believe it.
To me, she was much more of a villain than Zod. It felt almost too easy, every time Superman faced Zod, for Zod to be overcome by something. Yet Faora just didn’t stop. Nothing was going to stop her. I think she may have been my favourite character in the whole film, and even as a villain she – to me, anyway – was more likable than either Lois or Martha Kent.
Also, I’m not the only one who noticed how when Clark put on the costume, he was suddenly clean-shaven, right? With no hint that time had passed, at all.
EDIT: I did have a more conclusive ending to this. But for some reason it got deleted when I pressed the publish button. So I’m going to be working from memory for most of the next part.
The film is stepped in post-9/11 imagery. This could, arguably, be true for most films published in the last few years, but for some reason it feels more apparent in Man of Steel. The climax *SPOILERS* of the film shows the almost total destruction of the city, and the collapsing buildings, covering bystanders in dust and debris, will almost certainly bring up certain images from 9/11 itself. But, and here’s where I had a slight problem, at the very end of the film we see people strolling into the Daily Planet offices, none of the characters seem affected by what they’ve just witnessed and the buildings all seem pretty much intact. Hell, at least in The Avengers we had glimpses of a memorial. In this we just get…well, nothing. Despite the fact that God knows how many MUST have died. Superman wasn’t even close to saving them all, but instead gets angry only when he sees Zod and co go for a direct target. He does save one guy from a helicopter, only to let another ‘chopper fall with two people inside.
It’s like, seriously, Clark, save someone apart from Lois. Please.
So, it has its flaws. Of course it does. And it’s not one of the best superhero films to come out in recent years, but it is a good film. It’s enjoyable, with some great visuals, and if anything, the fight scenes really redeem it. The cast and characters – when they work – work quite well. There are different approaches that could have been taken with this, but this feels like the best one. It’s not the best superhero film, but it is perhaps the best anyone could have done with Superman. And it’s laid a nice foundation for the possibility of more Superman films, and even a lead up towards a Justice League movie.