At first, I dug around some of my favorite sites for writing about movies, looking for examples of the critics writing about what doesn’t work in Man of Steel. By now, though, you’ve probably heard, read, or thought all those things, too. Simply put, the mayhem and destruction in the film may be too much. Superman’s actions either cause or allow too much damage to be wrought on the people of Kansas and Metropolis, many have said, and I agree with that. The climactic action of Man of Steel is too costly in human life even for a mythic yet novice Superman.
(That director Zack Snyder wanted it that way is telling. It’s a choice, and a choice he’s allowed to make as the painter of a Superman story, but it doesn’t work for me.)
That ending doesn’t undo everything I liked about the movie, however, and I liked rather a lot of it. The whole first hour of the film crafts bold, beautiful worlds on Krypton and Earth. It is earnest to the point of being pulpy, even cheesy, and I am fine with that. My favorite parts of this movie are when Superman talks with humans, including that final scene in the Daily Planet offices.
This incarnation of General Zod may be my favorite version of the character. He’s crazed from the get-go, dangerous and devoted and fanatical to his cause. His trajectory through the picture is the real propulsive force and the reason why the movie is so hyperactively violent. Thanks to Michael Shannon, especially, I felt like this was his picture — scary and bombastic because of his villainy.
That’s sort of a shame for what amounts to our reintroduction to Superman, I think. I think Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman. At once modest and powerful, doubting but driven, his relationships with his human and alien fathers is well handled by the actors of Clark. I’m eager to see another Cavill performance in the cape.
And that’s the best thing about Man of Steel for me. This is a deeply cinematic vision for the character and his world, building on stuff we already know about Superman and remixing it in ways to give the stories the right pace and style for the movies. I love that Lois Lane won’t spend the franchise trying to figure out who Superman is — we’re only likely to get a handful of stories with these characters before another reboot, so some of the tales that worked in the serialized comics won’t play as well here. I’m excited to see the Clark/Lois dynamic in the next film, thanks to this one.
Above all, though, the Kryptonian action of this movie — from Jor-El to Zod’s cadre to Kal-El — is all about motion. We get some strong visual portraits of Superman that would work in the comics, like that shot of him in the custody of soldiers, his hands bound. But we also get moments that work best in motion, like the casual breaking of those handcuffs and the use of Superman’s cape throughout. The shifting snow and pebbles before he takes flight might not play on the page like they do in the theater. That’s good stuff.
This movie doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be the core depiction of the character. This story plays with what we know and expect, fitting into the larger mythology of Superman in a way that I think is right for a reboot in an age when comics and movies and television are all interacting with each other in new ways. This isn’t a definitive Superman, this is a distinctly theatrical vision.
Here, moving images reign. The comics’ tableaus and heroically statuesque visuals rule a different realm. Let each form do what it does best.
For me, the cinematic Steve Rogers of Chris Evans and Marvel Studios is still my preferred superheroic do-gooder (and I’m very excited to see Captain America develop further on screen in The Winter Solider), but I have room in my roster for this new Superman, too. Here’s hoping the next movie adventure of the Man of Steel learns a lot from this first one, though.
Hans Zimmer’s score worked so well in the movie, for me, that I went and bought it right after. Alas, it doesn’t work outside the film as well, for me, but some of its key motifs remain really powerful.
I dug the amount of sci-fi flavor in this film (though I’d like to see this Superman foil a bank robbery, too). This galaxy makes me a little afraid of what might come to threaten Earth next, which makes me feel like Superman’s role as our world’s galactic protector is nicely underlined.
Someday maybe I’ll get to pitch my sci-fi vision for a futuristic Superman miniseries or story. I have just one good Superman story I’d like to tell.