Movie Reviews One Decade Later
Man of Steel is a modern retelling of the origin of Clark Kent, AKA Superman (Henry Cavill). A young Clark learns to understand his abilities as well as his place in a world that may fear him for his god-like powers. Just as Clark begins to learn about his alien heritage, the villainous General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives on Earth with plans to make a new home for the surviving Kryptonians, threatening the lives of the entire human race. Superman must choose between the people of his homeworld or the planet he now calls home.
Reception at the Time
This was the first DC movie to follow up the Dark Knight trilogy. Warner Brothers wanted a Superman movie that could match the grit and tone of its most profitable DC movies to date. The film got mixed reviews at its release. Currently sitting at 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, it seemed to split critics as they often are with Zach Snyder’s work, frequently citing his penchant for visual thrills and lack of substantial character development. Despite its mixed reviews, Man of Steel was a mild box office success justifying a sequel, but not enough to get Superman to fly solo. Batman quickly became a co-lead in the followup Batman v. Superman and the Snyderverse as we know it was born.
How It’s Aged
It’s difficult to talk about this movie now without the broader context of the Snyderverse covering the last decade of DC films. While the broader Snyderverse is filled with Atlantians, Greek Gods, Christ-like resurrections, and granny’s sweet tea, Man of Steel tries to be the most grounded and realistic interpretation of Superman. As a result it somehow feels less like a Snyder movie by comparison, lacking the expected needle drop filled montagues, slow motion action sequences, and failed attempts at humor. The film now somehow feels refreshingly divorced from the rest of the Snyderverse, exploring themes of nature vs. nurture, mythology, and dissecting what “hope” looks like in the 21st century. It has little interest in setting up a future universe and rather fixates on how hard it would be for an alien with god-like powers to figure out his place in the world that may fear his existence.
Without question, the best scene in the movie is Superman’s first flight. Clark pushing his limits and learning he can fly with a huge grin on his face feels like the least Snyder thing in existence, but his knack for exceptional visuals pays off in this scene. It’s only elevated by a great score composed by Hans Zimmer. It sounds majestic, powerful, and joyous. The score overall is highly underrated for Zimmer and the superhero genre.
Other highlights include the depiction of Krypton in the opening scene featuring Russel Crowe as Superman’s biological father in probably his last great action performance. Cavill’s performance as Superman is actually great. He’s stoic and reserved, with a little glint in his eye showing glimpses of Supermen of old while making the character uniquely his.
While there is a lot to complain about with the writing and portrayal of Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, he is sublime in the scene where he shows a young Clark his rocket for the first time and reveals that he is an alien. Clark says, “Can I just keep pretending to be your son?” and Jonathan Kent responds “You are my son.” holding back tears. This scene has always been devastating.
There is no question that Man of Steel didn’t live up to a lot of people’s expectations. The studio expected it to be the next Dark Knight. Some fans felt it lacked the warmth and levity of the Christopher Reeves Superman of the late 70s. Other fans thought this would usher in a wave of great DC comics stories brought to film. As an attempted clone of Nolan’s past work, it sometimes falls into the same trap of being more interesting than it is fun. But weighing this movie on its own merits apart from the greater Snyderverse, it is a well-told, modern Superman story. What more could we ask from the Man of Steel.
Review by Josh Wierschke
50 films reviewed