Without question, Superman is the most iconic of all comic book heroes. That’s not to say he’s the best – it just means he’s the benchmark to whom all other superheroes are compared. Not only is he one of the original heroes, he also possesses all the qualities one is expected to have: selflessness, super-human abilities and the like. In short, when most people hear the term “superhero,” they think of Superman.
That’s why it’s a shame that no film has truly lived up to his legacy. Over the past few decades five movies featuring Superman have all failed, falling prey to campiness and over-the-top storylines and acting. “Man of Steel” could’ve easily turned out the same way. But by taking a serious, realistic view of the character, the film avoids the pitfalls of its predecessors. The result is an excellent, yet flawed, comic book movie.
“Man of Steel” is basically the “Dark Knight” version of Superman. Writer David S. Goyer and Producer Christopher Nolan (two of the people responsible for that recent Batman franchise), along with Director Zack Snyder, present a story in which an Earth-raised extraterrestrial must come to grips with his powers and the alienation that comes with them. Clark Kent/Kal-El is really neither human nor Kryptonian, possessing the moral principles of humanity but also super-human capabilities that prevent him from ever leading a normal life on Earth. Thus, he must choose whether to hide his powers and let others die or use them and face the ridicule of being different.
No other Superman film has effectively tackled those themes, and none are like “Man of Steel.” It’s dark and humorless, but it’s also very moving. By far the best parts are the flashbacks in which Superman struggles to cope with his powers, like the touching scene in which Martha Kent coaxes a young Clark out of a closet where he had fled after being overwhelmed by his hyper-senses. It would’ve been interesting to see more of that character development.
Instead, much of the movie consists of drawn-out CGI action sequences mostly likely created to top “The Avengers.” While General Zod proved to be the perfect antagonist for the story (a Kryptonian intent on destroying a world Superman isn’t sure he fits into), the prolonged fights between hero and villain counteracted against the more compelling introspective scenes. Still Henry Cavill and Amy Adams were well-cast as Superman and Lois Lane, and Michael Shannon was especially good as Zod.
While not perfect, “Man of Steel” is a film that finally does Superman justice. If it’s any indication of a DC cinematic universe, then fans of comic book movies have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
4 out of 5 doubloons
Sean Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org