Superman is considered by many to be the first superhero and is seen as an American icon. Christopher Reeves is Superman and while there have been a few on film and television since him, none have quite stood up to his standards. Man of Steel aims to change that with a Superman that is more grounded in reality. With Watchmen director Zack Snyder at the helm and Christopher Nolan on board as a producer, they’re in pretty good shape.
Man of Steel ditches the typical exposition of lengthy dialogue seen at the beginning of most superhero films and opts for a more explosive approach as the film opens on a dying Krypton that is on the verge of destruction as its citizens struggle to keep their race alive. General Zod (Michale Shannon) is the leader of the Kryptonian army and stages a coup to take control of the government in the belief that he can save their people.
Meanwhile, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife have just had the first natural born baby in thousands of years, one who has the freedom to choose how to live his life. With knowledge of the impending destruction of their home world, they decide to send Kal-El to Earth to live among the humans.
This opening scene is executed near perfectly and contains an equal balance of action and story that sets the stage for what’s to follow. The main characters are all established, and we see what makes Kal-El so special. It comes as a bit of a letdown, though, when the rest of the film can’t keep the momentum going.
Years have passed on Earth and Kal-El, now going by the name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) moves from one odd job to another. He knows he’s special and but from this world but struggles to find his own identity. Man of Steel makes frequent use of flashbacks to Clark’s childhood to help establish his character, but it does it so often that the film has difficulty in portraying him in his adulthood. In over-emphasizing his childhood, it’s hard to get a clear picture of how he grows as an adult once he finds out where he’s from and puts on the blue suit and red cape.
Snyder’s strongest point comes with the intense fight scenes between Superman and General Zod and his henchmen. Unlike Batman, Superman doesn’t worry so much about collateral damage. He’s the strongest person on the planet, and Snyder captured that perfectly in these action sequences. Buildings crumble, vehicles explode, and fists clash in epic fashion as war rages on between Kryptonians, all the while the humans look from the sidelines in a defenseless awe. It’s visually spectacular on a grand scale and definitely the highlight of the film.
Man of Steel has all the elements of a great film and does well at continuing the streak of quality superhero films in recent years. It’s not perfect and like Clark Kent, struggles to find its identity. The larger-than-life fight scenes more than make up for this fault, however. Superman is no doubt here for the long haul with both a sequel and the Justice League film already in the works. Man of Steel has officially set the tone for these future films, and thankfully it’s a good one.