On July 20, 2012, the nation experienced a bittersweet moment. On this night, the Nolan Batman universe finally came to an end. Everyone’s main question was whether or not this trilogy would branch off into an expanded universe. Nolan stated on many occasions his answer was an emphatic “no”. The cowl is closed for business. Bruce Wayne is enjoying Europe with Selina Kyle. Tim “Robin” Blake is now Gotham’s caped crusader. All hope wasn’t lost, though. Christopher Nolan was adamant about placing the bookend on his Batman trilogy but by this time, he had already pitched an idea for a Superman movie to DC. Screenwriter David S. Goyer loved the idea of a modernized Superman and ran with the story. Although Nolan didn’t want to direct, he stayed onboard as an executive producer. The year after the final Dark Knight movie, Man of Steel was released to the world. As expected, following a blockbuster trilogy, the reception was mild. Since I unabashedly think Superman is one of the most boring superheroes of all time, this movie was a hard sell for me anyway. I thought the movie was ok, nothing special. Now that we’ve all had time with it, I pose the question: Is Man of Steel underrated?
My answer is yes. Although this movie has all the clanks and clashes of a Zack Snyder movie, it still has the heart of a Christopher Nolan film. Some parts don’t work but what does work, is pretty good.
I mean this with the smallest degree of disrespect, Henry Cavill is the right amount of boring to be Clark Kent. Actually, I mean that as a compliment. Superman is known for hopping into a phone booth and fighting crime unmasked so it’s nearly impossible to hide any flaws an actor might bring to this character. Cavill is physically imposing yet he seems earnest. He gives off a certain good-guy quality that Clark needs to have. Most importantly, he has the classic Superman butt-chin.
I love Michael Shannon. He only has one speed. He only has one gear and it doesn’t shift. No matter what, you’re getting the same thing every time. It’s always going to be Michael Shannon as __________. He’s an odd guy but he definitely makes his presence felt on-screen. With that said, I can’t think of anyone else I would rather see as Zod. He’s a bit of a hamfisted character with a knack for long-winded monologues but he was the perfect first villain for Kal-El. Zod’s mission was strange. He had undying loyalty to Krypton and after its demise, he wanted to rebuild the planet. So he channeled his inner Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to drill a hole into the Earth. Whatever. Zod’s love for Krypton and Clark’s messianic protection of Earth set up the final conflict. In the last fight, the only way to stop Zod was to kill him. Not only was Clark killing Zod, he was killing the ideals of Krypton.
Also, I would be killed if I didn’t mention Faora. Interesting tidbit: Gal Gadot was originally cast as Faora but she was so impressive that Zack Snyder saw bigger plans for her. Good call, Zack.
The Superhero Moment
I have a theory, the best superhero movies have a superhero moment. Spider-Man saving a train of New Yorkers, Tony Stark announcing to the world that he’s Iron Man, the first time The Avengers assemble. Man of Steel had one of the most memorable Superhero moments in history. Clark met hologram Russell Crowe and learned about his origin. After a pretty good explanation of his powers, he’s urged to push his limits. Backed by a classic Hans Zimmer score, Clark takes his first flight.
The Bad, The Ugly
Now, that I’ve got the good parts of this movie out the way, let me be fair and talk about the bad. The first major problem is the runtime. There’s no reason why this movie should be two hours and twenty-three minutes especially when the first eighteen minutes are spent on a dying Krypton. Another major problem, sequencing. This movie probably works better as a linear narrative with flashbacks at the end to call back to moments from Clark’s childhood. The most effective flashback is Clark talking to Martha Kent about Johnathan. Clark wishes Johnathan Kent could still be alive. Martha tells Clark not to worry, he saw the hero in him all along.
Which brings me to probably the dumbest part of the movie…the death of Johnathan Kent. You have the most powerful man on the Earth yelling at his adoptive parents. He’s trying to figure out his place in this world and why he should care about it. So, of course, you remedy this by sending his father into a tornado. I can suspend disbelief as much as I need to for a superhero movie but it’s apparent no one involved with this movie has ever been to Kansas. There wouldn’t be bumper to bumper traffic during a tornado watch! Come on! And as mentioned before, Zod and the World Engine gets a tad bit overboard at times.
Sticking the Superhero Landing
Although the structure of this movie is weird, a thing that was done effectively was teasing “Flight” throughout the movie. Remember when I said every movie needs a superhero moment? Well, this movie has two. Superman has killed Zod and saved the day. Martha asks him what he’s going to do now? Clark said he’s going to get a job where he can stay low to the ground and blend in. That “Flight” theme that was teased once closes out the movie. This time it sounds way more aggressive. Perry White introduces Clark to the staff at the Daily Planet.
“Welcome to the Planet.”
“Glad to be here Lois.”
Then the scene fades into the title card.
So, despite Man of Steel‘s many flaws, I think it’s an underrated superhero movie. It gets lost in conversation due to its successors in the DC Extended Universe. Those movies are missing the connective tissue to this movie. Man of Steel really explores Clark Kent and shows the struggle he went through to control his powers. His moral quandary is he must protect the people of Earth when he’s practically a god to them. That character exploration was missing from those other movies. But thanks to a great performance by Henry Cavill and a stellar Hans Zimmer score, Man of Steel has grown on me.