Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) serves as a reboot for Superman, and presents a darker, more serious look at the character’s origin story.
The film opens with a very well-executed scene on Krypton following the destruction of the planet and Jor-El’s mission to save his son, Kal, from the annihilation by launching him into space and sending him to earth. The story itself needs little introduction, as it has been told countless times since Superman’s inception in 1938.
What distinguishes this film from the preceding incarnations of the mythos is the tone. Man of Steel approaches the narrative with a level of grit and realism dissimilar to previous iterations of the story. This approach has proven to be very divisive among the DC Comics fan-base. Personally, I don’t mind; it’s not my favorite version of Superman (that title belongs to George Newbern of the Justice League animated series), but I admire the uniqueness, and it’s executed fairly well, for the most part.
Henry Cavill’s performance as Clark Kent is fantastic. Whatever you think about this approach to the character, one can’t deny that Cavill’s performance is superb. He brings a level of depth to the character that I found fascinating. This portrayal of Clark is that of a man struggling to find his purpose in the world and wrestling with whether to follow the guidance of his earthly father or his Kryptonian father. This narrative does make sense for the character, but it seems to have been glossed over in previous versions of the story. Simultaneously, previous versions didn’t need to address it because it didn’t fit their portrayal of Superman. To be honest, although I’m intrigued by the struggle endured by Clark in this film, I don’t think it’s the best approach to the character.
In addition to Cavill’s performance, the supporting cast is likewise excellent. Amy Adams presents a compelling Lois Lane, Diane Lane makes for a fantastic Martha Kent, Russel Crowe as Jor-El submits an undoubtedly strong performance, and Michael Shannon delivers an understandable yet threatening depiction of General Zod: the chief antagonist of the film. Kevin Costner’s performance as Jonathon Kent is executed well, but I’m not extremely fond of this movie’s version of Clark’s father, which goes back to my distaste of Clark’s struggle to follow Jonathon or Jor-El, as described in the paragraph above.
Where this film ultimately fails is the obnoxious finale. Despite the deep and somewhat quite structure of the first two acts, the third delves into an unnecessarily long and overstimulating battle between Superman and the Kryptonians led by General Zod. I’m not sure what the actual runtime of the finale is, but to me, it felt like an hour of non-stop visual noise and frames so messy and incoherent that it takes an absurd level of optical effort to simply follow the action. It’s not one of the worst comic book movie action scenes that I’ve seen, but the non-stop stimuli became so overwhelming that it caused me to tune out of the film. Because the movie was throwing so much at me, I was no longer invested in its story.
There has been some controversy among the fan-base regarding Superman’s final action in the fight (I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it), but personally, I don’t mind it; it makes sense within the context of the narrative established by the rest of the film.
Frankly, I found Man of Steel to be an imperfect, yet interesting film for the first two acts before it descends into incoherent and obnoxious madness so overstimulating that it removed all engagement from the finale, which should be the point of maximum investment.