Man of Steel (2013) Review

Man of Steel (2013) Director: Zack Snyder

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Building on the successes of Christopher Nolan’s celebrated Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros was eager to launch a parallel Superman film series (partially written by Nolan himself). They hired Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, to introduce a morally grey Superman, a begrudging anti-hero for an exasperated American audience beset by the War on Terror, rising xenophobia, and an expansive military surveillance state. The legacy of a post-9/11 world looms large over the film. In Zack Snyder’s dark and brooding interpretation of Superman, Man of Steel begins with the birth of Kal-El on the planet Krypton. His parents are played by none other than Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer, while General Zod (Michael Shannon) orchestrates a coup d’état against the ruling council. In this version of the origin story, Krypton is different from the oblong crystalline planet as featured in the Richard Donner film. Now, the entirety of Krypton is wall-to-wall CGI. There are artificial mechanical devices, flying dragon-esque creatures, and an underwater chamber wherein Jor-El must retrieve a special “codex.” Young Kal-El is actually the first live birth on the planet in centuries, and so being a prized child, he is sent to earth, while the General Zod rebellion is ended and they are banished from Krypton in suspiciously phallic objects (a scene which has since become the butt of a great many internet jokes).  

Meanwhile, we are given a renewed backstory for Superman on earth. He struggles with whether or not to help people by using his powers, as his adoptive father Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) discourage him from exposing his supernatural gifts to the world. As a young boy growing up in the grey and bleak Midwest town of Smallville, Kansas, Clark Kent rescues a busload of drowning children but he is prevented from saving his father Jonathan during a tornado –I thought this was a particularly silly scene. In adulthood, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) attempts to track down a mystery man who saved her from near-certain death in the arctic while investigating a strange event triggered by Clark when he discovers an ancient ship from Krypton. Her boss Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) punishes Lois when she tries to publish a story about this mystery man with strange unearthly powers.

Then suddenly one day, an alien ship appears in lunar orbit around the moon, and a newly escaped General Zod from the “phantom zone” sends a message demanding that Kal-El turn himself over. Harry Lennix plays a ranking general in the United States Army, and Christopher Meloni plays an FBI agent –both representatives of an excessively confident bureaucracy. They are little more than ancillary figures when put up against the power of the Kryptonians. Superman and Lois are transported aboard Zod’s ship where Superman is interrogated but Lois uses a key which awakens a partially living hologram Superman’s father, Jor-El, who helps Superman and Lois escape while Zod continues to hunt for the codex which was delivered with baby Kal-El to earth –in fact, the information in the codex is actually embedded in Superman’s bodily cells. In the end, he manages to prevent Zod’s minions from destroying earth vi their “World Engine” machine, and he kills Zod by… snapping his neck?

In an epilogue, the U.S. military is still wary of trusting Superman but he pledges his loyalty to humanity. Throughout the film, he has been a reluctant hero, mostly encouraged not to save anybody. He then takes up a job as Clark Kent at the Daily Planet –in this situation, Lois is the only person who knows his true identity, and the film ends.             

This long, droning saga is just sad in my view. It represents a violent, sarcastic, sepia tone, apocalyptic interpretation of the “Man of Steel,” complete with endless scenes of shaky hand-held cameras, and a general sense of dismay and hopelessness –not exactly the image we typically associate with Superman. Gone are the days of John Williams’ triumphant score and Christopher Reeve’s charming portrayal of the character. Although, I admittedly chuckled to myself at the blatant corporate advertising littered throughout this film, with brands like iHop and Sears frequently appearing onscreen. At least on the plus side, there are some fascinating bits of science fiction lore included this film –unlike in Superman II there is a necessity for helmets worn by the Kryptonians, and a rare piece of Kryptonite terraforming technology is a compelling idea.     

1 thought on “Man of Steel (2013) Review

  1. Quite the change from Christopher Reeve’s Superman. But as far as reboots go, this one is indeed much too in-our-faces with all the dark aspects it tried to impose on the Superman universe. The chances for Superman reboots on television have worked out reasonably better like Lois & Clark, Smallville and now Superman & Lois. Thank you for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

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