Flashback: ‘Man of Steel’

DC’s cinematic universe began with a fresh take on the world’s first superhero…

Man of Steel flight

Superman takes flight in ‘Man of Steel’ (c. Warner Bros).

 

Year: 2013

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Henry Lennix, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne

Directed by: Zack Snyder / written by: David S. Goyer (story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan)

What’s it about?

Transported to Earth as his home world is destroyed, the infant Kal-El is raised as Clark Kent by a kind farmer and his wife. As an adult, Clark struggles to find his place in the world until he discovers his true heritage and sets on mastering his amazing powers…

Retrospective/review

With Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failing to connect with audiences and plans for a sequel abandoned, the summer of 2013 saw the release of Man of Steel – arriving just in time for Superman’s 75th Anniversary. Whilst Superman Returns sought to be a spiritual successor to Richard Donner’s seminal Superman: The Movie, Man of Steel would take a slightly edgier and more modern approach in an effort to make the iconic superhero more relatable. The film would also be seen by Warner Bros. Pictures as the first entry in a Marvel-style shared universe (once unofficially referred to as the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, but now officially branded as ‘Worlds of DC’) featuring DC’s stable of comic book characters.

Enlisting The Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan as a producer and to craft a story with screenwriter David S. Goyer (who previously worked with Nolan on his Batman films), Man of Steel was built from an intriguing premise – what if Superman existed in the real world, today? How would humanity react and what would a man with incredible abilities choose to do with them? Given the critical and commercial success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Warner Bros. naturally felt a similar take was needed for Man of Steel in order to make Superman a more identifiable and dramatically engaging character for a contemporary audience without intentionally alienating existing fans.

Directed by Watchmen’s Zack Snyder, Man of Steel is a Superman film for more complex and troubled times whilst still conveying an underlying sense of hope and providing the blockbuster spectacle viewers had come to expect in the wake of The Dark Knight and The Avengers. It may have become divisive, but it works rather well and favours that Nolan ‘heightened reality’ over the family-friendly fantasy of Superman: The Movie.

The story is solid – there’s the traditional opening on Krypton (depicted as a more organic Star Wars-esque world in comparison to the cool crystalline aesthetic of Donner’s Superman), its ultimate destruction and the baby Kal-El escaping doom to arrive on Earth. Shifting to some thirty years later, Kal-El is now Clark Kent, a drifter who finds himself lost and without purpose but often faced with the urge to help those in need. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of Clark’s struggles to reconcile his abilities with the life of a normal person. Searching for answers, Clark ultimately discovers his origins and embarks on a journey to master his gifts and utilise them for good, but the arrival of Kryptonian survivors, led by the militant General Zod presents an unexpected threat to Earth and its people and throws an inexperienced Superman into a dangerous conflict.

Man of Steel Zod

General Zod: a formidable foe.

The cast is equally as good. Henry Cavill has a firm grasp of the central role and provides a grounded and very human portrayal of the man who will become Superman. Amy Adams is impeccably cast as the Daily Planet’s star reporter Lois Lane, bringing dramatic weight to the requisite qualities of professional drive and personal strength. As General Zod, Michael Shannon delivers a powerful and formidable antagonist whose threat is further enhanced by Antje Traue’s Faora-Ul. The casting is made all the more impressive by the inclusion of Russell Crowe, who succeeds Marlon Brando in the role of Jor-El, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, respectively and Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White.

The action is exciting, especially during the film’s final act. Some have found themselves at odds with the level of destruction in Man of Steel, but it both shocks and enthrals in a way that’s realistic and entertaining. It’s also seemingly a response to the reception of Superman Returns which many felt was too slow and lacked action and physical conflict. Zod’s death has also proven controversial, yet it’s arguably one of the film’s most emotionally effective and powerfully acted scenes. Henry Cavill’s performance in that particular moment is gripping – his gut-churning yell grabbing the viewer and making you feel all the anguish, frustration and regret of the situation.

Man of Steel Lois & Perry

Laurence Fishburne joins Amy Adams’ Lois Lane as Daily Planet Editor Perry White  (c. Warner Bros).

The production design is accomplished (particularly in respect of Krypton), the costuming superlative and the effects are great, all captured beautifully via Amir Mokri’s cinematography and Zack Snyder’s kinetic direction. A real highlight of Man of Steel is Hanz Zimmer’s wonderful score – atmospheric, emotional and exciting it’s one of Zimmer’s finest providing themes that enhance the visuals greatly (especially during Superman’s exhilarating first flight). As classic and unforgettable as John Williams’ Superman theme is it would feel out of place here and not fit the world of Man of Steel.

Ultimately, Man of Steel establishes hope as Superman makes it known that he’s here to help. The events of the film would end up driving the titanic clash of 2016 sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but as it stands, Man of Steel is highly underrated and a superbly executed redefinition of Superman for modern times.

Geek fact!

Man of Steel cleverly incorporates a Christopher Reeve cameo with a brief glimpse of the actor’s face inserted into Henry Cavill’s performance during Superman’s battle with Zod’s Kryptonian World Engine.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

10 thoughts on “Flashback: ‘Man of Steel’

  1. I really like Man of Steel. It was a good reimagining of the Superman mythos, the epic opening on Krypton, Clark’s angst growing up, and his eventual discovery of his heritage as he became Superman. Its a spectacular looking film as well, slickly directed by Snyder, and Henry Cavill is superbly cast as the last son of Krypton. Although the final battle with Zod does get a bit OTT, Man of Steel was a bold new start for the DCU, shame that it all got thrown away with the dour BvS and underwhelming Justice League.

  2. I was very skeptical of Man of Steel when it was in production. It seemed too radical a departure from the traditional Superman and the John Williams score was not to be used!
    Yet somehow I was drawn to see how Snyder would revitalize the Superman films and decided to give Man of Steel a shot. Man, was I floored by how great it was. The film was bold, exciting and a much needed shot in the arm for Superman. He had actual fights against enemies, something not seen since waaay back in Superman II.
    Also, Henry Cavill gave a new spin to the character of Superman and made the role his own. We could feel his angst as he tried to find his way in the world and come to grips with his origin and powers.
    Sure there were issues with the film, but some people were and still are too harsh with Man of Steel especially with all the complaints about collateral damage. This Superman was inexperienced and did the best he could against superior foes, the major destruction from the fights were only natural and we saw the consequences in Batman v Superman.
    Great examination of Man of Steel, which is still the best DCEU film to date!

    • Thanks very much for your thoughts, likewise I feel MoS remains the best of all the DCU films so far and a great modern approach to re-presenting the character that’s just as engaging and valid as what Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve gave us.

  3. I also loved that there was a Wayne Industry Easter-Egg in this movie (one of the satellites had a logo of it during the fight with Zod)! Wonderful write-up on this movie though, Chris! I do love that the movie tried to imagine what it would be like to have a God live among humans and see him grow into his role as Superman and embrace it by the end of it. Zod was also a magnificent villain to kick things off with too. I do hope they plan on giving us a Man of Steel 2… and I’d be curious to see what it would be like without Zach Snyder helming it. How pumped are you for Shazam by the way? Do you think we’ll see a cameo of Superman in it? 😮

    • Haha, yes I remember getting just a tad excited when I saw the Wayne Enterprises logo which you couldn’t miss on the IMAX screen. I think the appeal of MoS is that it takes the concept seriously and it does give us a sense of, as you say, what it would really be like if beings with incredible – and dangerous – powers where among us.

      We’ll get another Superman film one day but who knows when and if Henry Cavill will return?

      I’m pretty psyched for ‘Shazam’ now especially since the early reviews are positive. Ah, haven’t you heard? Cavill supposedly filmed a cameo but it’s, sadly, been scrapped because of the uncertainty surrounding his future in the DC films. I think it’s rumoured that there’ll be some sort of generic faceless shot of Superman in there somewhere but we’ll see.

      P.S. Review for Captain Marvel is up, highly interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve seen it, or your feelings if you plan to see it!

      • Shazam! is probably the Worlds of DC movie that I’m most skeptical about. I think the tone of it reminds me too much of Ant-Man, and Ant-Man was already a tough sell for me. I do hope it’ll surprise me though.

        I haven’t went out to see Captain Marvel yet, but I plan to really soon. I’ll read your review as soon as I’ve seen it. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but the first trailer (and only trailer) that I saw for it left me unimpressed. I am curious to find out if they are able to deliver a solid woman-led superhero on their side of things, but I think it should be pretty good. A good teaser right before Endgame.

      • Well I was never really interested in the Shazam character until I read the Geoff Johns story he did with Gary Frank for the New 52 and it was such a fantastic read. The fact that the film is based on that story piqued my interest…that, plus casting Zachary “Chuck” Levi in the central role. I also like the sort of superhero take on “Big” which I always loved watching growing up. I think the humour will be fine as it’s part of the character and his world…fingers crossed!

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