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.

Film Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (spoiler-free)

Please Note:  this review is deemed ‘spoiler-free’ on the basis that readers have seen the previously released full length trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons

Directed by:  Zack Snyder / Written by:  Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer / 151 minutes

What’s it about?

Believing that the consequences of Superman’s actions may present a threat to humanity, Bruce Wayne shifts the focus of his war on crime as the Batman to facing off against the Man of Steel…

In review

The “grudge match of the century” is finally here as Warner Brothers’ DC Comics superhero sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes thundering onto cinema screens.  Both continuing the story which began in Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel and setting the stage for the larger canvas of the big screen DC Comics Extended Universe, BvS happily succeeds more often than it might fail.

With Snyder returning to the director’s seat and a screenplay written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), BvS picks up during the cataclysmic events at the climax of Man of Steel, the decimation of the city of Metropolis wrought by General Zod and Superman’s desperate efforts to stop him resulting in personal tragedy for Wayne Enterprises CEO Bruce Wayne.  Flash forward eighteen months and Wayne still grieves for the loss of his employees and becomes increasingly angered by the presence of an incredibly powerful being given liberty to act freely with no check in place.  Most see Superman as a heroic figure or a messiah but Wayne feels it’s time to reassess the Kryptonian Man of Steel’s place in the world and can only present a challenge as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, BvS carries a lot of narrative weight via it’s psychological examinations and philosophical debate and is arguably all the better for it.  Just as Frank Miller explored (and satirised) the political and social landscape of the 1980s, this film equally poses the questions that would present themselves in today’s climate of anti-terrorism and accountability.  There’s no doubt that Superman’s intentions are true but we see that there are consequences to his actions that affect others.  Likewise, Bruce Wayne’s methods as the dark vigilante known as Batman are also questionable as we’re left to ponder about how far is too far.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of BvS will equate to how you felt about Man of Steel, Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and dark, brooding – yet cerebral – superhero stories.  This is certainly a dark film, even in its few lighter moments and amongst the requisite and effects laden comic book action.  Similarly this is very much a Zack Snyder film in that BvS is not as intricately conceived and as masterfully executed as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight but is non-the-less a well-constructed and visually impressive film.  There will be flaws should you look too deep yet with this in mind then in more instances than not it’s likely that your geek voice will prevail over any critical mumblings.  With some time taken to sow the seeds for next year’s DC heroes round-up in Justice League Part One there is a fair heft of mythology and a number of WTF?! moments (one sequence in particular) that, to a degree, become jumbled in the mix and might leave the more casual viewer (or at least those who are not as well versed in DC Comics lore) bewildered.  Similarly there are some narrative elements that feel they warrant further exploration or elaboration – hence the announcement that Warner’s home video release plans include an extended cut of the film.

Whilst there is some great depth to the story and themes of BvS, this is also a comic book film and Snyder bombards the senses with nerve jangling and explosive action sequences that some may find a little heavy and energetic, albeit not as overbearing as, say, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The inevitable face-off between Batman and Superman is as exciting and cool as would be hoped for and although the climactic battle with the Doomsday creature might come off as a little ‘videogame-y’ it’s part and parcel of today’s blockbusters and facilitates sizeable stakes and a powerful threat to unite the central heroes.

Snyder and Warner Brothers assemble an enviable troupe of actors here.  Firstly, Henry Cavill slips comfortably back into the role of Clark Kent/Superman and together with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane pick up where they left off in Man of Steel, Jesse Eisenberg surprises as an enjoyably eccentric and psychotic Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot delights as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (her triumphant entrance as the latter leaving no doubt that next summer’s solo outing is going to be a treat).  Yet their biggest casting coup, greeted with such controversy and trepidation, is Ben Affleck.  Affleck quickly allays any fears or doubts and proves to be the perfect choice for this iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  As Wayne, Affleck exudes the right measure of assuredness and arrogance of his Playboy bachelor persona whilst effectively conveying the torture and continuing trauma of his parents’ murders and a dynamic range of humanity as he unloads both his fears and determination to his one true confidant and sounding board, Alfred (a reliably well-mannered Jeremy Irons).  Weary, cynical and tired of twenty years of fighting crime in Gotham City, Affleck proves to be adept in cranking up the intensity to present us with a Batman torn straight from the panels of The Dark Knight Returns, a shadowy, almost demonic figure striking fear into the hearts of criminals, often pushing himself to the edge to deliver a more brutal solution to the failings of ‘true’ justice.

When all is said and done, BvS unites the DC Comics ‘Trinity’ (and founding Justice League members) of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and provides a satisfying, epic and often thought provoking slice of comic book action that stands as a solid follow up to Man of Steel and a vital stepping stone in the burgeoning DC Comics film series.

The bottom line:  Dark and cerebral, epic and bombastic, please everyone it might not but for fans of comic book superheroes, Batman v Superman presents a solid next step in the DC Comics Extended Universe.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers'/DC Comics' 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers’/DC Comics’ ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’.