Man of Steel ★★★★

“You just have to decide what kind of a man you want to grow up to be, Clark, because whoever that man is, good character or bad...he's gonna change the world.”

Upon revisiting it, Man of Steel has proven to be something of an oddity. For one thing, it is genuinely a pretty good science-fiction film and a more than competent portrayal of Superman for contemporary audiences but, second to that, Man of Steel holds such a weird place now in DC film history. As we know now, this is the first entry into the infamous DCEU continuity of films but, watching it now, it is so insanely far removed from what that would become.

Man of Steel’
s tone, aesthetic and content seem fit for it to be much more at home as a spin-off to the Nolan Batman series than the start of a whole new continuity. Obviously this was all intentional since Nolan himself is still very much involved at a script level for this entry. I have no doubt that any number of conversations were had about continuing The Dark Knight trilogy alongside this brand new iteration of Superman. Would that have been a better idea? I have no idea but it would have, unquestionably, led to a wildly different landscape for comic book films today. 

Probably unsurprisingly for a script that Christopher Nolan is attached to, the sci-fi ideas of Man of Steel are easily the best parts about it.  Krypton as a culture is so crazily creative and well realised. This take on them is so vastly different to anything that came before and I think it is exceptional. This whole sequence is like jumping in on the last ten minutes of another film. I wish we got to see the first act where Jor-El and Zod are close friends and then the subsequent disintegration that culminates in what we see here. I love the idea of programmed people who have no reason to exist except their purpose. Zod and Jor-El are beautifully realised as two sides of a coin and that becomes even more interesting when you consider how both of them feel about Clark. It’s so cool how Jor-El tries to enforce a purpose on Clark in spite of how much he is failing against that very idea.  

This does not feel anything like a Zack Snyder film. It is strangely reigned in compared to all of his other work and makes WB’s decisions to let him go ham on his subsequent efforts very baffling. The constant use of handheld cameras has seen a lot of criticism but actually don’t mind it at all. Using a more down-to-earth filmmaking style as opposed to lots of locked off, sweeping gestures that the epic sequels to this film would offer actually allows for the god-like nature of Superman to juxtapose people on the ground level and is, in some ways, a more grandiose way to depict him as a result. 

The communication of information in this script is probably its biggest weakness. On paper, I actually have little to no problems with Clark being trepidatious about using his powers because of the broader consequences but still compulsively helping people whenever he can anyways because he knows that is the right thing to do*. I have always taken Jonathan’s philosophies toward his son to be coming from this headspace. Where I think most people are finding the issue is in how all of this is conveyed. The dialogue is often very melodramatic and metaphysical, in the typical Nolan way, which is especially disorienting when all of the context that informs why these characters think and feel the way they do is delivered wildly out of order.

Compare that to Batman Begins which does effectively expect its audience to consume to acts of the narrative at the same time, just as this, but still presents the two stories in their respective chronological orders. If it were structured like Man of Steel, the first flashback would probably be Chill’s trial and then the Wayne death and then Bruce coming back to go to the trial. All of the information is still there but you practically have to draw up a road map to fully comprehend it. Even smaller plot moments like Clark discovering that there is an alien ship in the Canada comes from a fleeting moment of overheating two soldiers in a bar chatting. There is a fine line between giving your audience credit and not delivering essential information in a clear way which Man of Steel often fails to walk. 

Stray notes:

- Obviously Henry Cavill is great in this part and this is probably the best showcase we have for his version of Superman. The same goes for Amy Adams’ Lois Lane who offers the potential to be the best version ever put to screen just based on how she is written and performed here. 
- The flying sequence is not one of the greatest Superman scenes ever put to screen but it is simply one of the best ever in a comic book film full stop
- Russell Crowe is a great casting choice too
- I like the little references to Donner’s Superman films. The bar sequence is obviously a fun reference to Superman II and I love that the flying sequence is capped off by a shot of this Superman whizzing past the camera over Earth’s orbit. 

I like Man of Steel. I cannot deny that eight years on, I do have a bit of nostalgia for it so maybe that does cover a small handful of its sins for me. Then again, maybe there just are not that many sons to begin with. This is truly a solid Superman origin story and I really think it holds up quite well. 

*I also really like how this mentality informs Clark’s arc in BvS wherein this conversation is taken even further and it seems he and Jonathan are proven absolutely right for a large portion of the run time. No wonder this Superman is so unsure of himself.

nyrobsivad99 liked this review