By now, it’s old hat (cape?) to state the inherent
difficulties in making a film about Superman.
We know he’s an alien; we know he’s a “good guy;” we know Superman is
invulnerable. What, then, is a
believable threat to the Man of Steel and how does a contemporary audience
relate to a god-like alien who is the anti-anti-hero?
Producer Christopher Nolan (director of The Dark Knight trilogy), director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300), and writer David S.
Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) apply
their strengths to this conundrum, opting to visually stun the audience instead
of solving for a relatable protagonist.
And for much of the picture, they succeed. Man of
Steel is the best-looking Superman film in the hero’s catalog. Henry Cavill’s Superman is square-jawed,
pleasant, and possessed of shoulders so broad that they could double as the
side of a barn. Snyder portrays Krypton
radically different from previous iterations: it’s at the end of existence,
technologically advanced but about as fun and bright as the scarier corners of The Matrix. The camera slows and accelerates, racing with
Superman as he flies, pummels, and is pummeled.
Through Snyder’s lens the old adage is true: you will believe a man can
fly. The effects are flawless--there is
so much beautifully rendered structural damage that I felt bad for Metropolis
taxpayers, and flashbacks are tinged with a light filter of nostalgia, adding
weight to scenes between young Kal-El and his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent
It’s this father/son relationship that drives Superman to
do-goodery (“You are the answer, son,” Pa Kent states) and it’s also the only
relationship that feels earned. Lois
Lane (Amy Adams) is all bluster except when she’s not, falling in love with
Superman along with somehow stumbling upon his secret lair in freezing cold
temperatures, at night, and in Antarctica.
Both their relationship and Lane’s deductive skills are convenient. The villain, Zod (a shouting, grimacing
Michael Shannon), is without sure motivation.
He hates Superman because he hates Superman.
There are complicated plots upon plots (Krypton is
dying—some citizens are mad about this, while others are very mad; there is a
“codex” that holds the answer to everything, and then there’s also a key. Plus
Superman’s blood may also be a codex, the codex, or key, and there is a hidden ship
in an ice cave manned by a holographic dead man), and yet it’s to Man of Steel’s credit that it remains
engaging. Much of this is thanks to
Cavill’s charming performance, but the rest lies in watching director Snyder turn
a conundrum into a soaring summer spectacle.