Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL is a Perfect Superhero Film
In 2013, “visionary filmmaker” Zack Snyder helmed the quintessential reboot. This was a complete overhaul of the Superman character. In 2005, Christopher Nolan brought Batman into the modern world, and in 2012, Marc Webb attempted to do the same with Marvel’s flagship character, Spider-Man. Contemporary reinterpretations were becoming something of a formality. However, no filmmaker perfectly represented that shift in tone and atmosphere as elegantly as Zack Snyder.
A common criticism of Man of Steel is that the film is “bland,” “overtly dark,” and “emotionally flat.” Moreover, as you may have guessed from this piece’s title, I beg to differ. Man of Steel is the opposite of all those things. The film is incredibly authentic and unique. It also happens to be remarkably hopeful. Also, I happen to believe that it is an emotional wonder. Throughout this piece today, I will attempt to analyse and discuss this film in a way that has not been done before.
One of the strangest criticisms thrown at Man of Steel is the claim that the movie is “bland.” Even if you dislike this film, I cannot comprehend this complaint. Bland implies that you feel nothing from experiencing the movie, that visually, nothing entices you. Of course, I completely understand not liking the movie. That is super-understandable, but I cannot process the thought that this movie is “bland.” As far as films in this genre are concerned, I would call The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Justice League or 2015’s Fantastic Four “bland.”
Man of Steel takes cues from some of the most popular and iconic films, comic books and novels of all-time. The entire Krypton opening sequence feels like the love child of Dune and Star Wars. The production design (beautifully done by Alex McDowell) when on Krypton is so clearly influenced by H.R Giger, the genius behind the look of the Alien franchise. The epic, Shakespearean dialogue is so jarring and overly-epic that the sequence puts a big smile on my face. The general idea that Krypton’s society artificially breeds their children in pods, evokes the same idea explored in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. To complement this, the idea of breeding for jobs – something Jor-El references – is directly taken from H.G. Wells’ First Men of the Moon, “And [Superman] will be free to choose…” Later in the film, another Wells book is referenced thanks to the design of the World Engines, which evoke similar looks to the Tripods in War of the Worlds.
Even if we are not looking at the film from a visual perspective, the thematic ideas that writer, David S. Goyer, Snyder and producer, Christopher Nolan are attempting to communicate are far from bland. The fact that these incredibly talented people opted to make a contemporary, more legitimate interpretation of Superman than a classic one, is something that we should celebrate. As Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek writes:
“And whether audiences approved of all the decisions made in Man Of Steel or not, it’s at least arguable that Zack Snyder has succeeded in creating a big-screen incarnation of Superman that stands apart from the films we’ve seen before. Man Of Steel looks like no other Superman film -- in fact, it may be the most elaborate, baroque-looking summer film yet made.”
Hope and faith is a recurring theme in the Superman mythology. In fact, when the character was created in 1938, he was intended to be a metaphor for Jewish immigrants, fleeing their countries and moving to America. This is pretty accurately reflected in Superman’s origin, as he is sent from a dying planet (Krypton) to a new home: Kansas, America. This ideas of hope and faith are thoroughly represented throughout Man of Steel. This attention to that theme and it’s fierce connection to Superman is part of the reason why I adore the notion that the “S” on the character’s chest, literally means hope. It is a simple and really elegant way of communicating to the audience that this man is here to bring hope. Every time he dons that suit, it is intended to be hopeful or to inspire.
Every decision made by Superman’s biological parents, Jor-El and Lara, Superman’s adopted parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lois Lane and ultimately, Superman, is with the interest of hope or faith. When Jor-El sends Superman to Earth, he does so with the hope and faith that he become something greater, something “other than what society had intended.” He does not know that Superman will be good, or that he will bring freedom and love. He hopes he will. But, for all Jor-El knows, Superman could have travelled to Earth and become another General Zod, the film’s antagonist who is determined to annihilate the human race, and create a new Krypton, on Earth.
When I think of this, I am reminded of the scene in the film, when Clark Kent (or Superman, whatever you want to call him) visits the Priest. Clark admits that he simply cannot bring himself to have faith and hope in humankind. However, the Priest states: “Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.” Superman does take that leap, surrendering to the humans, and bringing himself to Zod. Humanity ultimately does join Superman in his plight against Zod, thus securing Superman’s faith and hope in humankind. This is beautifully captured when a General tells his men to lower their weapons as Superman “is not their enemy.”
I particularly love the concept that Jor-El and Lara could have left Krypton, and gone with Superman. However, because they were apart of a society that – ultimately – killed themselves, they do not believe they deserve the right to start again. Superman, as Jor-El states, has the “best of both worlds.” Whether intentional or not, Superman is aware of the failures of his Father’s society. Krypton’s suicide is part of the reason Superman is very much against Zod’s notion that Krypton deserves a new chance. Superman’s belief that they had a chance, and totally messed that up, is a correct one. Especially considering Zod is trying to wipe out the young and hopeful, human society in exchange for a society that is six feet under. When Superman destroys Zod’s ship – and the birthing chamber, which contains the only chance of bringing Krypton back from the dead -- he cements his hope and faith with humanity. There is a split-second of hesitance, but Superman ultimately realises that Krypton’s mistakes would manifest once again. Thus, his line: “Krypton had its chance!”
This idea is fully realised in Zod’s last stand a little later in the film. This scene has been discussed for years, and I find the argument rather bothersome. The whole “why didn’t he take Zod into space?” question is redundant. Having Zod threaten a family actually shows how noble and strong Superman is. In an earlier scene – that we will discuss a little more soon – Clark saves a whole bus of children, despite the fact that Jonathan was unsure of that decision. These two moments show the love and compassion Superman has for the human race. The fact that he kills Zod is powerful – to me at least – in the sense that it is Clark fully understanding that Krypton is indeed dead, and that he is the last of his kind.
When I re-watched Man of Steel, I responded to the previously mentioned scene where Jonathan explains to Clark who he is, and why saving that bus might not have been the best decision, in a particularly emotional way. That’s a pretentious way of saying I weeped a little. Snyder and his cinematographer, Amir Mokri, beautifully shoot this scene. The handheld camera work makes the audience feel like we are here, sitting in on this stunning revelation. It makes the sequence feel massive, and yet extremely intimate. Kevin Costner nails every line he is given, and the scene is superb. Everything about it feels grounded, and yet, magical. I particularly responded to the moment where Clark rejects the notion that he is this “chosen one.” And I really adore Jonathan’s response:
“I don’t blame you, son. That’d be a huge burden for anyone to bare, but I don’t believe you’re just anyone, Clark. I believe you were sent here for a reason. All these changes you’re going through, one day–one day, you’re gonna think of them as a blessing, and when that day comes, you’re gonna have to make a choice: a choice of whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.”
Now, as I previously mentioned, hope and faith is extremely evident throughout this film. Jonathan’s belief that Clark is more than just anyone is further indication of his faith. Much like Jor-El, he has no possible idea that Clark will in fact grow up to become Superman, he just hopes and believes Clark will do something noble, something heroic.
Clark does not actually accept his destiny as Superman until his adopted Father’s death. Jonathan’s death scene has been one of the more discussed and loathed aspects of the film. And while I do not love the scene, the idea that a heart attack -- the way Jonathan dies in all other interpretations of Superman -- would have been a better way for Kent to die adds nothing to the film’s central themes. Jonathan dying of a heart attack would not have added anything to Superman’s hope or faith, nor would it have added anything to Jonathan. The fact that Jonathan sacrifices himself actually shows Clark – an Alien-born – that humanity does have the capacity for good. He easily could have let Clark fly over and rescue him, but he dies with the belief that Clark will make a responsible decision. When the time is right, he will embrace his destiny and become Superman.
This film remains one of my absolute favourite comic book movies. It holds such a special place in my heart, and while I do wish everyone agreed with me, I understand the film’s criticisms. They make sense, they’re not illogical or stupid. For me, Man of Steel is a beautiful look at hope and faith, that is bound together by some of the most touching and genuine scenes in a superhero movie.
What do you think? Leave a comment.