Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL is a Perfect Superhero Film

How MAN OF STEEL Perfects the Superhero Genre

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.

Courtesy of Warner Bros., DC Films

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.”

Courtesy of Warner Bros, DC Films

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.”

Courtesy of Warner Bros, DC Films

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.

Courtesy of Warner Bros, DC Films

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.

Courtesy of Warner Bros, DC Films

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.

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  1. Lesa Parson

    Man of Steel is my favorite comic book movie to date. And you hit it right on the head why… Snyder and company built a universe that is much deeper and meaningful than anything we have seen before…

  2. Montano

    I saw the movie when it came out and loved it. I liked the more realistic portrayal of what superman should be like. Was such a breath of fresh air compared to the sickening sweet version of superman from yesteryear with Christopher Reeves. I am baffled on all the negativity toward this version of superman. Just today we were talking about it and everyone was so shocked that I liked the movie. They had the attitude of “how dare you like that movie”. So no idea why the hostility toward this movie. The only thing I got from them was that “this was not superman”.

    • Lashanda

      THANK YOU! I think they want Superman to be this guy that smiles even when it’s the total opposite of a far more likely human reaction, this guy that just innately has a sense of identity and purpose out of the box, and this guy that can auto-save everyone despite having limits to even his extraordinary power.

      I am right there with you. Real world immigrant stories are not sunshine and rainbows, an ALIEN would have it even harder than regular people do. Regular people struggle mightily to figure out their place in the world, how the heck do they think some guy who developed almighty power and suddenly feels the near-literal weight of the world on his shoulders would handle that? And how else did they expect a fight between two beings with god-like strength to go?

      They simultaneously want Superman to be relatable while remaining “above” all the things that make us human in the first place. They want Christopher Reeves Superman to be the only version… and no, I vehemently disagree with the idea that there’s only way his story can be told or his character can be presented.

  3. Awesome man. I really love what you said about man of steel. Everything is on point on what I really love about zack snyder take on superman.

  4. I don’t know if it’s because I’m 54 and I remember when movies were not as big and grandiose as the are now, but I thought this was the best Superman BY FAR than anything I’ve ever seen. I loved the old George Reeve’s Superman, hated the Christopher Reeve Superman and do we even want to discuss Lois & Clark??? I mean Holy Smokes, the Krypton scenes were incredible and that part of the story was just long enough without being overpowering. The scenes where Clark is on the boat, in the bar, I mean it’s a side of Clark Kent we never really saw. The flashbacks, that as well. I can go on and on about how this movie was great and I also bought it in 3D…unreal! I also thought BVS was awesome, if not a bit “animated” looking during the final battle scenes. Wonder Woman also, incredible movie. But we’re talking about Man of Steel and if you don’t like this movie, I don’t get it. Is it a bit dark? Well don’t we all like our superheroes just a little bit dark? This is a more “realistic” version of “Truth, Justice, and the American way” and I really enjoyed it.

  5. I just watched the blu-ray even last night and never get tired. It’s an underrated movie.

  6. Fitzpatrick

    Cant stand Zimmers score for Man of steel or Dark Knight… Dark night score was trash… Felt like it was all just a big kettle drum being hit over and over… 🙂

    MOS was awful… Worse than Dark Night Rises and that movie was the worst…. Ruined all that WAS good with The Dark Night….

    • Hanz Zimmer has only let me down once, and it was in Amazing Spider-Man 2. That score was forgettable and the main Spider-Man theme was atrocious. That being said, since he wasn’t the only one scoring the film, I really can’t be sure he’s to blame for everything.

      The Man of Steel music, though, was perfect. The fan-named “An Ideal of Hope” is a favorite of mine, and I much prefer it to the actually released version on the OST (titled “What are you going to do when you’re not saving the world?”). Next to “Flight”, “If you love these people” and “Arcade”, all of which I routinely listen to.

  7. 99% of my issues with “Man of Steel” come down to the screenplay (the other 1% is for the gratuitous product placement). That’s the case more and more often these days; great directors are everywhere and great screenwriters are in VERY short supply. I chalk it up to this being the first generation of writers raised almost exclusively on TV and video games rather than books. Reading has been proven to expand the imagination while TV stunts it. An entire generation of Tarantinos, only without the distinctive talent to justify their “homages” or their screenplays’ constant lapses in intelligence.

  8. Man of Steel was a great movie, and I loved it, but as a Superman movie it was terrible, if you get what I mean. Snyder tried to bring forth his visions with the wrong character and universe.

  9. Ava Dix

    It is definitely a solid film, and it is very underrated. But it isn’t a masterpiece, not by a long shot…

  10. Carletta

    Man of Steel will be loved more over the years.

  11. Even though im not man of steel fan this post has some valid points that you cant just overlook but it stil doesnt cut it for me. Snapping zod’s neck and then linking it to the reason he never kills. Superman doesnt kill because he was raised that way and i also dont like the part where his father dies i think the heart attack was a better message. With all his powers you cant prevent thing such as that from happening. The first part of the move i realy liked it but the second half is where it kinda flops. But im still a big superman fan and i realy hope for the best for DC so they can finaly compete with Marvel so they make each other step up there A game. And for all the people that enjoyed this movie good for you guys.

  12. MoS was decent. Superman 2 still better, IMO

  13. Yajaira

    I’ve never watched it until today (currently paused while typing this), although I tried and didn’t get far. I saw Batman v Superman in theatres and I thought it was okay. Then I saw Wonder Woman and it gave me a whole new appreciation for BvS. So now I think I want to give MoS a fair shake. So far, so good!

  14. I always thought MoS was a bad movie, but I appreciate it in hindsight and I like it as an experience.

  15. It definitely gets flak that it doesn’t deserve and I do believe that it was underrated (if you’re going by the numerous available metacritic scores.) It was far from perfect, but it did a lot right thematically, and I loved the cast and the action.

  16. Visually is one of Snyder’s finest works and Zimmer created a phenomenal soundtrack, perhaps the best in cbms. Thats about it. The story is a different take on Superman. Some didn’t like it. Some loved it. I can see why MoS is so talked about. The faction that liked it, do really like it a lot.

  17. Man of Steel have THE best comic book movie vilain.. Michael Shannon was incredible as Zod.

    • Sean Gadus

      Michael Shannon is underrated in this role. Even if you don’t enjoy the film, Shannon does a great job of selling Zod as a ruthless villain fiercely committed to his rigid world view.

  18. I’ve always known how good this movie is. I loved it the first time i saw it on opening night, and have watched it many times since. I hope this movie gets more credit as time goes on.

  19. Maryellen

    i already knew it was a really good movie, in fact IMO the best superman movie ever made. not that that bar is very high tho

  20. Giuseppe

    Truth be told, its pretty dull. And I’m one of those who thinks Man of Steel is ever so slightly better than Wonder Woman. Even though Wonder Woman has more replay value because its easier to catch my attention… at least up until the climactic battle.

  21. I only see this movie for the action scenes.

  22. The truth is there isn’t many MCU movies that are better than MOS, if MOS was a part the MCU it would’ve been rated higher.

    The way I see it: Cap:TWS< Ironman< MOS< GOTG< The Avengers< The rest of the MCU is either mediocre, avengers is close to being mediocre but It had a wow factor the first time I watched it.

  23. Sean Gadus

    I wish that The DCEU Clark Kent got to actually to do reporting and the films let us see more of him in that role that he is famous for. I was excited at the end of Man of Steel when he is becoming a reported. Hope that the next superman film will give us more of Clark Kent as a reporter!

  24. Back when Man of Steel came out, it was a time when I couldn’t care less about Internet fan opinions or critics. By that I mean I honestly didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the online chatter. I was essentially a member of the “general audience.” I thought it was great, along with the group of people I was with, and that was the extent of my knowledge on what people thought of it.

    It actually took years later to slowly realize that there exists haters of the movie who act like Superman killing Zod and the destruction of Metropolis are the most offensive things ever. These are viewpoints that make no sense whatsoever to me. I mean, no one’s obligated to have the same opinions as me, but at least have criticisms that make sense. The movie couldn’t have established any better that Superman had no other choice except to fight and kill Zod, yet how many times have I heard this movie get attacked because Superman “didn’t save anyone” and committed “murder” by killing Zod? I am baffled.

  25. MoS is still my favorite DCEU movie.

  26. Overall I enjoyed it but will never accept the depiction of Jonathan Kent. Superman’s relationships with his fathers are essential parts of who he is, his purpose, his committment to doing the right thing. In MoS, Pa wants Clark to hide his “gift” and not use it for the greater good. He doesn’t want him to sacrifice himself for humanity. This is counter to the traditional depicitions of Jor-el and Jonathan as the roots of his fight for justice, for the life of sacrifice and benevolence. Like Batman, parents are an enormous part of the Superman story and screwing with em like MoS did screws up a lot.

    • I completely agree with this. I enjoyed MoS but I had major problems with it like you. Along with Pa Kent being wrong I felt like Superman’s character never really enjoyed doing the things he did, that he was kind of eternally lost and sullen. I was worried that this would translate into later films and that we wouldn’t get the iconic Superman that most of us love. PEOPLE KEPT TELLING me that we would get a ‘real’ and better Supes in the next movie. In my opinion, that didn’t happen. We SKIPPED 18 months of him being Supes and we get a montage that lasts for 3 minutes. The rest of the movie plays right into my fears from MoS.

  27. NorahStar

    A part from the bandwagon misinformed opinions regarding Zod’s death and the destruction of Metropolis; I feel some people have legit problems with the story and characterization of Superman/Clark. I love this version of Superman but I admit he has little personality or character; it would be hard to describe him as a person without just defining his actions. I believe that many of the complaints towards these movies would be abated if Superman/Clark had a better connection with the audience.

  28. I liked it, but the death of Papa Kent is probably one of my most reviled scenes in cbm history.

    Snyder has this amazing ability to plunge the movie into a hole when its all sailing smoothly. And he had to have a kiss shoved in at the weirdest moment.

  29. I don’t consider mediocre movies with questionable dialogue and story choices to be underrated classics.

  30. It wasn’t exceptionally bad and neither very good. It was very in the middle so a middle rate is what it deserves.

  31. I loved it. Maybe its because im not Superman guru but I thought it was pretty damn good.

  32. Good movie, had its flaws and not one of my top superhero films but it’s still enjoyable overall.

  33. Yeah, I will also rate the same.

  34. I absolutely loved it but a lot of the criticism I have heard was overkill on the ending fight and the snapped neck stuff

  35. I loved the movie so much, Snyder gave superman depth.
    Besides the soundtracks were awsome.

  36. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    A good article. The reference to hope and faith as recurring themes is good insight.

  37. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    I think sometimes the issue is less to do with the amazing filming and the overall concept – I think we are struggling with the plethora of superhero films out there to be able to handle an “all mighty” character that Superman represents. Part of the reason for Ironman and Caps popularity is that, like all great literary heroes, they are greatly flawed people. While Superman is a reluctant hero, he is often portrayed as too alien, lacking in real flaws, only internal conflicts – until he can reach the Marvel “broken person” form it will take more than beautiful cinematography to get us loving Superman again.

  38. Calling anything “perfect” is kinda setting your argument up for failure…Anyway, why does it even matter if it is or isn’t perfect?

  39. Though I concede the film Man of Steel has some redeeming qualities, I will have to disagree that it is a perfect superhero movie…in fact it is far from it. DC (unlike Marvel), has made a mockery of its collection of superhero characters and their complex narratives. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is no different. The cast is apt enough. Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Russell Crowe create a stellar cast, but most of their gifts are unused by a script that does little to illicit the nostalgia or fervor of the Superman films helmed by Christopher Reeve. Snyder’s film is “All That” and very little jazz and the root of the problem is Henry Cavil himself. Cavil never allows the audience to feel anything for him. His acting and screen presence lack the chutzpah of a superhero and instead casts a myopic shadow across the entire film. The only hope and faith Man of Steel draws from the audience is that it will hopefully end soon.

  40. CulturallyOpinionated

    I think that this is a great and entertaining film when analyzed just as a film in general. As a Superman film, however, I think it completely misses the mark of what makes the character popular and liked (i.e., the reason people would be drawn to go see it). This Man of Steel feels so incongruous to what the public at large think of “Superman,” which is so heavily based in both the original comic, George Reeves, and Christopher Reeves. Even if you think those portrayals are saccharine or one-dimensional, that IS Superman for 90% of the viewing audience. He’s the ultimate boy scout helping old ladies across the street and fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way; snapping necks and destroying cities is something Batman or Zod would do. Snyder made a really interesting film, and even an interesting Superman film. He just chose the wrong character for the majority of the movie-going public.

  41. Rewatched this movie again this week. It’s a masterpiece. BvS is also superb. It’s a shame that Zack Snyder wasn’t able to complete his vision for Justin League and its canceled sequels.

  42. JLaurenceCohen

    I never understood the hate for Man of Steel.

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