Man of Steel Review: Superman Begins
The moniker “Man of Steel” is to Superman as “The Dark Knight” is to Batman, and with the involvement of The Dark Knight’s (2008) director Christopher Nolan, it promises a similar level of marvel. However with Man of Steel (2013) being an origin story, it formulates itself in the same way that Batman Begins (2005) did. Essentially, Man of Steel finds itself on a similar level as the Batman reboot in almost every way. Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder have created a brilliant alchemy with Man of Steel, and the movie will only get higher praise with time.
When one ponders the thought about the movie being like Batman Begins for a second, the conclusion is: of course it must be because it has to accomplish many of the same things. There are tons of holes in Superman’s story that cannot pass by the eyes of a modern audience anymore –especially with the rise of superhero movies that insert themselves in the contemporary world. From the beginning, there’s the destruction of his home planet, Krypton, why the man who could do anything works for a newspaper, the suit, and many others. To that end, Nolan and Snyder made many changes to Superman lore to fill plot holes and to have the character make more sense overall. Be assured; the changes they chose are harmless to the core of Superman and every single one of them is for good reason and for the better. Because these changes needed to be made to make a better Superman movie, making it an origin story was the correct choice.
Like other quality reboots and superhero beginnings in film, Man of Steel takes the best of its hero’s source material and finds a mixture that works. Perhaps the best and one of the more recent attempts to retell Superman in the comics is Superman: Earth One (2010), and the film builds its plot in a similar way with an invasion prompting Superman to reveal himself to Earth. The movie further borrows themes and ideas from other comics, previous movies, and television shows including the nature of Jonathan Kent from Smallville (TV 2001-2011). There even is a possible homage to Red Son’s (2003) hammer and sickle emblem in General Zod’s crest when looked at with a slight stretch of the imagination.
The movie begins in Krypton under crisis with a planet that is alien, yet familiar. Its world is paid as much attention to as Clark Kent’s earth by Snyder with otherworldly animals, architecture, technology, and more. From there, the movie does not flow as smooth as it could, and its choppiness is reminiscent of past Snyder films like Suckerpunch (2011), though it seems to be an artistic choice that critics and fans may not agree with, and it will ultimately cost Man of Steel rating points in reviews. However, it comes together in the second half of the movie, and early scenes later make sense.
There is yet another parallel with the Dark Knight Trilogy in that Man of Steel is more about Clark Kent and Kal-El as much as Batman Begins is focused on Bruce Wayne (while in contrast, The Dark Knight is about the Batman character). The movie follows Kal-El from birth, and then to his new identity, Clark Kent. He goes soul searching as both a grown man and a boy while partially discovering his alien identity bit by bit along the way. In every stage of his life, he is never free to express himself, and therefore it is going to be his company that defines him. Henry Cavill’s acting may be criticized for being less expressive, but he is playing a character that is supposed to be unsure and reserved.
Cavill’s supporting cast does well in their roles, and Amy Adams gives a particularly renovating performance as Lois Lane. Her character is reinvented into an active investigative reporter and is easily the most likable of any Lois Lane thus far. She’s an intuitive and gutsy –which leads her to playing a key role in the plot. The change done to Lois’s character reflects well on the movie and makes sense on every level. Kevin Costner is also notable here and helps define Clark Kent’s early years through Jonathan Kent. When it comes to smaller characters like military leaders, audiences have seen these same actors in such similar roles so often already that it makes their performances tiring and generic. There’s a lot of filler in the movie like that which makes it more generic, but it is ultimately forgivable due to the epic nature and smart choices made by the creative team.
While they are centered on very different characters in very different settings, expect the quality and makeup of Man of Steel to mirror that of Batman Begins (whatever that is for you). Unlike Batman Begins, this movie faces a raised bar of quality set in part by the very same creative team that put it together. It is not a perfect movie without the precision and critical appeal of The Dark Knight, but it is absolutely what the Man of Tomorrow needed. It’s wisely put together and absolutely delivers what is expected. Those who will most appreciate it are Superman fans. Man of Steel is by a wide margin the best Superman movie yet to come and will only become better appreciated in time when the sequels arrive.
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