Man of Steel Review: Superman Begins

Man of Steel

(No spoilers)

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.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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J. Bryan Jones is a prospective writer-editor in both prose and graphic novel media. He created "Leather Wing Media" and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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  1. Wow, great review. I’m about to head out to go pick up a friend and we’re going to see this in an hour or two.

  2. Taylor Ramsey

    Nice. I was spoiled when I saqw Mark Waid’s rant on the film, but the changes made are all needed to make this version work.

    • J. Bryan Jones

      Just read it. I respect and admire Mark Waid’s work, and he makes a lot of good points especially about the vast amount of collateral destruction in the movie, and Clark’s lot of joy in anything. However, he seemed to take it very personally as a Superman writer, so take it with a grain of salt.

      • Taylor Ramsey

        Oh, yeah to be sure. I have spoken to Waid at cons and he is completely unapologetic about his near-worship of Supes, as mich as an ideal as an actual character.

  3. King Thomas

    I wanted to liked this movie. Admittedly, I went in with high expectations, but I thought the names behind the movie, the actors and the beautiful trailer justified my high hopes.

    And – at first – I thought it was all going to work out. For the first 40 minutes or so, this movie is awesome. Krypton, an ALIENated Clark Kent doing odd jobs on earth, a confused boy trying to cope with his powers… When the serious actions starts, all coherent story telling stops. In the blink of an eye the movie goes from feeling like a sci-fi Batman Begins to Transformers 3 minus the nuanced story telling. Suddenly Superman is here and we get these big sweeping beautiful scenes, and they’re just completely boring and out of place. And I don’t even want to talk about the totally contrived Lois Lane – Superman romance. (Lots of sighs, and “WTF?” comments at the theater I was in).

    I kept waiting for it to recapture the tone of the first half, but the action just keeps getting bigger and dumber. In the middle of the unending action spectacle of the second half, I actually nodded off.

    This movie had the creative talent, and the actors to make something really great. But in the end this is a missed opportunity.

  4. Kelsey Clark

    I was concerned for this film when I found out it was being made. The Man of Steel is a very difficult character to portray I think and having a similar director to the Batman Trilogies is a lazy choice in my opinion. I haven’t seen the film yet, but you have prepared me for it immensely.

  5. Kevin Wong

    What do you think about the film’s visuals? I noticed an interesting, darkly desaturated look to a lot of the trailers. Does that remain attractive throughout the rest of the movie?

    • J. Bryan Jones

      It is non-saturated throughout most Kansas and Metropolis scenes, and its a conscious decision to make it more consistent with our world and less corny than previous films. Krypton looks amazing. There’s no slow-mo that Snyder is known for here. A lot of the details that make Metropolis work isn’t CG, but I wouldn’t call it perfect.

  6. The trailers looked great but a lot of what I had read insinuated that it was a bit of a letdown.

    I never have high hopes for comic book movies, even though I’m a fan of comic books. Very few adaptations are worthy of the characters.

    I guess I’ll have to give this one a go.

    • Kevin Licht

      For the most part I did enjoy this Superman entry. I particular thought the choice to do a handheld style really helped the action sequences and was so glad to see those Snyder slo-mo effects pretty much done away with.

      The downside of this film to me was that it kind of felt like a chore to watch and I think most Snyder movies end up feeling that way. He seems to have a way of making every single scene the most important scene ever created in the history of cinema, which makes a lot of what he does seem on the pompous side in my opinion. I have a feeling that the reigns were pulled in a little bit by Nolan.

      On another note, Michael Shannon was cast perfectly as Zod. He’s so awesome at acting.

  7. Sajan Saini

    Like King Thomas above, I went into this flick hoping it’d take off like a well-oiled machine. But I gotta say, I felt rather let down.

    Michael Shannon’s raging lunatic version of Zod really left me wondering how this fella ever got to be a tactical officer, let alone a General. And Pa Kent’s exit from the flick felt rather contrived, while Lois’ discovery of you-know-what seemed (funnily enough) unrealistic in its investigative speed. Ultimately, all the extra Kryptonians took away from the singular magic of our Superman, and that was sad to see. What was even sadder was that overkill of violence that wraps up the film. As people have commented elsewhere, you’d think may humans would fault and despise Superman for all the devastation he’d (apparently) brought to their world, by the end of the film.

    • They do, actually. That is one of the plotpoints of Batman V. Superman. I agree with you though about the fight scene…entirely umm…Dragon Ball Z-esque and unnecessary to that degree.

  8. Whenever I read about people feeling that this Superman rendition let them down, I am simply stunned. Batman begins was an entirely different take on the Batman series and idea, completely reimagined, completely rebooted. It was, in all truth, the most perfect combination on every level of cinema to give me what I wanted most: Batman. There never was, and never will be, any Batman that could top the pristine version of Batman that Nolan did.

    With the Man of Steel I was most concerned with what he would do and instead I was treated to why is he the Man of Steel? And this was a question I never really ever questioned; he just IS. Right? Wrong. The movie took me on a roller coaster ride as Superman had to deal with split culture and identity, he had to make choices that no one on Earth, nor in the universe could, he had to give up and sacrifice for the good of others at his own possible demise, he had to take charge because no one else could, and above all there was this interesting conundrum the entire movie of if he is choosing to do this or if he is forced? And we don’t really know til that one singular moment of climactic grief watching Superman become the last Kryptonian and choosing to be a stranger among a strange world.

    I’ve heard arguments that this movie didn’t satisfy comic book lovers. So what. This is film, and above all film is always a vision. It is not a line by line creation. I feel that these critics need to approach film in an objective manner and remove themselves from personal bias, wants, demands, etc and watch a film from beginning to end and treat it as a singular story, THEN refer to their personal biases and see if they satisfy. If they don’t, at least they can appreciate a film as being in and of itself rather than as a satisfactory representation of preconceived notions.

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