Anymore, superhero films are treated more like stepping stones than standalone entities. They’re the bait to get you to the next chapter, where they’d like you to think the real fun begins. We can probably thank Marvel for this because it worked so damn well with Iron Man and the entirety of the Avengers universe. With Man of Steel, Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan are placing their bets that their vision will do the same for DC. The good news is they mostly succeed.
While I enjoyed Batman Begins, overall I find Nolan’s Batman films to be too heavy for my taste. Comic book aesthetics replaced with harsh realism just doesn’t work for me, mostly because superheroes don’t exist in my world and I wish Hollywood would stop trying to convince me that they’re somehow relevant. Of course, I’m obviously in the minority here, since this trilogy went on to make a shit ton of money and now we have a new Superman series modeled on the same grim universe. Give the people what they want I suppose.
Man of Steel attempts to do just that with a brooding and conflicted Superman, more civilian deaths than any other film in recent memory, and a shroud of seriousness over everything. If Richard Donner’s 1978 film was too silly, Snyder’s version goes way too far in the other direction. In spite of itself, some fun peeks through every so often, but for the most part this is a very joyless interpretation of Superman.
The film tries desperately to be more of everything. It’s bigger, louder, handsomer — it has more science fiction, special effects, action, muscles, and lens flares. This isn’t entirely a complaint, but at some point the sense of awe wears off and it simply becomes sensory overload. The flight sequence was exhilarating(!)…and then it went on for 5 more minutes. The first super-fight-scene was pretty badass(!#%)…and then it went on for 15 more minutes. After a while, I started to lose interest not out of boredom, but exhaustion.
All that being said, the saving grace in Man of Steel are the people in it. Henry Cavill is very much the embodiment of the comic book Superman that I grew up with, plus he’s handsome as hell. Rawr. Amy Adams is a ballsy, no-nonsense Lois Lane and she’s smart enough to realize when the same person is standing in front of her, with our without glasses. Kevin Costner makes Jonathan Kent his own and brings a lot of heart to the role, as does Diane Lane. Thanks to this, the flashbacks of his time in Smallville are the best parts the film and at least help me appreciate how they are trying to set up this new version of Superman. This time around he quite literally has the weight of two worlds on his shoulders, and there’s no quick fixes like turning back time to make things better. There are consequences in this film and really just an enormous amount of people die. It’s kind of ridiculous.
In conclusion? As what I would call a hardcore Superman fan, I am not at all offended by this film or the new direction. I would say I mostly enjoyed it and I’m curious to see where they take things now that this world and origin story have been established.
It doesn’t come close to the 1978 film (which fills me with pure, giddy, joy every time I watch it) but it baits me well enough that I’ll be sitting in my usual seat the night its sequel opens. Also bring on the Justice League.