“Cavill embodies the very essence of what the title ‘Man of Steel’ ultimately means”.
As is common nowadays, it seems appropriate in cinematic incarnations of super heroes that the origin story is the most plausible and effective for both hardened fans and welcoming new audiences. We’ve had it most notably with the Batman story in the Dark Knight trilogy, and yet again the writing team of David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan have worked together to tackle the more broader, fantastical back story of Clark Kent’s rise to become the Man of Steel. Even as the title suggests and its air of darker tones, there seems an active tendency from its makers, including director Zack Snyder, to avoid any mention of the word “Superman”. This is indeed a film in which you take the name in more ways than one and realise ultimately this is a story about a man, evoking his strength both physically and mentally.
With his planet Krypton about to die at the hands of the sinister General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends newly born son Kal-El across the stars, crash landing at his new home of Earth. Taken in by John and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who name him Clark, he finds growing up on Earth whilst keeping his super powers secret from humanity harder than he thought. But when Zod finally tracks the fugitive to Earth, with ideas of creating a new home, Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill) must expose his hidden strength to save the world.
Given this attempts to ground one of the most iconic and well known superheroes in cinema, it was always going to be a challenge of taking the mythical sense of Superman and provide grounded reasoning to the character as much as possible. But it feels writer David S Goyer has done a strong passable attempt at answering the fundamental questions that comes with a fantastical story as this. Especially in areas of questioning how would he come across Lois Lane? Where does he get the costume from? And why wear that ‘S’ on his chest?. He did it brilliantly with Batman Begins – mainly to the fact it was all set in a believable real world terms. But when you’re dealing with alien worlds and super powers as the Superman story does, it’s harder to make highly designed spaceships and speed of sound flying seem plausible, but even though it had the danger of falling into realms of complete silly, it solidly delivers.
You also get surprisingly the broken hero themes that isn’t all to present in superhero stories. That tortured soul quality of our hero, that his presence itself is almost bringing the bad times to the people he loves despite being the symbol of hope, to which he has to step up to meet his opposite. But even more prolific, is the theme of what would happen if the truth about him were to be revealed; how people would react to things they can’t explain. Keeping his secret is the biggest secret to keep and brilliantly captured in a moment which he basically confesses to a priest about being the route cause of the impending terror that could land the human race into trouble, and asking should he turn himself in to save Earth. Again, the very thought you could address themes of religion and beliefs, between a character of faith and a character who can save the world, in a superhero film is really impressive.
With highly designed being at the forefront. Zack Snyder has always had design engraved into his film-making, mentality when you look at his previous films like Watchmen and Sucker Punch having all surface, but lacking in story. Whether he was going to deliver to a bigger and bolder project like this was always going to be the gamble, but fair play to him, while he does provide the whizzing explosions and crumbling offices of Metropolis, it’s the moments of one to ones between Clark and his parents, with Lois, and ultimately his enemy that are the real moments to savour more than others. Both Costner and Lane as his adoptive parents both provide a counter balance to Clark’s actions, always being the loving mother and father to their enigma of a son, which they both do really well.
Even though his relationship with his parents almost becomes the central idea to the film, his moments with Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) is just as poignant. Even though their relationship never feels entirely lovey dovey, Amy Adams does a great job of being a Lois Lane who stands around and playing the damsel in distress, waiting for Superman to save her. In fact, she’s a fighting machine of a woman. Making her pivotal to the action and sticking a gun in her hand seems unimaginable yet welcoming to the typical journalistic character that we think of her. You have Michael Shannon as General Zod who can effectively do the off-kilter, deranged, psychotic baddie in his sleep if he could. He builds on the promise of roles you’ve seen him in before of the outcast and provides a menacing outlandish villain without ever resorting to chewing the scenery.
To which you have the man himself in the form of Henry Cavill who does portray a man conflicted with secrets and finding the balance between what his purpose in life means. Cavill embodies the very essence of what the title Man of Steel ultimately means: both taking moral high grounds in moments of unease whilst knowing what is best for the people around him and gathering that momentum to win the trust of the human race. Whilst laying out all his flaws and back story as both man and hero plays well, what you therefore lose is that mysticism sense that Superman always had, constantly surprising you with his powers. But knowing his limits sets you in place for what he can and can’t tolerate, which adds to the notion of at times Superman being out of his depth with what’s going on around him. But that being said, Cavill brings nobility and respect to his character and will resort to being a great Clark Kent for this new generation of fans.
While Snyder’s direction has brought a solid Superman to screen, the story and design itself also becomes a spot the movie at times. Certain actions and set pieces will trigger films like District 9, The Matrix, Independence Day, with a dash of Avatar and Alien thrown in for good measure, but buying yourself into the world Snyder has created will provide an all round explosive action packed sci-fi induced experience – Keeping the spirit of Superman very much alive while providing a new approach to the story is all in abundance.
With action and moments of heart on offer, it proves once again that no superhero is too big or powerful to make their life story full of interest.