Man of Steel is my favorite Superman movie. If that seems like the statement of a person who just had a massive movie high then you could be right. But you probably aren’t. Man of Steel is in a large number of ways the Superman movie we’ve all wanted for a very long time. However it needs to be said that this movie is first and foremost an origin film. That means that there is a LOT of stuff that has to be gotten out of the way before it has its fun
This movie, in a lot of ways, could have been called Superman Begins because it feels like a Nolanized Superman film…but nowhere near as much as you might think. From the camera work to the aesthetic this is clearly Zack Snyder’s show. There’s a contrast between Man of Steel and Batman Begins that makes it very clear: Batman Begins made a promise that we would see Bruce Wayne become the Batman we know so well from the comics. That Bruce Wayne, even after putting on the mask, would have a lot to learn before he felt truly worthy of the mantle. We thought after Batman Begins that his footing as the Batman would be established. A promise was made that we would see him become the experienced pillar of justice that we see in the comic. Unfortunately, we never got that Batman. We had a character who wore a batmask while using military gear. The mystique of the character was gone. Keep in mind I’m the guy who gave the Dark Knight Rises a perfect score. I love those movies as incredible movies, not as adaptations.
Man of Steel is a great adaptation of the Superman myth. I say that because it is not 100% faithful to the comics. You can’t be faithful to something that is ever changing. However, they give us the Superman origin in a way that makes perfect sense and by the end of the film you feel that Clark well and truly has become Superman as we know him and love him. This movie sweeps away the parts we already know and gives us a good time while we’re at it. It does make one significant alteration to the mythos but it’s one that I feel not only makes sense, but it actually strengthens one character who would have been in serious danger of looking like an idiot if they hadn’t done it.
Everyone does an exceptional job in this film, even despite some dialogue that I found to be clunky. There’s a lot of grand speech-making which takes out some of the realism, but fortunately none of it comes from Superman. Which, let’s talk about Henry Cavill. The comparisons to Christopher Reeve are unwarranted but if I had to pick who played a better Superman…I wouldn’t. I will not pick because they both did the same wonderful thing: they let the nature of the character speak for itself. Not a single word that comes out of Cavill’s mouth as Superman sounds forced. He sounds like he means it. Cavill has taken up the mantle better than I could have hoped for.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane is perfect. This is the first Lois Lane that legitimately feels like a journalist instead of a half-wit who keeps ending up in stupid situations out of ineptitude (as Margot Kidder and numerous other actresses portrayed her). I loved Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. He perfectly fits the newsman and I wish there had been more of him in the movie. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are wonderful versions of the Kents that truly feel like parents. One of the real highlights of Smallville (I should say one of the only highlights) was the portrayal of Ma and Pa Kent, but they were a bit too CW to be believable. This version nails the younger working class version perfectly. Russell Crowe does a very good job as Jor-El, giving us a character who feels like a father rather than just a projection. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Zod is no Terrence Stamp. But the attitude and dynamic of his relationship to Jor-El and Clark is still very strong. I only wish that the character was a little bit deeper, but his final act of villainy is still one of amazing poignancy (and I’m sure that it will be a major point of debate among comic book fans).
Zack Snyder has turned in his best movie. Period. His penchant for slow motion has been curbed and this is a director who has clearly learned from his mistakes on Sucker Punch. I hate shaky cam. I think it’s of the cinematic devil…having said that Zack Snyder has done something only Spielberg and JJ Abrams have been able to do: shaky cam that accentuates the action scenes instead of hindering them. It never feels like the camera shake is being used as a crutch to hide inadequacy. And oh boy is there action. The action alone is worth the price of admission. This is not a story heavy film per se, but the stakes are high. Snyder’s found an aesthetic that works amazingly.
Man of Steel is an exceptional film that moves at an intensely brisk pace. Henry Cavill IS Superman. Is the movie perfect? No, it isn’t. Zod could’ve been much more memorable. There could have been a bit more humor. However, we’ve gone past the first step. The origin and world building is out of the way, paving the way for what I can only imagine to be a dynamite sequel. But above all, and this is something the Dark Knight Trilogy didn’t quite do for Batman, the spirit of Superman as a character and as a piece of American mythology is honored full tilt. See it and believe again that a man can fly.