Warner Bros. has officially layed down the gauntlet with Man of Steel, setting an impossibly high bar for all superhero movies to come. Marvel is in the middle of a great run, but they have just been schooled by what could very well be the most epic superhero film to date. You will probably hear that word, epic, thrown around a lot when people are describing this film, and there really is no better way to describe it.
We all know the broad strokes of the Superman mythos, but the genius of this film’s screenplay is the way it adheres to the conventions that we are all accustomed to, and then twists them in a brand new way. The extended opening on Krypton is a spectacular science-fiction short film in it’s own right, introducing several significant plot points for the film to come while chronicling the planet’s ultimate demise. This is as spectacular a case of world building as I have ever seen, with creatures, technologies and vistas completely unique to the Superman lore.
Smash cut to Earth, with Kal El already in the guise of Clark Kent, a man searching for the answers to his past. The filmmakers know that we already know who this character is, and while it is technically a reboot, the last thing anybody wants to see is another full-blown origin story. Throughout the film, we flashback to only the most significant moments of his upbringing, those that clearly contributed to making him the man that he is at this moment in time. Kevin Costner plays Jonathan Kent in these sequences, delivering an Oscar-worthy performance that establishes the thematic throughline of the film.
Jonathan believes that the world is not ready for Clark to announce himself. In almost every iteration of Superman to date, he is viewed as simply a superhero. However, when you get right down to it, he is an alien being from another planet. An alien that will call into question all of humanities beliefs in regards to our place in the world. The world would change on a global scale, and this can’t happen until the world is ready. There is a great deal of religious subtext that comes into play with these ideas, and while it’s not always subtle, it’s a refreshingly original take on the character.
As the film progresses, Clark’s story starts to cross paths with Lois Lane, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Daily Planet. As played by Amy Adams, this is the first depiction of the character that I believe is capable of winning such a prize. As her investigation leads her to Clark, and as Clark’s investigation leads him to his past, the intersection of these plot threads is masterfully joined in a way that propels them into the true purpose of the film. The invasion of General Zod.
Zod has never been such a compelling character on film. Without getting specific, there is a reason that he is the way he is, and his motivations actually make sense. It’s easy to justify the reasoning behind his actions. As he demands the surrender of Kal El, Clark must decide whether or not to reveal himself to the world or allow it’s complete destruction at the hands of Zod. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that he does end up revealing himself, and what follows is some of the most breakneck action ever committed to film.
These are two superpowered beings using everything they have to stop the other. You’ve never seen action like this, with Smallville and Metropolis taking beatings in equal measure. The destruction is on a scale unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and while it would be easy to dismiss these sequences as Transformers style flash over substance, I have to say that everything in this film is in service of the story. As the conflict escalates and alien technologies come into play, it still feels as if every punch serves a purpose. Nothing is in the movie just to be “cool.”
This is the future of superhero films. DC has had some major missteps with films such as Green Lantern, but they are definitely moving in the right direction now. Everything about this film works, from the perfect casting across the board, to Hans Zimmer’s fantastically propulsive score. I don’t know what’s in store for the DC Universe, but I have never been more excited for a Justice League film than I am right now. I love the Marvel films, but by design, they are significantly smaller in scale. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is nice to have a superhero film that truly embraces the notion of superpowers. This is now the film to beat, and I can’t wait to see who comes out on top.