Rating: 4.5/5 Buckets
Man of Steel felt just like the life of an arranged married couple. There is a long period of time where the hype builds and builds where the wife thinks she will get a prince charming whose sole purpose in life is to give her manicures and endless shopping sprees. She finally meets him and finds out her prince charming picks his nose and eats over the sink…because if you don’t use a plate you don’t have to clean anything! Anyway, after time she realizes he’s a great guy and the beauty of their marriage is in the little things that add up. That is what Man of Steel was like for me. I found out Christopher Nolan was producing a Zack Snyder Superman film and the expectations and hype immediately skyrocketed for a kid who wore a Superman shirt to school every Thursday that a new Smallville was airing. The Man of Steel trailers were great, and then finally opening night came. I even skipped the first night of Bonaroo to catch the midnight premiere…by myself…in my superman PJs.
The movie began annnnd…I just liked it. It felt a little choppy to me and some of that dialogue (“when we’re done measuring dicks”) left a mildly bad taste in my mouth. I thought the action was really good and there were some good heart-felt moments. I couldn’t wait for the sequel but I left feeling only impressed by the movie. However, after multiple viewings the movie kept getting better and better. The little things in the movie stood out to me and really made this movie into one of my favorite movies of all time. Here are the things that I liked about the movie:
The Kal El/Clark Kent Character
As a massive Superman fan, this was the most important aspect of the film to me. This was the make or break point and wow did it make this film! I wanted to see a Superman that stayed true to the character in the comics. Superman is a character defined as morally pure, gentle but assertive, lonely (in the sense of being the only surviving Kryptonian), and most importantly, hopeful. Henry Cavill’s Superman embodied all of these qualities perfectly, which is impressive considering his character was put in extremely difficult positions where these qualities could easily be violated (yes, I know some think that they were in the finale but I liked how they handled it…with heavy remorse). For example, Clark is put in a decision where he has to actively destroy the hope of the Kryptonian race’s future in order to save his adopted home. That is not an easy decision for someone who just discovered his identity after searching for it his entire life. That is what makes Superman great. He chooses the right thing no matter what the personal consequences are to himself.
Clark is portrayed as wanderer who can’t help but do the right thing at every turn. He goes from random job to random job searching for his way in a world that would realistically be terrified to learn of his existence. He is alone with nobody but his mother Martha to confide in. Along the way he saves people and puts his anonymity at risk because of his moral compass. He also shows amazing restraint when he doesn’t slap that obnoxious trucker into the sun! Granted Clark shouldn’t have kabobbed his livelihood but we’ll give a young Clark a pass. The real bedrock of Cavill’s Superman is how hopeful the character remains through his loneliness and wandering. Cavill never portrays Clark as an angsty teen that is mad at the world or as a perfect character with everything figured out. Instead he is a hopeful character trying to find a way to make a difference in the world. He goes from a small-scale do-gooder to a man that is ready to take on his full potential as a symbol of global hope. Hope that humanity can be free, good, and determined to accomplish wonders. This is why I’m so excited to see how this character arcs throughout the DCEU. I want to eventually see a Superman that is revered by all humanity as a symbol of hope. I want to see a Superman that leads humanity to accomplish wonders. And I love that he is not there yet…that we will see how he earns it.
First and foremost, the themes in this film are unbelievably well done. This film has subtext and thought-provoking ideas that stay with you. Many other large blockbusters are fun and entertaining but don’t leave the audience with any thought-provoking ideas. Man of Steel uses its story and themes to provide meaning in addition to the awesome moments that Kal repeatedly punches Zod in the face like an unlucky wack-a-mol.
The story focuses on two major themes: 1) Freedom and 2) Finding your way in the world.
MOS finds a way to capture the idea of what personal freedom means. It portrays freedom as a basic human right. Everyone has the right to be whatever and whoever they want to be. MOS separates itself from many other films that have tackled the theme of freedom (Braveheart, The Patriot; which discuss a civilization’s freedom) by focusing on the personal aspects of freedom. In the film, Clark Kent comes from a world where a person’s life is predetermined by society structure and DNA. Kryptonians have no choice in their future…until Clark’s DNA is infused with the DNA of every social class, thus becoming a symbol of freedom. Clark has the choice of who to become. Even further, MOS shows that natural ability isn’t enough. Jor-El instructs Clark to reach his full potential by testing his limits while Jonathan Kent informs him that he has to decide to publicly embrace his powers or not. MOS displays this idea that in order to become great, a person has to decide what to do and then push themselves to realize that decision. However, freedom inherently invokes the problem of how to choose one path among an infinite number of paths, which brings us to our second theme.
Finding Your Way in the World
Like any person (that currently doesn’t have to walk in line to recess) understands, finding your way in this world is an extremely challenging task. MOS nails this concept by making Clark a lost person who, despite not fitting in with humanity, tries to make his own way. He tries to become something meaningful. He faces plenty of opposition along the way. People write him off as a “weirdo” or an outcast. His father dies (spoiler…I guess), leaving him without any person to give him guidance. It is these scenes that really make the film shine. They make Clark relatable because who hasn’t felt out of place in this world? Who hasn’t been lost trying to find their next step in life? Who hasn’t lost someone who gave them guidance or were let down by their father figure? The theme of finding your way in the world despite massive amounts of opposition and uncertainty is fleshed out very well in this film. That is what makes this chapter for the Last Son of Krypton such a memorable one.
There is only one way to say it…Hans Zimmer’s score is PHENOMINAL! It completely captures the tone of the film, characters, and action. Just take a look at the following three scenes where the music flawlessly showcases three different aspects of Clark’s character. First, during quiet moments in Clark’s childhood, there is a subtle, harsh piano segment that portrays Clark’s emotional fragility. It showcases his lost nature in that he is an alien with no knowledge of where he comes from or what he is supposed to do in life. Then in moments like the opening scene, Han Zimmer wrote music that can only be described as that fitting for a triumphant and long-awaited arrival of a king. When I first saw the film and heard the score during Clark’s birth, I knew Zack Snyder was going to nail this character and do the King of Comics justice. Third, Hans Zimmer created some pulse-pounding music to accentuate the brutal action in the second and third act. When those heavy drums start blasting through the speakers, you know Superman is about to kick some serious ass!
Zack Snyder mentioned that he didn’t want to make a Superman movie where Clark only shot-putted a Kryptonite mountain into space and damn did he accomplish that! The action in this film is absolutely engrossing while still contributing to the narrative. For example, the Smallville throw-down (which is AWESOME!) reinforced the idea that this film takes place in the real world and that Clark can be hurt by these powerful Kryptonians. The Kryptonians were brutal and crushed the soldiers like ants…by kicking an A-10 engine down their throats. The military’s complete inferiority against the Kryptonians portrays what would happen if Superman wasn’t there to defend humanity. As a result, the stakes are raised for Superman to succeed, especially against a 3rd act Zod who only wants to eradicate humans from existence.
And P.S. how awesome was that heat vision!
Man of Steel is a great film that gets better over time as the more intricate details of the film come to light. The characters are very well done and compelling. The action is top-notch while not compromising the quieter, heartfelt moments that really give this film character.