Superman is… Well, he’s Superman. Like him or hate him, he’s Superman! An icon. A cultural treasure.
Truth, justice, and the American way! There’s something wonderfully optimistic about him, a being with immeasurable powers who wants nothing more than to help people? I’ve always loved that about the guy and it’s one of the most endearing things about him.
It’s just too bad that Man of Steel takes all of that wonderful optimism and replaces it with the gritty realism of The Dark Knight. Hey, I loved The Dark Knight, but there are some cases that realism and grittiness just aren’t going to work and this is one of them.
The Dark Knight was rooted in reality… Man of Steel is about a guy who can shoot lasers from his eyes, is impervious to bullets, and can fly. Reality has no business being there.
Man of Steel, the retelling of Superman’s origin and debut on Earth, is a laudable attempt to update the Man of Tomorrow with a more contemporary feel and, in some cases it works and, in many many others, it doesn’t.
More effective here are the more human moments such as Ma Kent talking her little boy down when the overwhelming sensations of having super-hearing freaks him out to the point he has to hide in the closet. That is a great interpretation of Superman’s early years.
What doesn’t work is that Man of Steel devolves into a mindless action movie with a a whirlwind of incredible destruction at the hands of Superman’s biggest and most dangerous foe, General Zod, played with wonderfully insane abandon by Michael Shannon. By the time the movie is over, Supes doesn’t save Metropolis, he saves a rubble pile where Metropolis used to be. He pretty much saved Detroit.
That is really the breaking leg of Man of Steel. In the race to bring a new contemporary feel to Superman and create a new marketable product for the masses, it sacrifices much of the humanity that drives the character.
There’s no magic here, no wonder… just explosions and buildings falling down with some good to decent character moments.
Henry Cavill plays Superman this time around and, honestly, he looks the part and plays the part rather well. Even though I’m not wild about Man of Steel, the actor makes a lot of it work. I have a feeling that Cavill has a good Superman movie waiting for him in the future, but this one isn’t it.
I guess, if you want to look at my beef with Man of Steel from a more symbolic viewpoint, it’s echoed in the changes to Superman’s uniform… it’s cold, less colorful, and less of a beacon. It doesn’t look like it was made with love by hand, it looks like it was pressed into existence by an unfeeling machine. Does it look nice? Of course it does… all polished and sculpted, but there is no comfort, no warmth, and no humanity.
I’ve taken a lot of heat for my opinion in the months since I saw this movie, but very little about that opinion has changed over time. If nothing else, it’s just cemented my opinion that Man of Steel is, at best, highly polished mediocrity.