Being both a movies fan and a comic book/superhero fan can be both positive and negative. The positive side is that whenever I see a very clever superhero film, with in-jokes, reference to the wider comic universe, other characters or just slight cameos or “easter eggs,” I appreciate that and feel slightly superior to everyone else for noticing. I also think if you are a fan of the source material, you are much more likely to enjoy a decent version and realisation of those characters on film. I get much more excited because I am seeing the character I’ve been reading about since I was a kid brought to life well on the big screen.
Of course, there are negative sides too. A comic book fan appreciates when a version is carried across well but also notices much more so when it isn’t the version of the character he is comfortable and familiar with. I have an idea of how I would represent each superhero I have read comics about. I recognise there are lots of different versions but I also think that there are central, solid elements that shouldn’t be messed with or changed. This is the beginning of my problems with Man of Steel.
Origin stories are always difficult to do, especially for character as well-known and culturally significant as Superman. His origin story has been done countless times before, in comics, movies and tv shows. Most people are familiar with at least some of where Superman comes from and what makes him who he is. Those familiar elements are also the things that need to be kept and adapted, not changed or removed because people already know the story.
There were at least two big changes that I couldn’t get behind. Where he got his suit from and his relationship with Lois Lane. Without going into spoiler territory, these are two key areas that play a big part of his origin story and they were changed with no real explanation or justification.
This wasn’t the only elements of the film that didn’t sit right with me. Henry Cavill plays Superman fantastically. He looks the part, has a commanding but calm presence and handles the action sections of the film really well. He doesn’t look ridiculous in the suit and instead of imitating Christopher Reeve, is channeling and adopting the best parts of his iconic performance while crafting his own. It’s just a shame that his version of Superman wasn’t part of a Superman film!
For me, a big part of who Superman is comes from his everyday rescuing of people in Metropolis. Just like Gotham is a huge part of Batman’s story, Metropolis is Superman’s home and he spends the majority of his time saving people from muggers, bank robberies and falling off construction sites. That’s a key part of Superman movies and comics and an essential part of his story. Superman doesn’t exist to fight bad guys, he exists to help the everyday person and that is his main agenda and priority.
That wasn’t the case with Cavill’s Superman. His character was more concerned with where he came from, who was trying to invade Earth and essentially levelling buildings with no regard for anyone’s safety in an attempt to stop the enemy. That isn’t Superman.
The Superman I have been reading for years would always put people first. He would take the battle away from crowded areas and certainly wouldn’t partake in a fight that levels huge skyscrapers and showers everyone in shards of glass. It felt like the movie was too concerned with showing Superman fighting another super-powered being instead of showing who Superman actually is and why he does what he can.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to see a huge super-battle. The inclusion of Zod rather than Lex Luthor as the enemy was a welcome one. Michael Shannon was fantastic as the enemy and the actions scenes were done really well. It showed the power and brutality of the battles between these characters, it just seemed to forget that Superman would always put the safety of others first!
It’s not like the ingredients for the Superman we know and love weren’t included. He had the two key role models and for me, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Russell Crowe as Jor-El were the best performances and characters in the movie. Costner demonstrated why he is still such a key actor in Hollywood and should still be respected, especially in the scene involving a tornado.
It was Crowe who stole it though. He got to be the bad-ass, action star in the very cool opening to the movie and also the calm, guiding voice later in the film. He was always the best thing in any scene he starred in, overshadowing both Shannon and Cavill. I just hope any sequels can find a place for his character.
I did like a lot about Man of Steel. I enjoyed it as a film about a guy with superpowers but just not as a Superman film. The character didn’t feel like Superman, he didn’t act like Superman or do what Superman would do. The whole movie itself was too dark for a Superman film, with little to no humour and very dark scenes that just didn’t fit with what Superman is about. I just hope this is a chance to get the origin out of the way and begin to explore the Superman I am much more familiar with.
Overall, Man of Steel is a solid film, with great action, fantastic actors and performances but it just didn’t feel enough like a Superman movie. The things Superman did were against what he stood for and would do in the decades of comics that introduced the iconic character. There is a lot to like and build-on from this origin movie, I just hope they lighten any sequels and begin to explore what really makes Superman probably the greatest of superheroes.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)