Man of Steel
Well, it seems that that the reboot trend that has held Hollywood hostage has once again come back around to America’s favorite undocumented alien, Superman. This strange visitor from another star with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has been firmly ensconced in the zeitgeist of our culture since the thirties. From the fifties onward Superman in numerous incarnations has been in a myriad of television shows with a major film franchise starting in the late seventies. After the debacle of Superman IV: The ‘Quest for Peace the film series was shelved until with ‘Superman returns’ in but once again it fell woefully short of the expectations of fans, critics and studio executive alike. This latest rebirth of the quintessential hero is examined here. ‘Man of steel’. There is an incredible amount of pressure on the movie studios backing characters originated with DC comics. Their perennial rivals, the folks over at Marvel Comic have been kicking their butts at the box office and, more importantly with the favor of the fans. Marvel’s individual super heroes like Thor, Iron-Man and the Hulk each heading their own successful franchises Marvel has assembled them to a super franchise, the Avengers. Over at DC the two flagship characters, Superman and Bat-man have been retooled several times to make then compatible with the DC team, The Justice League of America. A prototype was tried on one of DC’s more successful attempts at the Superman legend, ‘Smallville’. Ultimately the problem is the second tier superheroes are not as conducive to staring in their own film as their counterparts in Marvel. As a result is forced to keep their brand alive by the constant retooling of their pair of successful protagonists.
With that background out of the way and the foundation for why another Superman flick has come about so soon after the last endeavor we can settle down to business. The Superman story has been a significant part of our modern mythology since its inception. As such there are aspects of science fiction, fantasy, social commentary and religious overtones infused throughout. This does afford each filmmaker a different perspective to drive the standard characters and familiar situations. ‘Man of Steel’ does utilize a different tact as a foundation for the story that might annoy hardcore fans but is a legitimate approach to the material. This time around the Planet Krypton’s core has become unstable due to the deleterious effects of the Kyptonians long depletion of their planet’s natural resources. While not consistent with the traditional course of events the infusion of plot points specifically relevant to the current generation is to be expected and quite acceptable. This rationalization pertains too many of the notable changes to the traditional mythos but leaves some of the alterations still unacceptable.
The shattered ecosystem results in a military coup lead by the planet’s highest ranking solider, General Zod (Michael Shannon). The resulting chaos prompted the planet’s leading scientist Jor-el (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) to place their new born son Kal-el into an experimental spaceship and launch him to safety. An addition here is prior to his dispatch into outer space Jor-el infused the codex of their entire race into the DNA of infant. Sticking rather closely to the accepted core script the scion of Krypton is pulled from his high tech wicker basket by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, who adopt the child naming him Clark. As a teen he comes into his extraordinary abilities but is admonished by Jonathan against public displays; it will inevitably incite fear and rejection. Leaving the farm Clark meanders around the country taking sundry jobs and covertly saving people as possible. Eventually he manages to insert himself into a military exploration of an extraterrestrial (Kryptponian) craft was discovered in the artic. As soon as Clark enters it the long dormant artificial intelligence is activated and a hologram of Jor-el is activated explaining to his son his origins, i.e. recapping the initial scenes of the movie.
Journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from the Metropolis Daily Planet was dispatched to cover the mission. Lois is injured while looking around the ship and is saved thanks to Clark’s super powers. Back home her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) summarily rejects hew super human rescue angle but the intrepid report is not easily deterred. She traces Clark back to Kansas in hoping of writing the scoop of the century. In another break from the usual time line Clark relates his origins to her and Lois agrees to not pursue the story. It now Kal-el now using the nom de voyage of Superman to choose between the planet of his birth or the only world he has ever known as home. He must destroy Zod’s terraforming machine that is restoring Krypton’s ecology on earth and prevent him from using the codex to repopulate New Krypton.
In most cases when bringing a comic book to the screen the origin story is inherently ploddingly slow. The rational here is to introduce the backstory to audience members not familiar with the comic book established lore and relationships. In this case the necessity is every bit as crucial despite the fact that this is arguably the best known origin story in the history of comics. The problem is even within the context of comics and graphic novels there are now numerous conflicting ‘universes’ necessitating more exposition than ever to redefine the nuances and peculiarities of the elements in use here. This bloated the movie to close to two and a half hours, the longest Superman treatment to date. If the studio could just stick with a storyline and build upon it as the producers of the ‘Dark Knight’ franchise did they would be able to get some traction with character development.
The previous tried attempted to turn Superman into a religious icon with numerous Christ like images throughout the course of the movie. The dominant theme in this variation is the stranger in a strange land, the immigrant that came to the United States to fulfill his destiny. Like many fathers during the immigration boon of the nineteenth fathers much like Jor-el wanted something better for his child than their homeland could provide. He sent his son off to find and hopefully fill that destiny here. Discounting Lex Luther, Zod, as a fellow Kyrptonian is an interesting selection for a nemesis. A brilliant tactical mind combined with the same powers as Superman places the battles on an equal footing. Since so much of the time was devoted to re-explaining the particulars of the backstory the amount remaining for the ultimate confrontation is sacrificed accordingly. This is also where the choices for the cast became exceptionally critical, more so than usual. Henry Cavill is an interest choice for the titular role. Known for his powerful performances in HBO’s ‘The Tudors’ further sharpening his skills in a variety of parts. This gave him the combination of experience and freshness to the audience to fulfill what this movie required. As Zod was, in fact, more knowledgeable Kyrptonian giving the character to Michael Shannon worked out very well. His many years as a journeyman character actor provided him with a keen insight into motivation and character execution. This permitted Mr. Shannon a rather interesting take on the persona of Zod as a highly advanced alien motivated by the same drives a predispositions common to a professional solider. Some archetypes are by their nature inherently similar.
The 3D deployment was better than most not overly relying on the standard gimmicks and tricks to show off the illusion of depth. This might very well be attributed to his experience in visually intriguing features including ‘Sucker Punch’, ‘Watchmen ‘ and ‘300’. This experience in how to best relate a story through visual devices was a great help to him here but unfortunately revision of one of the most iconic mythologies of modern times requires a remarkable subtitle touch. I am extremely interested in his foray into bringing ‘World’s Finest’ magazine to life by the inclusion of Batman into the mix. I have to wonder if this is a prelude to a screen version of the Justice League.