Man of Steel director Zack Snyder had a difficult task. DC Comics has not had a bona fide hit on the big screen in years and with the latest effort to bring the Clark Kent story to life, Superman Returns, perceived (wrongly) as a failure -- it was an uphill journey to say the least.
Snyder has in fact triumphed. Hopes were especially high after that utterly moving third Man of Steel trailer, and the filmmaker has delivered now that Movie Fanatic has seen the movie in its 3D glory.
But, it must be said that a significant part of the success the 300 filmmaker has with his latest is due to screenwriter David S. Goyer (Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies) and his compelling and original script. The way he introduces the man who will become Superman is nothing short of brilliant.
By now we’ve all seen the story of the Kryptonian baby Kal-El, who is sent to Earth as his planet implodes on itself. Audiences are keenly familiar, after 70 years, of what happens next. He lands in Smallville, is adopted by Kansas farmers Martha and Jonathan Kent, makes his way to Metropolis as a journalist for The Daily Planet and moonlights as a high-flying hero who is faster than a speeding bullet.
Yet in Man of Steel, Snyder and Goyer kind of turn that story on its head.
We first meet Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as a lost twenty-something and through flashbacks are educated as to how this super man got to this point. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are impeccably cast as the Kents and Russell Crowe commands as Kal-El’s Krypton father, Jor-El. See, the crux of Snyder’s Man of Steel is the duality of Superman’s existence. He is the product of two fathers, and each want different things for their boy. One day, those worlds will collide and the question is whether greatness will come of it or whether he will shrivel from his extraordinary promise.
Costner’s Jonathan believes that the world will not understand his boy and his powers, and thus will shun and persecute him. Crowe’s Jor-El, on the other hand, believes that Earthlings will hold him as a hero, and marvel at his “god-like” powers for good.
As the film begins, viewers are treated to a vision of Krypton unlike we’ve ever seen. The planet has run out of resources and is collapsing on itself. Devastation seems eminent and as Crowe pleads with the planet’s leaders to do something… General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup in a last ditch effort to save his people from destruction. Snyder’s Zod is not of the same ilk as Terence Stamp’s from 1980’s Superman II.
Shannon brilliantly plays Zod as a military man who knows nothing but how he was trained. He is a man who is wired to go to the ends of the world in an effort to protect his people and ensure a lasting legacy. As Krypton is falling into disarray, he learns of Jor-El’s sending Kal-El out into the galaxy, complete with the future of their race. It is a moment that immediately sets in motion the conflict at the heart of Man of Steel. Zod only comes to Earth seeking Kal-El as he is the key to their people’s continuation. The reasons for this are kind of complicated as laid out in the plot, a small distraction from the overall joyousness that is Man of Steel.
Shannon is a vision of villainy with a moral purpose. He commands every scene as General Zod and it is easy to not see him as pure evil. Zod is a man driven by his DNA to restore Krypton to its glory, all through Kal-El. The yin to his yang is Cavill. As one who was suspect as this casting early, the young actor is a revelation as Clark Kent/Superman. And Amy Adams could not have been more perfectly cast as Lois Lane.
Speaking of Lois, she is definitely a woman of today’s time, instead of the driven journalist motivated solely by personal success in past incarnations. Adams’ character gets in on the action as the battle begins between Zod and Superman and proves to be integral to the outcome of the film.
Crowe also gets a meatier Jor-El than Marlon Brando did in the Christopher Reeve series. He appears throughout and serves as the moral compass of not only his son, but the entire picture.
As news arrived today that a Man of Steel sequel has been green lit, our Man of Steel review is not surprised. When Snyder and his team are given the keys to the institution that is Superman and produce a compelling and visionary version of one of the world’s greatest superheroes, there should be no end in sight to what they’re allowed to do with the franchise.