Movie Review: Man of Steel
By Matthew Huntley
June 20, 2013
Superman: The Movie (1978) set such a high standard for bringing the iconic character to life that it seems any other attempt to tell Superman’s origin story would be automatically dismissed. Even to this day, Richard Donner’s film is often considered “the superhero movie of superhero movies,” which is saying a lot considering how prolific the genre has become. Whereas one superhero movie used to come along every few years, now they’re a dime a dozen and span across all of Hollywood’s seasons, not just the summer. But even with talent like Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy) or Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) behind and in front of the camera, many would agree the original Superman can never be matched in terms of quality, craftsmanship and influence. It helps, of course, that it was also the first of its kind.
With this in mind, it would be pointless to compare Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel to Donner’s masterpiece, not only because over 30 years of filmmaking and cultural shifts separate the two, but because Snyder’s movie is neither trying to one-up Donner’s nor pay homage to it. It’s a different entity and interpretation of the material altogether, and therefore we should judge it as one. And although it’s inevitable any fan of the original film is going to draw comparisons, these shouldn’t weigh in on the new movie’s value.
And despite its flaws, Man of Steel does have value. It’s a mighty bold undertaking to try and tell Superman’s origin story in a way that’s different from what we’re used to, but Snyder and his team mostly succeed, especially when it comes to making an entertaining blockbuster. They eventually get carried away, and the movie lacks the indelibility for us to consider it an “important” entry within the superhero genre, but its structure, performances and pathos, and to a lesser degree its action, are enough to keep moviegoers - and even the most ardent Superman fans - satisfied.
You know the general story, although Man of Steel adds its own fresh and interesting details. The planet Krypton, which has not had a natural birth in thousands of years, is unstable and about to explode. Only scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) knows this and he and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) decide to send their only son, Kal-El, who was conceived and born naturally, to Earth in an effort to save him. Jor-El believes his son can also form a bridge between humans and Kryptonians, which is why he steals and packs the codex that contains their genetic language into Kal-El’s spacecraft.
General Zod (Michael Shannon) has a different agenda. He wants to wipe out the human race and us their planet to start a new Krypton. After being jailed for treason and escaping the Phantom Zone, Zod sets his eyes on Earth and conquering its population, but he needs the codex. Of course, this is where Superman comes into play, but luckily Man of Steel isn’t just about his and Zod’s ensuing battle.