No Red Underwear? ‘Man of Steel’ Retrospective
It's not a bird or a plane, but a flying brick
This was so bizarre. Due to the Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe being so acclaimed it was only a matter of time before Warner Bros. (WB) decided to make their own connected films. Green Lantern, which came out in 2011 and was directed by Martin Campbell and starred Ryan Reynolds, was originally supposed to be the first film in their DC Expanded Universe (DCEU). However, the film was a flop and nearly destroyed Reynolds’ career.
WB instead decided to reboot the franchise with DC’s flagship superhero, Superman. Despite already being told numerous times, including in 2005’s Superman Returns, and literally having a 10-year prequel in the Smallville television series, WB wanted to tell the events of Superman’s origin again, but for a modern audience.
Eventually the film was released in 2013 titled Man of Steel. It’s a superhero fantasy film directed by Zack Snyder and starred Henry Cavill in the titular role. It was a highly anticipated film since it was a modern take on the world’s most famous superhero. However, the reaction was mixed at best.
If you’re familiar with Superman’s backstory, you already know most of the plot. The planet Krypton is about to explode. Before that happens, a Kryptonian council member named Jor-El and his wife place their baby son in a rocket and send him to Earth. The baby is found by a couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent on their farm in Smallville, Kansas. They name the baby Clark and unofficially adopt him as their son.
As Clark grows up and learns about his Kryptonian heritage, he discovers what kind of man he wants to be. While this is happening, rogue Kryptonians make their way to Earth led by General Zod of the Kryptonian council. They want to find Clark and get him to help them turn Earth into a new Krypton.
The film drew criticism from its first image. It was a picture of Cavill in the new Superman costume in front of a vault. The hair was slick, the cape was elongated, and there was no longer red underwear. Some liked the lack of underwear, while others noted how different Superman appeared overall.
The beginning of the film is the mandatory Krypton portion that shows the planet in its final day. The planet’s council is in turmoil, the army led by General Zod turns on the council, and councilman Jor-El makes a last-ditch effort to save both his son and his people. He gets a McGuffin called a codex and fuses it with his son.
As Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe, and his wife Lara, played by Ayelet Zurer, place their son in a rocket and send him to Earth, Zod breaks into the launch area and kills Jor-El. Zod orders his men to destroy the rocket, but he and his men are arrested by the council. They’re trialed for their crimes and are sentenced to the Phantom Zone, pocket dimension that acts as a prison.
Lara is left alone as the planet literally explodes in her face. The rocket flies through space and crashes on a farm in Smallville, Kansas.
It is at this point where the film’s story is told in a very strange way. The baby, who was adopted by a couple and named Clark Kent, is shown as a man traveling and taking various jobs. The film is constantly cutting from him as a man to him growing up as a child.
We see his adoptive parents in the flashbacks, Johnathan and Martha Kent, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane respectively. Martha Kent is the loving mother who fully embraces Clark as her son. She actually helps Clark control his developing super senses.
Johnathan is a bit different. He reveals to Clark that he’s from space and kept the rocket Clark came in underneath the barn. While he initially says that Clark can do amazing things he strongly encourages him to stay hidden from society. This part of the film drew huge criticism as it contradicts what Superman’s father would say. He would encourage Clark to use his developing abilities to help others, but here he outright tells Clark that he should let people die. This eventually does happen, but we’ll talk about that later.
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, gets word of a spaceship discovered in the arctic region. She goes to investigate the ship and briefly runs into Clark, who saves her from an onboard robot.
Clark discovers a holographic A.I. of his birth father Jor-El, who teaches him of his Kryptonian heritage. This is one of my criticisms, why is Jor-El the only A.I. there to meet Clark? You would think his mother Lara would appreciate the same thing, to show her son her face at least.
Anyway, Clark gets a red and blue Kryptonian suit and learns from the A.I. that he’s absorbing solar energy from the sun and is granted abilities normal Kryptonians don’t possess. This explains his unnatural abilities. The A.I. tells Clark to keep testing his abilities to see what he can do.
This is another criticism I have. We see Clark hopping around the arctic learning to fly. Why has it taken him so long to learn how to fly? Originally, he learned to fly in his teens. I know it’s a reboot and is different, but it just feels awkward for him to learn such a trademark ability so late in life.
Superman learns how to fly
Also, the scene where Clark’s first flying is the only fun scene in the film. We see Clark with a smile on his face soaring all over the place with whimsical music playing. You will notice by now that the film is awfully dreary in both coloring and mood. The film does its best to bring in as much emotion as it can, which doesn’t work for Superman. Superman has always been a series where Superman knew who he was and what he wanted to do. Here, he’s very moody and has no idea what he wants.
It’s not just him, it’s also the other characters. They start off lively and active but are quickly reduced to moody messes. The scene where Lois is talking to her boss, Perry White, played by Laurence Fishburne, starts off as a very straight forward scene where Perry is demanding and assertive, and Lois is a straight forward no-nonsense reporter. Moments later they’re both talking slow and are attempting to force in sad emotions. Similarly, Johnathan Kent starts off with a lively personality but later shifts to telling Clark that he’s the answer to the world’s problems and talks slowly and moody.
Basically, by forcing in moody emotions the characters ultimately end with them being flat. They’re all uninteresting and have no personalities, every single character. If you’re familiar with the source material, you wouldn’t know who Lois Lane was in this film if no one ever addressed her.
When Krypton exploded it opened the portal to the Phantom Zone and Zod and his men escaped. They took a ship and came to Earth shortly after Clark learned to fly. They broadcast throughout the world in different languages that they’re aliens who are looking for one of their own on Earth.
Clark, in his Kryptonian outfit, turns himself in to the military, who turn him in to Zod. Zod explains to Clark that he wants to use his ship as a terraforming machine to turn Earth into a new Krypton. He wants Clark’s help. Naturally, Clark rejects and fights against Zod’s forces. It’s also around this time where people begin calling Clark Superman.
The action is amazing. The way Superman flies through the sky punching the other Kryptonians is like the fights in Dragon Ball Z. They’re all exiting scenes except for the forced product placements.
The music was composed by Hans Zimmer. The songs are alright, the best being the main theme and the Zod suite. However, the songs all have that deep ‘Brrrrr’ sound in all of them.
Overall, Man of Steel is a mixed bag. The action scenes and visuals are beautiful but that’s about it. The movie is void of color, the characters are flat, and there’s plot devices that go nowhere, such as the codex plot. Zod’s plan of terraforming Earth makes no sense, especially when you consider that Zod and his men could live peacefully on Earth and become stronger than they were on Krypton.
Another criticism is the deaths. Many complain that Superman allowed thousands to die. During the terraforming scene lots of people are lifted into the air and slammed into the ground. Johnathan allows himself to die even though he could have Clark save him. Superman kills someone at the end and the audience is supposed to feel sorry for him since it goes against his morals, but there’s no mention of this at all so it’s pointless emotion.
I’m positive that outside the action scenes you won’t come back to view this. If you want a better Superman movie, look at the 70s film or Superman Returns.
First teaser trailer
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