Rewind Reviews – Man of Steel

Posted on 25 June 2018
By Andrew Siddall
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In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster changed the face of comic books forever by introducing the world to the first superhero, suitably named Superman. He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

80 years later, we have had several big and small screen adaptations of the iconic DC comic’s character. In this Rewind Review, we take a look back at the latest incarnation from 2013, the Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel.

In a post-Christopher Nolan world, the direction that this adaptation took was much darker and grounded than we had previously seen, which stirred much controversy among fans, who were hoping to see the bright symbol of hope he had always been.

Brit Henry Cavill dons the red cape and boots for the first time as Clark Kent, who is trying to find his way in the world, seeking meaning for his life on Earth by travelling across the globe for answers. He doesn’t quite have the hope and joy of Christopher Reeves’ iconic take in Superman: The Movie (1978), but he conveys a lot of optimism, which is a great trait for any Superman to have.

Every Man of Steel needs their Lois Lane, and in this version we have Amy Adams starring as the feisty Daily Planet reporter. She makes her mark on the role and gives a solid performance, but at times she is reduced to a damsel in distress who needs constant saving.

For instance, she is taken aboard the Kryptonian’s ship for no real reason other than to be a plot device to help Supes out of a problem, this is then followed by a scene of Superman trying to save her. In fairness, they do try to say why she is there, but it doesn’t quite add up under the circumstances.

Without question, the best characters in this film are Superman’s parents, both human and Kryptonian. Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer star as his biological parents, Jor-El and Lara from Krypton, with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as adopted parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Both groups of parents offer Clark a contrasting path, with Jor-El wanting his son, Kal-El, to be an example and a symbol of hope for the world to follow, whereas the Kent’s are concerned with protecting their son, Clark, from a world that might not be ready for someone like him. It’s an incredible focal point for the movie and it needed more screen time to develop further.

Being a superhero movie, there needs to be an antagonist that matches the protagonist in either brains or brawn, and in General Zod, they found both. The Shape of Water’s Michael Shannon stars as a Zod who is more concerned with protecting his people, rather than conquering the planet like Terence Stamp’s version in Superman II (1981).

His characterisation is much more intense and feels realistic, but there isn’t much to him in terms of personality until one moment quite late on in the film, where it becomes difficult to not feel a twinge of sympathy for him.

The story has an interesting structure by showcasing a non-linear origin story, with part of the movie showing Clark becoming the Man of Steel during an alien invasion, interconnected with flashbacks from his youth, trying to deal with his powers. It’s a good idea and separates it from most of the average superhero films that came out the same year.

Where Superman Returns (2006) focused on the character interactions, Man of Steel brings the action. Each set piece is huge and completely fitting for the characters. They are filmed brilliantly, feel tense and have a realistic brutality to them.

The first half of the movie only has quick bursts of action before the beginning of the Kryptonian attack, then things start to truly kick off, such as an incredible scrap in the quiet town of Smallville, between Superman and Zod’s wife Faora, and the main invasion on Metropolis.

Even though the Metropolis section genuinely does feel like a proper alien invasion, with the public frantically trying to escape the ruins, along with Laurence Fishburne’s perfectly cast Perry White, it does begin to drag towards the end, with the dust settling after the main attack before another huge and destructive fight breaks out between Superman and Zod.

This did stir most of the controversy, but lead to a brilliant opening scene in 2016’s follow-up Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which focused on the destruction of the city and the unfortunate people, including Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, caught in the middle of it all.

The effects throughout the film are spectacular, especially in the bigger scenes as well as Superman’s cape. But problems start to appear when the film starts to rely too heavily on 3D models of the characters, which don’t look right having the actor’s faces Photoshopped onto them.

The designs of the costumes, the ships and the technology are fantastic and suit this more realistic world. The patterns on the Superman suit look alien and separate it from anything we’ve seen before.

The issue with the designs, is the colour scheme. Behind the scenes pictures and videos have shown bold and vibrant colours on the sets and costumes, but the film itself looks desaturated and much darker. This doesn’t echo the warm symbol of hope and light that Superman is, instead it gives us a colder world.

The lighting also reflects this with most of the shots of Superman being the brightest, either with the sun shining on him or bright lights from behind him. It’s an artistic choice that works and helps to establish Superman as a beacon in the dark, but it still feels cold.

There aren’t many artists up to the challenge of creating a new Superman theme, made famous by legendary composer John Williams, but luckily, The Dark Knight composer, Hans Zimmer, was. The new score is some of Zimmer’s best work to date. It highlights the sci-fi aspect perfectly and provides some truly uplifting and epic moments, such as Superman’s first flight and the battle with Zod’s World Engine.

Overall, this is an interesting take on the Man of Steel. There’s some great acting and epic action, and manages to find a lot of time to dig into the mind of the character in new ways, making him seem more human than ever. Whether or not fans truly enjoy this movie is debatable, but it’s hard to deny that this is arguably the best and most consistent offering from the DCEU.

Purple Revolver rating: 4/5. A hopeful beginning.