There has always been an obvious question mark about the Superman universe: Why does Kal-El’s species look–and behave–exactly like humans do? Are they not meant to be a superior alien race that lives thousands and thousands of miles from Earth? The answer to the second question is “yes”, and the answer to the first probably lies somewhere in the naivety and innocence of Superman’s creators.
Superman looks human because that’s what the people of the ’40s wanted to see: A superhero they could relate to. We’ve accepted Kal-El’s humanoid ancestry because we’ve never had the technology or the bravery to change it. But now, with Man Of Steel (and with Christopher Nolan co-writing the story), I expected a more realistic approach to the subject matter. I expected the people of Krypton to not look so human, to maybe have a tentacle, or six limbs, or a tail. After all, the movie gives us a brand new look at the planet Krypton, and a couple of the bizarre creatures that live there.
Why did I expect this? Because there has always been a missing link between the humans and the Kryptonians. They are two completely different species, and yet they share identical appearances. I’d assume that this is the reason why Jor-El chooses Earth as his son’s foster planet–so that his son can blend in with everyone else–but Man Of Steel sidesteps it completely. There is even a scene where General Zod intercepts Earth’s frequencies to broadcast a global message, urging Kal-El to surrender himself to him, and he says “He will look like you, but he is not one of you”. This line would have made more sense if Kal-El had adopted a human appearance in order to blend in, much like the Thermians do in Galaxy Quest.
Superman Returns, the most recent film of the franchise before this one, goes a step further and has Superman father a child with Lois Lane. How does this happen?! Has Superman spent so much time on Earth that his DNA has somehow adapted along with the rest of his body? Maybe there’s a story arc I’ve missed, somewhere in the comics, that explains this phenomenon. There needs to be a stronger distinction between the two, but sadly, Man Of Steel misses this golden opportunity to evolve the source material.
But enough of the biological complaints. I’m here to talk about Man Of Steel which, I must say, is both a hit and a miss. It’s a hit because finally, we get a Superman worthy of the costume he wears. The previous series of films got to a point where newcomer Brandon Routh looked like a placeholder for the man who actually belonged in the red and blue suit. There was no love, no drive. This time, Henry Cavill, with his body chiseled out of marble, fills the tights and cape perfectly, and he genuinely looks like he belongs in it.
His character is given a conflict, and just like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins before him, he needs conflict to become a superhero we can care about. He’s not just fighting off a villain, he’s trying to discover who he is, who he was, and who he’s meant to be. He is torn between the love of this new world he’s been living in and the naturalized attachment he has for his home planet of Krypton. He doesn’t want the people of Earth to suffer (even though they do, but I’ll talk about that later), nor does he want to hurt his own kind. This is brilliant for the development of both Superman as well as Clark Kent. No longer is he just a hero who does some cool stuff while battling a foe; he is a being with feelings.
There is no point detailing the plot of this movie, because the story of Superman has been told time and time again. What is worth mentioning, though, is that its main villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon), needs to hunt Kal-El down in order to extract the genetic codex–the binary and cellular data of all the Kryptonians–from his body (Jor-El fuses it with the infant Kal-El moments before sending him off to Earth in a capsule). Why Jor-El (Russell Crowe) does this I shouldn’t divulge, but it leads Zod on a merciless invasion of Earth in an attempt to find Kal-El and recover the stolen codex.
Needless to say, this invasion is completely and utterly catastrophic. Without trying to give too much of the story away, I can tell you that in Man Of Steel, almost the whole of Metropolis is decimated. Buildings are exploded, smashed, sliced, punctured, drilled, crumbled, and toppled (and we thought Transformers: Dark Of The Moon was bad). There is so much devastation–and I’m assuming so many lives lost–that it makes me question the integrity of Superman’s purpose. Is he not meant to save the people of Earth, to be our knight in shining armour? Why, then, does he show no remorse for the trillions of dollars worth of damage he causes? Even when he takes a fight out into space, there must be a satellite in his way waiting to be destroyed. It’s just hit after hit, smash after smash, explosion after explosion.
All this destruction also made me question the believability of the movie’s last scene. But I shall not go into that.
And then there is the case of the secondary characters, best of which is Zod. Michael Shannon–who seems perfectly comfortable playing roles that require him to yell–embodies Zod with confidence, ferocity, and a certain frailty. From the get-go, he gets himself into trouble by doing the right thing, or what he perceives to be right, and we can later understand his motives, even if we cannot condone his actions. Amy Adams is fine as Lois Lane, but the character needs work. Apart from being a reporter (the quality of her skills is never actually realized), she doesn’t do much else, and the chemistry she is supposed to have with Cavill seems to be lost somewhere in the arctic tundra.
I’d like to talk about all four of Kal-El’s parents, but none of them made an impact on me big enough to warrant a discussion. Not even Russell Crowe, whose acting ability now will always be measured against his frightful portrayal of Javert in Les Miserables, singing or not. It is a pity that aside from Cavill and Shannon, no one else ups the ante.
I didn’t go into this movie with any sort of real expectations, and I came out of it feeling somewhat perplexed, and at the same time, disappointed. Here was a great chance for Nolan, David Goyer, and Zack Snyder to do something revolutionary with America’s favourite superhero, to turn the tables and truly modernize a legend, to give him a 360-degree uplift, to make us fall in love with the man of steel all over again. Instead, they give us some wonderful visual effects, some great character building, many–and I mean many–cheesy moments and dialogue, a whole lot of senseless destruction, and an overall package that simply underwhelms.
Is Superman a hero or a guardian? Is he human or alien? Will he carry out his father’s plan? If he does, how will he do it? Everyone has a different idea of who Superman is, and everyone will approach his story differently. If you like a whole lot of death and destruction, then Man Of Steel is the movie for you. It’s a fast-paced, loud blockbuster that delivers what its title promises: a man seemingly made out of impenetrable steel. But if you want a Superman who’s both new and nostalgic, you may end up feeling the way I did: Disappointed.
Best Moment | Many of Superman’s fight scenes are good, but the few in which he comes in out of nowhere to tackle an intimidating Zod through rows and rows of buildings are quite spectacular.
Worst Moment | Superman’s and Lois’ kiss. Or the “I think he’s kinda hot” line. Sheesh.