“I grew up in Kansas, General. I’m about as American as it gets.”
Man of Steel flew into theatres five years ago and was received with mixed reactions from critics and fans. Many were stunned with the change in tone, while others were elated with a break from past iterations of our favorite alien superhero. Over the past five years, many have come to appreciate Zack Snyder’s bold vision, while others have continued to find more reasons to hate it. The one thing that has remained true and was even reaffirmed in Justice League, is that Henry Cavill is a wonderful Superman.
In this article I will review some of the elements that made this film so divisive; highlighting the good, the bad, and what to look forward to in the future. Now, without further ado, let’s get into this.
Snyder was a bold choice to direct this film. Many fans, myself included, have always felt that Snyder’s style of filmmaking and storytelling would be better fitted for more complex heroes, such as Batman. However, he found himself directing one of the most straightforward characters in comic book history: Superman. Snyder decided to do the unimaginable with this latest cinematic version of Superman: he made him a darker, more complex being. Someone whose problems stemmed from an existential dilemma. What is it like to be a God amongst men? Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, is a being with immense power. He was sent to earth to keep the memory of Krypton alive, and to be a beacon of hope for humankind. That can be very stressful for a young man who naturally wants to live a normal life. To present a more artistic and daring take on a character we all knew so intimately was brave and refreshing.
After nearly 80 years spent with the character in comic books, television, and movies, it made all the sense in the world to explore a different aspect of the character. He is no longer just a boy from Kansas. Of course, by breaking away from what is traditionally expected from the character the movie garnered some hate towards Snyder, but a new artistic vision should be celebrated. Don’t you want artists to take chances? This Superman may not have been in-line with the characteristics and personality we have become accustomed to, but that does not suggest that that person will not resurface (Remember, we got that glimpse of him in Justice League). Man of Steel was just the beginning of a more complex and well-rounded Superman.
Another thing that stands out is Henry Cavill. For many, Cavill came out of nowhere. There was an abandoned Superman film before MoS where he auditioned, and he later lost the role to Brandon Routh in Superman: Returns. Cavill was arguably destined to play Superman, it was just a matter of when. I was one the few souls who could genuinely say I knew him before he became Supes. He starred on a terrific series called The Tudors where he played Charles Brandon, best friend of King Henry VIII. Charles was complicated and required an actor who could carefully play to the nuances of the character, which Cavill accomplished. To become Superman, all he had to do was get into physical shape, which he totally did—and he wears the heck out of that costume. Many actors have called themselves Superman, but very few have ever truly embodied him. Cavill looked like he leapt right from the pages of a Superman comic, and to watch him take flight was a true wonder to behold. It is not often actors continue to be the character they play after they leave the set, but Cavill is one of those actors who do. He really does love his character and we hope to see him don that costume again. Snyder did an excellent job casting the British thespian. I should also say that costume designers James Acheson and Michael Wilkinsonshould get a round of applause. Very good job giving a modern aesthetic to the classic costume.
Of course, we need to get into the things that some really didn’t like. I am going to highlight what I think are some legitimate complaints I had with the film that have been echoed over the past five years by others. I will not go into the killing Zod situation. Could Superman have stopped Zod without killing him? Perhaps. Should he have killed Zod at all? Maybe not. Regardless, of how you feel about how that went down, it is what it is.
What stands out in Man of Steel is the lack of development with some of the characters and their relationships; the most important being the Lois and Clark‘s relationship. Historically, Lois and Clark know each other through the Daily Planet. Lois is a hot-shot reporter with a knack for uncovering the best stories, and Clark is just Clark. In MoS she is exactly that and on the trail of discovering who Superman is, but Clark is not a journalist. He becomes one at the end, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How does Clark go from being a nomad to being a freelance journalist for the Daily Planet, which presumably has incredibly high standards? Did he get his credentials from working at that bar? It is an odd choice, considering this is one of his most iconic traits. Where this relationship falls apart is just how quickly the two seem to fall in love; there is no build up. Lois and Clark barely have screen time together and when they do, they seemed to have skipped all the necessary steps in a relationship.
It is no secret that cinematic relationships can happen quickly, but it is odd that this one would be so haphazardly put together. Clark is barely defined as a person and he and Lois barely know each other. Their relationship should be a slow burn; they need to build their relationship, make it more than just a crazy adventure together. I guess the silver lining here is that they are together.
To be fair to Snyder’s vision, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Superman content. We have seen Superman reimagined plenty of times, and Man of Steel is one of many. One thing that has stayed consistent is Clark Kent’s persona. Clark is the perfect all-American guy, which is ironic since he is an extraterrestrial. Clark is kind, sweet, genuine, and most importantly, positive. This by no means suggests he is without sadness or darkness. His story is inherently sad. The life that the Kents provided him was the result of his whole planet being destroyed and never having a real relationship with his birth parents. But it is Clark’s resilience that has made him so admirable. Even without his gifts, you honestly believe that this man is a hero; he will always put the well-being of others before himself.
This is why Snyder’s somber take on the character seemed off-putting for a considerable portion of Superman fans. Some who relished in Clark’s eternal optimism and light were rather displeased with Man of Steel. Instead, the film seemed to be more interested in the philosophical elements of what it means to be a God among mortals. I believe Snyder was clearly interested in exploring Kal-El’s place in this world, without fully defining who Clark Kent is. It is certainly fascinating to explore the deeper thematic implications of Kal-El’s existence, however, it should not be at the expense of Clark Kent’s character development. This element of Superman’s character has been a source of great debate since his creation. Many arguing whether Clark Kent is the disguise or the real person behind Superman. Although Justice League is very far from perfect, the end of the film did delight fans and promised them their positive Superman back. There is a world where both visions can find balance in a film, we just need the right filmmaker to bring the two together.
This brings us to the final part of this article: Man of Steel needs a sequel. Christopher McQuarrie (MI: Rogue Nation) recently said that if Cavill asked, he would direct the sequel. His filmmaking track record proves he is more than capable of taking on the job. Whoever does end up helming Man of Steel 2 should be able to bring both Snyder’s vision and the traditional Superman together. It is important not to erase and ignore Snyder’s contributions to the character. Whoever helms Man of Steel 2 could take a simple yet effective approach like what Patty Jenkins did with Wonder Woman, or go big like what Snyder did with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. For five years, many have discussed the good and bad of Man of Steel and there is a lot to take away from the discussion. A clear picture should be drawn as how to approach the sequel. The potential is there and there is someone out there who is capable of doing what needs to be done!
As a lifelong fan of Superman, I have seen my beloved hero be given some great stories and some not–so great–stories. All I ask is that Warner Bros. takes their time and focuses on telling the best story possible, giving Man of Steel 2 every advantage to be the best it can be. I hope to have someone who truly loves and respects the character take the helm and tell a story that all Superman fans can enjoy.
Here’s to another 80 years of super Superman stories!