75 Years of Superman: Man of Steel (2013)

I’ve written a lot of Superman-related posts in the last month.  With this year marking Superman’s 75th birthday, I just couldn’t help myself.  There was also a new Superman movie coming out, and I was pretty pumped for it.  Christopher Nolan was producing and helped develop the story.  While 2006’s Superman Returns was a good movie, there were so many missed opportunities (as well as too many homages to the Richard Donner Superman films) that it came off as disappointing and, for me, was missing the feeling of an epic (something I had felt when I saw 1978’s Superman at the Ziegfeld theater a few years ago).  There was a lot riding on the new Superman movie (it was starting from scratch, there were Justice League rumors, etc.).  And so, the only question left to answer was: Does Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel succeed or not?

Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes.  It succeeds in re-starting the Superman franchise, and it certainly succeeds where Superman Returns failed.  It is not only NOT connected to any previous Superman film (including not using John Williams’ themes from previous Superman films in this film’s score) but it is also epic in its scope and feel.  The narrative devised by Nolan and David S. Goyer is a bit nonlinear (most of the Smallville scenes appear in flashbacks).  Superman’s origin is different yet familiar; Nolan and Goyer offer a new take on Krypton’s destruction and Superman’s destiny that ultimately succeeds (as much as I love the 1978 original with Christopher Reeve, I knew I had to set that film aside when judging this film).  Nolan and Goyer’s task in re-introducing Superman was not an easy one, and all of their hard work has paid off.

Although Man of Steel‘s Superman is one who was sent to Earth to avoid the destruction of Krypton, there was something special about him that made him different from all other Kryptonians.  Krypton had advanced to the point where all Kryptonian babies were genetically engineered.  Every new Kryptonian child was born in a chamber where their DNA had already been set up to a predetermined role in Kryptonian society.  With Kal-El being the first naturally-born Kryptonian in centuries, he was free to choose his own destiny; to become something more than he ever thought possible.

Indeed, this is the Superman movie that Bryan Singer should’ve given us seven years ago.  We are presented with the origin story, but it gets told in a different way that’s just so damned cool.  From the changes to Zod and his followers to Lois’ investigative reporting, the film succeeds in bringing Superman into our modern world.  The use of the holographic Jor-El was surprising but ultimately fun.  Having Lois figure out that Kal-El and Clark Kent are the same person early on just made sense.  Director Zack Snyder delivered heart-pounding action and a believable amount of damage left in the wake of Superman’s battles with Zod and his followers.  James and Michael Wilkinson’s costumes designs were top-notch, as was Alex McDowell’s incredible production design, Victoria Down’s makeup design, Amir Mokri’s cinematography, and David Brenner’s film editing (the film is kept at a good pace and never wears out its welcome during its two-and-a-half hour running time).

John Williams wrote a memorable, Oscar-nominated score for 1978’s Superman, and his themes would be adapted for its three sequels as well as Superman Returns.  For this film, regular Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer was brought on to write the score.  Zimmer’s music is serviceable and good (I did actually buy the 2-disc deluxe edition soundtrack release and enjoyed it).  With that being said, Zimmer’s music did leave a lot to be desired.  If I had to pick the film’s weakest element, it would be the music.  Zimmer makes the same mistake with his music for Superman that he made with his music for Batman.  His Batman music sounded like generic action music out of his own music library (the best pieces of music in 2005’s Batman Begins and 2008’s The Dark Knight were actually composed by James Newton Howard), and his Superman music, while nailing the drama and emotion, doesn’t even remotely suggest “Superman.”  If someone had played me the soundtrack without telling me it was from Man of Steel, I might’ve guessed it was composed by Hans Zimmer but I wouldn’t have thought it was from a Superman movie.  It doesn’t help that in several interviews Zimmer stated that he felt he was the wrong choice to score the film.  It pains me to actually agree with him in this particular case.  Recent examples of composers who nailed their superhero scores include Patrick Doyle (Thor), Alan Silvestri (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers), James Horner (The Amazing Spider-Man), and Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3).

The cast was in fine form.  Henry Cavill is a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve and makes the role of the Man of Steel his own (something that Brandon Routh wasn’t allowed to do in Superman Returns).  Amy Adams is a terrific Lois Lane; her take as a reporter is more believable in our modern world than previous adaptations.  Michael Shannon is excellent as General Zod; his motivations for his actions are intriguing and clear (despite how despicable they become).  The supporting performances from Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), Ayelet Zurer (Lara Lor-Van), Antje Traue (Faora), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), and Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton) are also first-rate.

Overall, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel represents the successful cinematic return of Superman, and it is my sincere hope that a sequel will get made (one in which the amount of care put into it matches or exceeds the large amount of care that was put into this film).  I’m also hoping that a high quality Justice League movie gets made AFTER the Man of Steel sequel.  But for now, I’m proud to say that Superman’s cinematic future is looking very bright.

6 responses to “75 Years of Superman: Man of Steel (2013)

  1. Pingback: 75 Years of Superman: Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short | THE CINEMATIC FRONTIER

  2. Good review, I just loved it. As a Superman Origin story it was true enough to the source but also Zach Snyder made it his own. The cast and acting were top notch, I got the soundtrack as well funnily enough, I also understand what you mean but to completely avoid the same music and theme it had to go more atmospheric and that’s what Zimmer does 😀

    Oh and how glorious where the fight scenes? Its like Snyder pulled them straight out a Saturday cartoon 😀

    • The fight scenes were awesome. As for the music, it wouldn’t have killed Zimmer to create a big, bold new heroic theme for Superman (Danny Elfman would’ve done it for the Tim Burton Superman movie 15 years ago if that movie had actually gotten made).

      • I have a theory about this film that because it was a origin film and that superman barely got a chance to play the iconic hero role that the theme music and saving people on trains will come in a sequel, when he is comfortable in the role of ‘Superman’. So we may get the heroic theme to match with the events of a sequel like the score did with the events of this film 😀

      • A good theory, but I wouldn’t get my hope up if it’s Zimmer who’s scoring the sequel.

      • Yeah its not his wheel house, maybe he can co write a score with another composer? We’ll see 😀

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