Going into Man of Steel I brought a lot of baggage. I’ve never been much of a Zack Snyder fan, and while I can appreciate his fanatically faithful adaptations of 300 and Watchmen (I’ll even go so far as to say that his ending of Watchmen is better than Alan Moore’s), I absolutely hated Sucker Punch. It looked great, but was shallow, vile, juvenile and jaw-droppingly stupid.
Add to that that I was beginning to suffer from Superhero Fatigue, and have never been much of a Superman fan (he’s invincible and an alien, why should I care?), and it’s safe to say that I wasn’t really bothered which way Man of Steel fell. I was lucky enough to see the very first screening here in Hong Kong, a week before its general release, with only a dozen or so exhibitors and Warner execs in an otherwise spectacularly empty IMAX theatre. So it wasn’t hard to get a good seat – I had the entire row to myself.
And the movie hit me hard.
I don’t want to dwell on the film’s overlong, overloud and overly destructive final third. It was an ill-conceived attempt to best The Avengers, which managed to negate Superman’s primary ethos of protecting Mankind in the process. It was pretty spectacular visually, but lacked imagination, intelligence or insight – things that, for its first 90 minutes or so, Man of Steel displayed in fantastic fashion.
When I say Man of Steel hit me hard, I mean emotionally. I cried real wet manly tears on more than one occasion – and almost every time it was during the quiet moments between Clark Kent and his adopted father, Pa Kent. Kevin Costner absolutely kills it in this film and it’s a delight to see him in such a massive project again, after falling so spectacularly from the giddy heights of the early 90s.
I loved watching Kal-el wrestle with his responsibilities. It was incredibly Christ-like, the most overtly so on-screen to-date, and there were definite echoes of The Last Temptation of Christ in the struggle of its all-powerful protagonist. After an insanely-conceived, and admittedly overlong opening on Krypton, the sequences of an adult Clark wandering the Earth, staying off the grid, and refusing to engage with Society are extremely well realised, convincing and often gorgeous to look at.
On opening night I went back to see the film again, and admittedly, its flaws are far more obvious second time around. While I appreciated the logic behind the changes to Clark’s relationship with Lois, their romance is woefully under-developed, which will come as a shock to those who have always enjoyed the contrived love triangle of Superman, Lois and Clark in the past.
Michael Shannon brings his all to a ridiculously underwritten villain, and still manages to project his imposing screen presence despite no doubt feeling this material is drastically beneath him. He has now been exposed to a huge global audience for the first time, and it should give his career and profile a massive boost, should he choose to exploit it.
However, despite its flaws, the reluctance to acknowledge the wider DC universe (outside of a few logos) and the senseless destruction that goes entirely unaddressed, I thoroughly enjoyed the gambles Snyder, Nolan and Co. took with the character. They chose not to simply rehash another tale of the man in the flying pants, but to look deeper, take him to places darker, and really earn that final decision to man-up and become a hero. Henry Cavill is superb as Superman, and for once, Zack Snyder’s vision worked for me. With greater consideration to the consequences of what happens from this point on, both in the story, but also in the film series itself, I believe that the Man of Steel can fly.