My first introduction to Superman was the 1978 film with Christopher Reeve. I picked it up back when I was in high school in preparation for the release of Superman Returns. You’d think, as someone who had grown up on Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s gothic Batman films, I would be cheesed out by the brightly optimistic Supes of old. I was not. I fell in love with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel and soon after fell even deeper in love with Brandon Routh’s incarnation (I will not apologize for being able to quote Superman Returns by heart). To me, Clark Kent has always been doofy, Lois Lane unable spell, Lex Luthor maniacal and bald, and Superman ready to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
It’s not entirely surprising then that Man of Steel came as a bad shock the first time I attempted to watch it. Here was a dark Superman who hadn’t even become Clark Kent of the Daily Planet yet. None of it set right with me so I turned off the film halfway through in frustration. Henry Cavill was not my Superman. I was not ready to accept this incredibly different vision.
Fast forward a couple years. Thanks to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, I’ve grown rather fond of Zack Snyder’s dreary vision for the DC Comics Extended Universe, and with Wonder Woman and Justice League looming on the horizon, I figured it was about time this DCEU apologist rewatched Man of Steel. All signs pointed to the glaring fact that maybe–just maybe–I had been too harsh on it my first time through. It was time to see if that was truly the case.
Man of Steel charts the origin story of Superman from his unconventional (by Krypton standards) birth to his first encounter with a supervillain. Unlike most superhero origin stories, Kal-El doesn’t baulk at becoming a caped hero. From his childhood, he knows it is his destiny to be a protector and a beacon of hope–the only question is when the time will arrive for him to come out of the shadows. The villainous General Zod’s arrival answers that question for him. As evildoers, Zod and his band of misfits are a formidable group for the newly minted Superman to go up against. The Kryptonians’ powers rival Superman’s, but thankfully, Kal-El has more experience using his abilities on Earth. As they become overwhelmed by their new strengths, Kal-El uses his superior knowledge against them–which keeps him alive even when their numbers make it impossible for him to defeat them alone.
It’s to Earth’s advantage then that Lois Lane, the shining star of Man of Steel, takes an interest.
While Man of Steel does have its weakness (pacing, lack of Clark Kent, etc.), its female characters are not among them. Lois might not be the bad speller of old, but the Lois of Man of Steel is still no damsel in distress. She’s equal parts hard-nosed news reporter and co-savior of mankind. If it wasn’t for Lois, Kal-El wouldn’t have known how to defeat Zod and destroy his terraforming machine. She actually blasts her way out of Zod’s ship with that information so she can make certain both Superman and the U.S. Army have the tools they need to make a final stand. That’s just the cherry on top. Lois is amazing throughout the entire film. She never misses an opportunity to be in the middle of the action–even after she gets attacked in a Kryptonian ship and Kal-El cauterizes her wound with his heat vision! Lois Lane is a hero without a cape and Man of Steel doesn’t forget it. That alone endears it in my heart.
Of course, Lois isn’t alone in stealing the show from the male characters. As assistant villain, Faora legitimately overshadows Michael Shannon’s Zod. If you had to choose which of the two to go up against, Faora would not be your pick (Which I suppose is one of the film’s weaknesses. Zod just doesn’t hold a candle to his second in command). Superman’s mother, Lara, also makes a memorable impression by standing up to Zod and feeling genuinely equal to her husband in orchestrating Kal’s future. She even watches her husband die in front of her while saving her son. Lara’s incredibly tough (and dresses like a proper space queen). It’s just incredible how Man of Steel sets the DCEU’s standard for the women stealing the show–something we see again in Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.
Unfortunately, one can’t talk about Man of Steel without addressing the notorious issue of Zod’s death scene. It needs to be said that I am against Superman killing people on principle–just like I’m against Batman killing people on principle (looking at you, Tim Burton’s Batman). However, the scene between Superman and Zod did not bother me as much in context as I expected it to. For me, what it all boiled down to was the fact that the Superman of Man of Steel was completely and absolutely green when it came to being a superhero. This is a Kal-El who just learned how to fly and who has never used his powers in battle before. It’s easy to say that Superman wouldn’t kill, but Kal is barely Superman at this point. He’s still learning to use his powers. It’s absolutely understandable that he might do something Superman wouldn’t. Beyond that, the fact that the killing feels like a last resort is important to me. Our green Superman begs Zod to stop hurting people before he breaks his neck. He is even in tears when he performs the actual act. It’s not an easy thing for him to do. You can tell that nearly breaks him. Kal-El is not a killer, but he is forced into the act as a last resort when he doesn’t know what else to do. In the future, I believe Superman can and will do better. For now, he tried his hardest to do what was right and fell short. I understand why he did it–even if I prefer the story didn’t call for him to do it in the first place.
On the whole, I enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s not a perfect film (it is the weakest film in the DCEU), but knowing the seeds it’s planting for the shared universe endears it in many ways. It also helps that it created amazing female characters and gave Henry Cavill the opportunity to put on nerd glasses as Clark Kent. I am more than pleased I gave Man of Steel another chance. It reminded me how much I love these characters–even if they weren’t quite what I expected to see.
Next up, Batman v Superman!
Who is your favorite Superman?
Image Source: Movie-Screencaps