If there’s one thing the first section of Man of Steel tells us, it’s that Kryptonians don’t fuck about. Whether it be planet-ravaging machinations or military zealots. They’re dialed up to 11.
So you may find yourself wondering during the running time that maybe director, Zack Snyder, is Kryptonian. After all, following the comic book adaptations of 300 and Watchmen, he could be Warner Bros’ Red Son. Either way, he’s certainly taken the Kryptonian ethos of all-go-no-quit. There is no fat on a film that has a lengthy running time with very few lulls.
Once the Earth landing is out of the way, we move to Kal...I mean, Clark’s wilderness years, getting us up to speed on the events so far and superbly flit to the highlights of Supes early times in Kansas with Ma & Pa Kent. It must be said that all of the flashbacks are beautifully crafted vignettes. Imagine the heartbreak and pathos of Alfred’s farewell to Bruce, in Dark Knight Rises, without the relationship building of a trilogy and told in 3-5 minute segments. It’s a wonder you care when you consider the constraints and familiarity with Donner and Singer’s early Superman movies. If Michael Bay had hold of it, it would be sun drenched Americana, but instead we get muted tone realism that only makes it all the more grounded and ultimately emotive.
Another hurdle Man of Steel manages to stride is that of the fantastic. Rather than go for the easy Superhero Origin we’ve come to know and love we get something more sci-fi. It must have been a worrying gambit for Goyer, Nolan et al, but in spite of the ships and tech we get a more grounded and realized DC universe (by way of metropolis) than we’ve had before (keep an eye out for DC Universe Easter Eggs throughout).
Now let’s get to it: Just how Super is Superman? Well, he’s super as all get-out. As are his Super/Kryptonian compatriots. Not since the likes of Justice League Unlimited have we seen the super hero knock-down-drag-outs that we do here. The result of every angry fist thrown on our fragile planet is brilliantly illustrated, particularly when we get caught in the crossfire.
He’s a difficult nut to crack, ol’ Supes. How do you make an audience worry about someone that’s nigh-invincible? You make him us and then you threaten the things you care about, whether it be our corn-bred hero or Ma Kent. And yet, without the successful bait and switch of emotional investment, the film would unravel come the third act, but Man of Steel manages to hang on in there and deliver the kind of air-punching victory you want.
Even if Man of Steel doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as Man of Bats, there’s not much humor and a sometimes too earnest heart. But isn’t that what the corn-fed boy, who fell from the sky and landed in Smallville, is all about?
4* – Cinematic New 52