MAN OF STEEL
You would think that DC Comics only need look at the success that Marvel is having on movie screens and it would occur to them we have just as many comic-book properties here, we could be doing the same. Heck, DC is even owned by a film studio Warner Brothers yet despite this seemed unable through the whole of the 2000s up until 2016 to get their act together while Marvel managed to make The Avengers despite the characters previously appearing in films made at different studios. Certainly, DC have had some undeniable successes on the big screen during this same time period with Christopher Nolans trilogy of Batman films Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) all of which have received rapturous fan reception and box-office reception. Outside of the Batman films though, DCs success on the big screen has been spotty. There have been adaptations of Jonah Hex (2010) and Green Lantern (2011) but both were heavily disliked by fans (although I kind of liked the latter and it was still successful enough that a sequel has been discussed). The only other DC film works have been more distaff titles that stand outside of regular DC continuity such as Constantine (2005) and Zack Snyders Watchmen (2009), a good film that again met mixed critical reception but at least enjoyed good box-office. The entire run of DC superhero films throughout the 2000s is equal to the amount of films that Marvel has released in any two years of the decade. It is not as though there is no interest in DC-based films but an extraordinary number of these seem to have spent their time dithering in perpetual turnaround David S. Goyers plans for a film version of The Flash; Joss Whedons plans for a Wonder Woman film and then a David E. Kelley tv pilot that was shot but failed to air; a Justice League film that has passed through several directors and even had a cast line-up announced. DC have fared somewhat better on tv screens with the long-running success of Smallville (2001-11) and Arrow (2012 ), while the animated screen has had a good deal of success with various adaptations of DC comics-book titles from producer Bruce Timm, which have also been spun off into a series of dvd releases that adapt various graphic novels. Certainly, not long after Man of Steel came out, DC had considerable success on the tv screen with the launch of a series of tv series based on their comic-book properties with the likes of Gotham (2014 ), The Flash (2014 ) and Supergirl (2015 ).
The sole other DC film on the big screen during this period was Bryan Singers Superman Returns (2006) starring Brandon Routh. Singer made it as a homage to the first two Christopher Reeve films Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) and followed on from these in terms of continuity. Superman Returns was in turn the culmination of a decade-long attempt to revive Superman most notably the Tim Burton directed, Nicolas Cage starring Superman Lives project that passed through the hands of various directors and some decidedly wacky permutations for which see the full story in the documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015). In the contemporary press writing about Man of Steel, Superman Returns was inexplicably regarded as a flop this is quite simply untrue, it was the sixth top earning film in the US in 2006, the ninth worldwide. What it does suffer from is bad public perception. I am not sure why there are even digs about its awfulness in Ted (2012). There is a lot of good to the film Brandon Routh makes for a fine Superman and Kevin Spacey a wonderfully barnstorming Lex Luthor.
Immediately after Superman Returns, a sequel was announced to be called Superman: The Man of Steel. As the negative public perception started to kick in, interest in this waned until the success of Christopher Nolans The Dark Knight. The project gained renewed interest particularly when Nolan signed on, promising to rework Superman with the same approach he had Batman. The production was shorn of the Superman part of the title and, as in The Dark Knight, simply known as The Man of Steel and later Man of Steel, both informal sobriquets that have been coined by DC for the respective characters. Under Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, who solicited script contribution from a number of comic-book writers, it was decided that Man of Steel would act as a complete reboot of the character, abandoning any connection to previous films.
Certainly, when it comes to a comic-book adaptation, you could hardly go far wrong with having the names of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan united under one roof. Zack Snyder is a director who first appeared with the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and then went onto the comic-book adapted likes of 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009), as well as other ventures into the fantasy genre with Legends of the Guardian: The Owls of GaHoole (2010) and Sucker Punch (2011), as well to write/produce 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) and produce Suicide Squad (2016). While Dawn of the Dead and Sucker Punch emerged with decidedly mixed effect, what you cannot deny is that Snyder approached both 300 and Watchmen with a scrupulous regard for the minutiae of each source work and adapted them with great faithfulness, even down to replicating drawn comic panels. Christopher Nolan is a director who has gained an enormous cult following with the aforementioned Batman films and other works like Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and Inception (2010). Nolans approach to DC Comics has been almost the opposite of Zack Snyders he has regularly downplayed fantastical elements and frequently abandoned canon and substantially rewritten characters origin stories. It was interesting to anticipate which of these two approaches Man of Steel would take. Aside from Snyder and Nolan, there is also David S. Goyer on script. Goyer is probably the Hollywood go-to writer when you want to adapt a comic-book to film, he having handled scripts for the likes of The Crow: City of Angels (1996), Blade (1998), Nick Fury, Agent of Shield (tv pilot, 1998), Blade II (2002), Blade Trinity (2004), Nolans Batman films, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), and acted as executive producer of Ghost Rider (2007), as well as written original scripts for The Puppet Masters (1994), the breathtaking conceptual science-fiction film Dark City (1998) and Jumper (2008), has created/produced the tv series Flash Foward (2009-10), DaVincis Demons (2013-5) and Constantine (2014-5), produced The Forest (2016) and directed the likes of Blade Trinity, The Invisible (2007) and The Unborn (2009).
I ended up with mixed feelings about Man of Steel. It should be said that these comments come from someone who grew up with the Christopher Reeve films and reading Superman on the comic-book page. In the quick soundbite response, Man of Steel ends up being a film where you spend the first half irritated with the substantial liberties it takes with comic-book canon and the other half bored with the mass destruction spectacle that drags on and on. I felt ho-hum during the opening scenes on Krypton. The traditional comic-book view of Krypton as a world of Grecian perfection was thrown out by the Christopher Reeve films for a design scheme that created an amazing world of crystalline splendour. In its concerted effort to reinvent everything from scratch, Man of Steel abandons either of these for what Snyder calls a world based on geothermal designs, while David S. Goyers script incorporates many of the details from the reboot of Krypton mythos that came in after Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986). Alas, on screen it just looks like Stock Science-Fiction World No #47 and there is nothing standout about any of it. Some of the origin story has been rewritten in favour of a modern environmental allegory Krypton is about to implode because its people have squandered its natural resources to the point of their own destruction. Russell Crowe does an okay Jor-el but I still preferred the gravitas that Marlon Brando had in the part.
Thereafter, things start to get confusing. All of the other tellings of the Superman origin story the ones we see in the serial Superman (1948), the 1978 film, Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996) and Smallville (2001-11) take a linear approach that follows the destruction of Krypton, the young Kal-els arrival on Earth, his adoption by the Kents, the discovery of his superpowers, the journey to Metropolis and his assumption of the secret identity of meek, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent and emergence as the fully developed Superman. To the contrary, Man of Steel seems to skip from the first of these to the last. We abruptly cut from the launch of the rocket and its nearing Earth to a mature bearded adult Henry Cavill on the road although not yet having become the caped Superman. Some, although not all, of the rest of the story is subsequently told in flashback scenes.
You also cannot help but also notice what is missing from the Superman story. We do have someone called Clark Kent but there is no Clark Kent, the bespectacled and bumblingly awkward reporter for the Daily Planet (at least until a single shot in the very last scene). This serves to rob the film of one of the essences of every telling of the Superman story his dual identity and the conflict between his two halves as the being with godlike powers and the disguise of an ineffectual ordinary man. I can see what David S. Goyer has done with his story he has internalised the conflict. In essence, the entire film is the character decision of Superman should he reveal his presence as a super-being to the world or live an ordinary, anonymous life? I cannot help but feel that dismissing the Superman-Clark Kent conflict is too radical a change to canon. In other ways, the film does pay attention to canon and introduces characters from the comic-book that we have not seen on screen before such as Pete Ross, Steve Lombard and Dr Emil Hamilton, while we also see the throwing around of some Lexcorp tankers hinting at the future introduction of a Lex Luthor. You reach the end of the film with the impression that much has been held back with the intention of building Man of Steel out as a series akin to Christopher Nolans Dark Knight films. Consider though that the first two Christopher Reeve films were shot as actual sequels from the outset and were much better dramatically developed in these aspects without the need to hold essential elements back for later instalments.
Of course, the lack of Clark Kent reporter does remove another indispensible element of Superman canon the love triangle between Superman, Lois Lane and Clark Kent where she pines after Superman, while he wishes she could accept him as his ordinary human self. Here instead we get a Lois Lane who works out that Kal-el is Clark before he even makes his first public appearance in the Superman suit. The end appearance of the bespectacled Clark is ambiguous and Amy Adams reaction seems almost unrecognising you wonder if maybe they have not thrown in the amnesia-inducing kiss plot deus ex machina from Superman II. Many of the Superman comic-books from 1986 onwards have had Superman and Lois in a relationship, she knowing of his secret identity in one form or another, although it has wavered around about whether this is official canon and then rescinded after DC have realised that doing so always seems to take away one of the essential character conflicts of the Superman mythos.
Superman Returns was a continuation of the first two Christopher Reeve films; Man of Steel by contrast feels like a condensed remake of them but with all the interesting bits taken out. It follows the origin story told in Superman up until about the point that Clark arrives at the Daily Planet. In particular, the scenes at the Fortress of Solitude with the appearance of the hologram of Jor-el has been taken directly from the 1978 film. The 1978 film was also the first to go with the notion that the S crest on Supermans chest was a Kryptonian family symbol its being a symbol that stands for hope is taken from the comic-book mini-series Superman: Birthright (2004). The rest of the film is a replay of the battle with the Phantom Zone villains from Superman II minus the earlier scenes from that film at Niagara Falls and the Eiffel Tower.
Disappointingly, Michael Shannons casting as General Zod lacks anything that Terence Stamp brought to the role. Shannon has gained a name in recent years for high-profile and award-winning roles in films like Revolutionary Road (2008) and Take Shelter (2011) and tvs Boardwalk Empire (2010-4). I must confess to being puzzled by Shannons acclaim his performances mostly seem to consist of either a psychotically intense stare or else allowing his long, sloping brow to furrow in an impenetrably troubled blankness. Here in comparison to Terence Stamps magnificently theatrical Zod, all that he gives us is a thuggish figure. Similarly, Sarah Douglas created a wonderfully cold-blooded sidekick in Ursa but the equivalent character played here by Antje Traue disappears without any distinction.
The superpowered battles are also far less interesting than in Superman II despite thirty years advance in special effects (indeed, the advent of CGI). The latter half of the film feels less like a superhero film than one of Michael Bays Transformers films or perhaps a sequel to Skyline (2010). There are various fights between superpowered beings that wreck Smallville and the climactic knockdown between Superman and Zod over Metropolis, which work well enough. Far less interesting is everything else, which feels like a combination of standard alien invasion cinema imagery and far too many mass destruction scenes of buildings collapsing. The film could easily have been cut of some twenty minutes of these scenes.
Henry Cavill cuts a handsome and buffed figure in the Superman suit. The problem with the role is that it only rarely grants him the opportunity to do any acting (as opposed to throwing things around). The few scenes where he does the scene where he is questioned in military custody being the one standout he opens up with the handsome sincerity that Christopher Reeve did so well. All that seems missing is Reeves boyscout earnestness and twinkle this is a role that Cavill seems to be playing with an intent seriousness. I think Amy Adams is an enormously talented actress who is going to do some amazing things in time to come. She gives the role of Lois a perkiness and cheer. I still have it over for Teri Hatchers flaky Lois in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-7) but at least Amy Adams gives us more of the Lois the comic-books independent, determined go-getter rather than the confused Meg Ryan-modelled modern girl that Hatcher turned her into. The best screen characterisation of Lois however still remains the Dana Delany-voiced version in the animated Superman (1996-2000).
Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill next made Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which kicked off a crossover series between characters in the DC universe.
Other versions of the Superman legend are:- seventeen Superman animated shorts produced by Fleischer Studios between 1941 and 1943; two serials made during the 1940s, Superman (1948) and Atom-Man vs Superman (1950) both starring Kirk Alyn; the low-budget feature film Superman and the Mole Men (1951), which became the basis of the long-running tv series The Adventures of Superman (1953-8) starring George Reeves; the film Superman (1978) starring Christopher Reeve, which led to three sequels with Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), as well as spinoffs like Supergirl (1984) and tvs Superboy (1988-91); Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-7), a popular tv series that focused more on the love triangle relationship between Clark/Superman (Dean Cain) and Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher); the excellent animated series Superman (1996-2000) where the superheroic exploits were rendered in a beautifully stylised Art Deco milieu; several spinoff films from the animated series with Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996), The Batman Superman Movie: Worlds Finest (1998), Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006), Superman: Doomsday (2007), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), All-Star Superman (2011), Superman vs. The Elite (2012) and Superman Unbound (2013), while Superman also appears in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013) and as one of line-up of DC superheroes in the same creative teams Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-6) and its film spinoffs Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) and Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015) and Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016), as well as in Legion of Superheroes (2006-8) from a different creative team, while Young Justice (2010-3) features Superboy, a clone of Superman, as a regular character; the tv series Smallville (2001-11) played by Tom Welling, which concerns Supermans teen years; Bryan Singers follow-up to the Christopher Reeve films Superman Returns (2006) starring Brandon Routh; and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), Richard Donners edit of his original intended vision of Superman II, which had been subject to much in-fighting with the producers. Superman also turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014), while Supergirl (2015 ) starring Melissa Benoist is a tv series concerning his cousin Kara.
(Nominee for Best Actor (Henry Cavill) at this sites Best of 2013 Awards).