Full disclosure: I wasn’t always a fan of Superman. As a kid, of course, I loved him. I’d watch the Reeve/Donner movies, and later the Bruce Timm animated series, and run around the house with a cape (usually a towel or blanket) around my neck. But as I got older and started getting into comics I just didn’t care for Superman as a character. I still loved the idea of him, but in execution I felt that he was bland. He was too powerful, too goodie-goodie, too perfect. He was the Gandhi, and in many cases, the Jesus, of DC comics, and when good stories revolve around conflict and you have a character who is perfection personified, that’s often a big problem. It’s one of the reasons why DC still has a hard time getting the character right in his own series.
That all changed while I was working on my first novel with my best friend, Mark Ruelius. He was a HUGE Superman fan, and when he heard my opinion on the character is was as though I had personally offended him. He made me promise to read three comic book trades: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid & Alex Ross (which I already owned and loved), Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, and Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. He was right. After that, I was a fan. This made Superman Returns all the more painful for all of us, because we were hoping to get a Superman movie as good as what Batman was getting with Nolan or the Marvel movies were getting on the other side of the fence. Instead we got… well, I’m not going to go into that. This isn’t a review of that movie. So let’s just get into Man of Steel.
For me, this was a great foundation to build a untied DC cinematic universe on. This was DC’s Iron Man, in that way. Just about every aspect of the movie is inspired by the various Superman comics, Birthright being a heavy influence in particular. But there are a few things you need to know going in to help manage expectations (and I promise, no spoilers):
- This isn’t a Chris Reeve/Richard Donner Superman. The tone is different. There’s no comic relief character. There’s no goofy gags. This has been the biggest criticism most “negative reviews” have and I think it’s because those people are going in expecting a Donner or Marvel tone. It does have some humor and moments that’ll make you smile. MoS isn’t “dark and gritty” either, any more so than any of the best Superman comics are. Just about everything, event-wise, in MoS has precedent in the comics and animated movies.
- Again, this isn’t a Marvel movie. Marvel’s movies have a certain tone, just as their comics do. They’ve always been different than DC, and this movie is no exception. If you go in expecting a superhero movie with the same tone (lighthearted is probably too strong a word) then you’ll be disappointed. MoS takes itself, and the character, seriously. Again, it’s not The Dark Knight serious. This isn’t emo Superman, but they do approach the material and character in a serious, mature way- as they should. The movie is still a ton of fun, and I immediately wanted to watch it again, just as I did with Avengers or Iron Man. It’s just a different kind of fun/tone.
- This goes with the tone, but yes, it feels more like a sci-fi movie than a “superhero” movie. I think that’s a good thing in this case, given the story. That said, the movie ends perfectly and we have the Superman/Clark Kent we’re wanting to see. This has the potential to set up an amazing sequel the way that Batman Begins set up The Dark Knight.
This is very much Clark’s story, and the focus is on him discovering who he is and what his place in the world is. Henry Cavill nails the part and is by far the best embodiment of the character since Chris Reeve. Amy Adams also does an amazing job as Lois Lane. I have to say I was really impressed with how they handled Lois. She was smart, strong, and important to the plot without just being the damsel in distress. They also did away with a typical trope that has long since been played out and done to death (thank God for that), which makes me even more excited to see how they evolve the relationship between Lois and Clark. Some people may take issue with how they portray Jonathan Kent, but I think it was a great way to approach the character, and it made one scene in particular have that much more of an impact on Clark and how he makes the decisions he does.
I want to address Mark Waid’s review of the movie (caution, massive movie spoilers in the link ). As you can tell from my opening above, Mark Waid has written, in my opinion, some of the best Superman stories, and Birthright in particular was an influence on MoS. Waid wasn’t very happy with the movie for two reasons, one of which is a spoiler so I won’t go into it, other than to say that the way it was handled was VERY well done (and even Waid admitted as much) and that, yes, it’s not anything that hasn’t already done before in the comics and other movies, albeit not very often.
The other, and biggest, complaint that Waid had was he said that this version of Superman felt cold and that he didn’t care enough about protecting humans, given all the “destruction porn”. I will say there were times when I felt similar while watching, and it is one aspect that they could have handled better. Superman does go out of his way to help save people in the movie, but I would agree it needed to be emphasized more, and is probably the biggest weakness the movie has, especially given all the destruction and collateral damage that takes place. Again, it’s nothing that hasn’t been shown in the comics and animated tales countless times. This very much feels like a comic book come to life (or a live action version of a Bruce Timm animated feature); but because it is so realistic and lifelike it makes thinking about the innocent people being hurt that much more, where you don’t as much in the comics or animated features (or where it’s easier for them to just magically have people survive or evacuate in time, etc.) It’s something that needs to be improved upon in sequels, but it was far from a deal-breaker for me.
For me, Man of Steel is the best DC movie to date, and this is coming from a die-hard Batman fan. I’m not saying that Man of Steel is a technically superior movie than The Dark Knight, but for me it’s certainly more fun to watch. This is the Superman movie we’ve been waiting for, and it can only get better from here. Keep an open mind and don’t let the negative reviews keep you from checking it out. Go and see the movie for yourself and judge it by it’s own merits. I think you’ll be glad that you did, as it is, by-far, the best movie so far this summer.
I give it a 9/10.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Check back each Saturday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!