Last night I went to go see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, a modern day take on the senescent Superman comic book series established back in June of 1938. I’ll be completely honest, I went in with no idea what to expect. The trailers looked interesting enough, and the stills featuring the superhero’s new, updated look convinced me to go; however, I didn’t get my hopes up as movies have a notorious tendency to take our favorite characters and butcher them into Hollywood-friendly money makers. In the end, I’m glad I went—the film was fantastically entertaining. While not the most cerebral of films, Snyder managed to portray certain staples in the mythology of Superman beautifully, drawing parallels that even the most blind of moviegoers will be able to put together with a little help.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film starts off at a predictable, but appropriate place in the Superman story—Clark Kent’s, or Kal-El (as is his Kryptonian name)’s—birth. His mother births alone, with the help of only Kal-El’s father in the delivery. For those of us familiar with Biblical mythology, Mary delivering Christ in the manger with only Joseph for assistance is an easy connection. It is later revealed that this birth is also a special one, as Kryptonians have evolved into procreating via artificial means—pods carrying children a la Matrix destined for a predetermined position in society—but Kal-El is the first child born naturally in thousands of years to loving parents. As is standard in Kryptonian lore, this event occurs just before the destruction of Krypton due to extensive energy harvesting by the xenophobic Kryptonians. As Jor-El prepares his son for departure to Earth after an intense battle with General Zod (the familiar Kryptonian villain we love to hate) another telling exchange occurs between him and his wife Lara: he tells her that although she fears that her son will be an outcast amongst Earthlings, he will have the ability to save others and be a God amongst men. From there out the Jesus Christ archetype is set.
Viewers are treated to the evolution of Clark Kent as a person—a bullied, tempestuous youth that struggles with the abilities bestowed upon him as a Kryptonian drinking in the viable energy of our planet’s young sun. Several changes were implemented here that really complement our current societal situation that I honestly appreciated coming from a director like Zack Snyder. In the film, Clark has difficulty blending in with his peers and is taunted mercilessly for it. This is a massive deviation from the all-American, jock persona we’re used to in the comics; at one point, a very young Clark (around 7-8 years old) manifests the ability to see people’s skeletons and has a massively overwhelming reaction to it, much like an autism spectrum child would react to an overbearing stimulus. In our autism-aware day and age, this was actually a great parallel.
In his young adulthood, a Jesus-bearded Clark spends his time jumping from job to job due to the same problems present when one refrains from punching idiots in the face as well as the occasional accidental display of power. The job fluctuation is a great allusion to the unemployment strain within today’s American job market, and I’m more than happy that the film didn’t take the tired Daily Planet job and smack it onto Clark Kent from the get go. More importantly however, is the difference in the type of jobs Clark is working. Instead of being in white-collar jobs as is his usual, in the film he is portrayed as working physical, low grade jobs—again, like Jesus and his job as a carpenter.
The film really progresses from this point on with the introduction of Lois Lane (as played by Amy Adams). I really didn’t understand this casting choice as Amy Adams doesn’t really have any fire to her; especially not the fire needed to play assertive hot-head Lois Lane. She can barely keep up with the role, and the times where she’s meant to be intense I couldn’t take seriously. But, I digress. When Zod finally meets up with Clark it’s a battle extravaganza. Major action, lots of fighting, exactly what you’d like to see in a superhero movie. Clark keeps up with his moral stance throughout the long waves of battle and the action is just glorious. Explosions, collapsed buildings, Kryptonians flying into things left and right and it’s all fun to watch.
There comes a point though, where we are informed that Clark is literally the salvation of the Kryptonian people as he carries the life force of all of them (via a process that occurred in the beginning of the film that wasn’t explained) but saving them would be at the price of humanity’s death. That part, for me, spoke volumes of the burden placed upon Clark’s shoulders and the veritable strain that being a human Kryptonian could exert on the heartstrings. Not to mention, as a Jesus figure, what is more telling than being the sole salvation for two worlds?
The fighting sequences are nicely fleshed out and I have to say, Faora (Zod’s second in command) is FIERCE in this film. That woman simply wreaked HAVOC on people and she was just so purely vengeful that it was deliciously evil to watch. She was a brutal killer in comparison to the more priority driven Zod, and I thank her for that as it made the exiled Kryptonian forces just that much more menacing. After Zod’s sidekicks are finally taken out, the final battle between Zod and Clark takes place. This is the most controversial part of the film for the simple fact that what comes next is so blatantly against Superman’s code that Snyder could be accused of betraying the hero’s character.
Superman kills Zod.
In a moment of desperation he snaps his neck brutally, ending the conflict. This goes completely against everything we know about Superman’s morals, his upbringing—everything. Most people have reacted very negatively to this, citing the apparent lack of judgment in Snyder’s choice to have this happen, but I disagree. Superman killing Zod moves the character in a different direction than he has moved in for the past 70+ years. Granted, it’s not the best message, and yes, it somewhat tarnishes the spotless hero; but, to me it really pulled the film’s climax together in a way that solidified that the battle was great but the internal struggle was even greater. And as a nice little note at the end, Clark finally lands his little job at the Daily Planet, fully assuming his dual role as Superman the hero and Clark the human at the age of 33—the same age that Jesus Christ was crucified, thus saving the world from damnation.
All in all, I fully recommend this film to newcomers to the Superman fandom and established fans alike. The movie is fun, entertaining, detailed, and rich in storyline (even if the story is simple at best). Granted, this is no Cannes piece—but so long as you go in with an open mind, a hearty appetite for action, and an appreciation for mancandy (okay, that may not be everyone) you’ll be absolutely fine and glad you paid for the ride.