It is ceaselessly fascinating how the specifics of the decades-long battle between comic book giants Marvel and DC are continually reflected in their respective film adaptations. While Marvel have had great success in both comics and movies by exploring the human, relatable side of their heroes, they could never quite achieve the culture-dominating status of DC’s best-known characters: Batman and Superman. Superman’s grand, mythic nature is both his greatest strength as a character and his fatal weakness. Man of Steel can’t quite overcome this, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun watching it try.
Positioning itself as a “first contact” alien story is a unique (to cinema) way of exploring Supes, and director Zack Snyder offers a lot of great imagery around this idea. But it also keeps the lead character at arm’s length, which (combined with his aforementioned mythic nature) makes for a somewhat distant protagonist.
But, character issues aside, this movie wholly delivers on the spectacle front. It is here where the mythic factor really sings – the sheer scale of what’s on screen here feels unprecedented. Snyder evokes the broad scope and tall building-focused action of producer Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, but also builds on Nolan’s style with increased pace and dexterity in the set-pieces. The grainy, blue-gray look of the film stands in marked contrast to the lush, bright colours of Snyder’s previous works, and there’s no sign of his signature speed-ramping either. His grasp of large scale action is in full-effect though.
British actor Henry Cavill looks great as Superman, but Michael Shannon gets all the most emotive actor moments as baddie Zod. The visual aspects of Man of Steel fulfil the potential of a Superman movie made in the digital era, but the emotional side of things remains a tough nut to crack. Nonetheless, this is a valiant and stupendously entertaining effort.