Although we like to think of ourselves as the architects of our own destinies, many times the choices others make for us do more to define us than we care to admit. We're forced to solve problems we didn't cause, and we're called to rise to meet challenges we never asked for.
This is the dilemma faced by Kal-El, better known as "Superman" in classic comic book lore. Born on a dying planet called Krypton, Kal-El is placed in a ship that is sent to the planet Earth. His parents hope that by sending their infant son to another planet, he'll be saved from the catastrophic destruction of Krypton and continue their race. Though baby Kal-El is found by a loving farm family in Kansas (and is renamed "Clark Kent"), life isn't easy. Earth's climate is different from Krypton, and as a result, Kent has gained superpowers. He has to decide whether to hide these powers and try to live as a normal human, or use his powers to save people. It's a difficult choice, especially since he doesn't know whether the people of Earth will ultimately accept or reject a being like him. He didn't choose to be a hero, but he may be forced to become one.
Although most superhero fans are already familiar with Superman's origin story, director Zack Snyder gives us a new, grittier perspective on the legend with his film "Man of Steel," released June 14. One of the summer's most anticipated films and also one of its biggest gambles, "Man of Steel" needed to be a success in order to launch DC Comics and Warner Bros. superhero mash-up movie about the Justice League. "Man of Steel" opened to an impressive $129 million over the weekend, and it's a darkly epic reboot that should give DC Comics the push it needs to make the Justice League movie finally happen.
"Man of Steel" begins with an extended prologue on the planet Krypton, then spends the rest of the film following Kent (Henry Cavill) on his journey to become Superman. Kent has been working a series of odd jobs, drifting from place to place and having a hard time fitting in. He meets a reporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is investigating a mystery object found buried in ice. The object is actually a ship from Krypton, a discovery that escalates into a war involving the people of Earth and General Zod (Michael Shannon), the enemy of Kent's father Jor-El. There's no doubt the world needs Superman — but is it really ready to accept him?
Warner Bros. made a smart choice to bring in Christopher Nolan, who famously rebooted Batman, to serve as a producer and writer for the movie. It's easy to see his influence throughout the film, and I think the film is better for it. Like Nolan's "Batman Begins," "Man of Steel" relies heavily on flashbacks. Although this keeps viewers on their toes, the audience is rewarded in the end with a portrait of how Kent becomes the man he is.
I liked the extended opening sequence on the planet Krypton; it gives the film a definite space opera flavor, and I'm glad Snyder chose to emphasize the science fiction aspects of the story. The visuals are impressive and you don't even need to see it in 3D to feel as though you really are a part of the action. I also loved Hans Zimmer's score, especially Superman's main theme, which ranks among the best pieces of movie music Zimmer has composed.
Russell Crowe brings a nice sense of gravity and nobility to his role as Jor-El, Superman's father, and Henry Cavill strikes just the right tone as Clark Kent, a man who feels the weight of his destiny but is still reluctant to embrace it. Kevin Costner also gives a strong performance as Superman's adoptive father Jonathan Kent. Jonathan Kent has to help his son grapple with the issue of when he should reveal his superpowers to the people of Earth. And even though Michael Shannon was receiving quite a bit of buzz before the film's release for his role as General Zod, I think German actress Antje Traue actually steals the show as his icy second-in-command, Faora-Ul.
The film definitely is a darker take on Superman than we've seen before — a fact that has generated some discussion and debate amongst fans — but I think this is the tone they had to take in our post 9/11 world. Superhero films are popular now because people are drawn to the concept of a hero who is capable of swooping in at the last possible second and saving the world from a seemingly unconquerable evil. It's a powerful — and comforting — symbol. However, on the flip side, people also don't want those superheroes to be too perfect or too flawless. That squeaky-clean concept perhaps doesn't resonate as much in a world where war offers us more and more ethical dilemmas. Soldiers are given seconds to decide whether the person walking towards them is a suicide bomber, and who's bad and who's good isn't always clear. We appreciate superheroes who are conflicted and who struggle to come to grips with the responsibility that accompanies their powers.
In the sequel, I would like to see more screen time and character development for Amy Adams' character, Lois Lane, as well as more involvement for the Daily Planet. I'm also very curious to see how DC Comics responds to the success of "Man of Steel." I've heard they may try to fast-track a "Man of Steel" sequel for 2014 and the Justice League movie for 2015, but I hope they end up taking their time and don't rush the process. It would be great to see Christopher Nolan as the producer on several more origin stories, such as Wonder Woman.
While "Star Trek: Into Darkness" remains my favorite movie of the summer so far, "Man of Steel" — even with a few flaws — accomplishes exactly what it needed to for DC Comics: making audiences excited about Superman again.
So, what did you think? Did you like the darker take on the Superman story? What do you hope to see in the sequel?