Over the past ten years or so, super hero films have, in a sense, given themselves their own genre. Westerns have cowboys, Indians, shootouts. Science fiction has space, aliens, robots. Superhero films have superheroes. But this new genre isn’t only specific to the inclusion of superheroes, just as Westerns aren’t specific to the insertion of cowboys. A genre, as a method of categorization, is defined by a constant trend depicted through a multitude of films. More specifically, genres are created based on a number of similar narrative elements. In this case, a film can be categorized as a superhero film, if it includes the narrative elements that make up most, if not all, super hero films. Some of these include: a quest for identity, a battle for mankind, an origin story, a journey to band together, an honorable fight to pursue, and an unimaginable evil needed to be eliminated. Whether it be Iron Man, Spider Man, Green Lantern, Batman and even the recently released Zack Snyder film, Man of Steel, all of these films possess some kind of superhero narrative element that bands them all together. But while these similar narrative structures may appear accurate as a method of categorization, it is with the creation of genre that expectations begin to appear. This construction of expectations, is what makes it difficult to understanding whether Man of Steel is a must see.
Before going any further, I think it is important to understand that I write this review, not for Superman fans, not for comic book enthusiasts but for film goers that yearn to experience an emotion and a feeling from the screen. This is important to understand because as with any film, there will always be multiple perceptions of what a film is and what a film should have been. Some might say that Man of Steel adapts the Superman franchise flawlessly to what the comics portray. I can’t make that judgment because I know nothing about Superman and the comic books that revolve around the character. What I can make judgments on are the cinematographic, stylistic, thematic elements that make the film what it is.
As I said before, the creation of this new “superhero” genre contains a number of expectations. One of the major expectations is the promise of a spectacle. Man of Steel in this regard does not disappoint. Get ready for giant explosions, crumbling skyscrapers, fist fights in the sky and lasers firing from peoples eyes. It will both amaze and deliver on its promise of an action-pilled flick. More specifically though, the fighting sequences deserve recognition for delivering on an accurate representation of how theses godly and alien creatures might fight. From hurling enemies into falling skyscrapers, to swiftly maneuvering through hordes of adversaries, Snyder delivers on a unique take (cinematographically and aesthetically) on how super beings might fights.
Another expectation that comes along with the superhero genre is the promise of an enticing origin story. Whether it is the origin of a team or the origin of a hero, all super hero films contain a similar character arch that allows the audience to understand the hero’s journey from zero to hero. Man of Steel, unlike Spider Man and Iron man, has a character dilemma that goes beyond his quest to understanding his powers. Superman’s dilemma in understanding the two sides of his identity, as an alien and a human, drives the story forward. It is this inner quandary within Superman that delivers on an enticing story of self-discovery that revolves primary around flashbacks that introduce the audience to Superman’s trials and tribulations of being different as a child. In this sense, while there are moments that might be characterized as generic, it’s focus on the difference between Clarke Kent and Superman provides a refreshing take on the origin story.
Big time actors such as Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and more, fill the films cast. More importantly, the actors all fit into their roles. Henry Cavill as Superman is both stern and unsure of who he is. His portrayal of Superman provides a realistic interpretation of both his external and internal struggles. Michael Shannon as General Zod, is both ruthless and insane. Shannon’s take on his character provides an uncomfortable presence that provides the audience with a sinister and malevolent understanding of the villain. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe deserve special recognition for their roles as Superman’s adopted and real parents. Without their uncanny interpretations of these characters in relationship to Superman’s upbringing, the special and unique internal dilemma of Superman’s story would have never truly shone.
Aesthetically, Man of Steel has a unique look that complements the story nicely. Cinematographically, the film is straight up gorgeous. From the quick zooms that follow superman dashing through the air to the low angle shots that provide interesting lens flare effects, the film is littered with intriguing and complex camera movements that will surely delight cinema aficionados. Even the settings captured through computer-generated imagery convey a sense of the universe that director Snyder conveys.
Overall, Man of Steel is an exciting and invigorating adventure that will surly entertain. Perhaps the question behind this review isn’t whether Man of Steel entertains, but whether or not it adds something special and unique to the superhero genre. While many might say that the cinematography, the use of flashbacks and the overall aesthetic sets it apart from other superhero films, the story and themes keep it generic. Aside from Snyder’s decision to display events in a mixed fashion, Man of Steel presents the same ideals and themes, presented in other films labeled under the superhero genre. While these judgments regarding the story might be unjust (as superhero films are adapted from comic books), one must ponder wonder why Man of Steel is different from previous superhero films. Is it better than other super hero films? In many aspects, it is. But is that enough to praise it in the highest regard? I believe not.
If superhero films are what you enjoy and what you look forward to, then Man of Steel is a must see. It has all of the essentials and even a little extra to make it unique as a superhero film. It has a Hollywood cast, it has incredulous amounts of action, and it even has an origin story that goes beyond merely understanding the man behind the mask. But if you yearn for something different, for something that will truly surprise, for something that is not bound by a genre, than Man of Steel is not the next best thing to hit cinemas. If you are looking for something distinctive during a time plagued by superhero flicks, than maybe this is one caped crusade worth sitting out.