DIRECTED BY ZACK SNYDER
STARRING: HENRY CAVILL, AMY ADAMS, MICHAEL SHANNON, KEVIN COSTNER, DIANE LANE, ANTJE TRAUE, HARRY LENNIX, CHRISTOPHER MELONI, RICHARD SCHIFF with AYELET ZURER, LAURENCE FISHBURNE and RUSSELL CROWE
There is nothing about Man of Steel that we have not seen previously in the beginning story of any given superhero. And I believe when I say that, I am not judging it too harshly. We are in a superhero bubble. It is a time when everyone wants their pet superhero franchise running. Some want more than one, clearly. Christopher Nolan’s investment in Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise – one more to DC, against Marvel’s shipload – is suggestive. Having directed the hugely successful Batman trilogy, Nolan teams up with buddy David S. Goyer to write the treatment for Man of Steel.
The single biggest question on my mind – which I voiced out loud as well – as the end credits rolled was this: What was there in this story that it needed two people to write it? It is the sort of story that, if I told you play-by-play, I would still not have spoilt the film for you. Not any more than the promos would have done for you already. Let me disappoint you further by saying this: There is nothing more to Man of Steel than they have already shown to you on the teaser trailers, and I don’t know who is to blame for that – Syncopy films or its super-talented writing team, led by the inimitable David S. Goyer who is as good a writer as his Christian faith. We saw that in the Invisible (2007). We see it again in Man of Steel.
Man of Steel has Superman tread the fine line in the Church and State question. America reconciles to Superman and further chooses to believe in him. He is the southern kid raised with the belief that great things are left to God and God alone. But then he could be God if he got around to it; if and when the time is right. Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) says so. In Clark Kent’s (Henry Cavill) life, he assumes a riskier position than Uncle Ben had with Peter Parker in the Spiderman universe. He assumes the role of the Father with full knowledge that he is not and that someday Clark would come to realize it as well. In fact, he would make sure that he does. It is sinful for a man to not know what he has been sent here for, especially when it has been pre-programmed and written down for him. And it goes like this:
Go to Earth. Get raised in good faith. Find Lois Lane, for it was written in heaven that you should end up with her. Make Krypton live in you, cell-for-cell.
I think it must be clear by now that I am only familiar with the Superman comics in as far as knowing they exist (seeing how I haven’t expressed outrage at factual inconsistencies). Maybe a little more. With this limited knowledge, I have always thought of DC’s Superman to be inadvertently similar to Nietzsche’s Superman. And while I would have gladly liked my misconception to be rectified, I did not expect it to be overthrown completely. Superman, after all, is what every human aspires to be, isn’t he? He has super-human strength. He see past things, he can hear things that are normally inaudible. Best of all, he can beat Earth’s gravity. He can just push off, if you see what I’m saying.
A Kryptonian expat by the name of Faora (Antje Traue, does better in latex than Scarlett Johansson could ever have dreamt) taunts Superman in the middle of a duel – You are weak, because you believe in morality. That comes crashing. It had never occurred to me that this is one place where Superman departs from Nietszchean hero-morality. Superman is against evolution. He is the son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe), a Professor X/Martin Luther King Jr. type pacifist. He believes in coexistence – of Kryptonians and humans on Earth – conveniently excluding the fact that they are multitudes stronger than humans and that the Earth’s conditions nurture them in a way it can never do to us. This means Kryptonians would end up wiping out the human race in the survival of the fittest.
Now, I do not know how much of it is from the comics, but we learn that Kal-El is the only child of Krypton who was born out of intercourse. Everyone else, including and especially General Zod (Michael Shannon, a tad too angry), are mass-manufactured – they are sons and daughters of Krypton who are hence bound to the betterment of their race. They do not have the conception of a Mother or a Father like Kal-El does. On top of that he has a sense of southern masculinity where he replaces Pa Kent as guardian and protector of his Ma(w) (Diane Lane). The result is some delightful man-to-man action where Superman shows Zod what would happen if he dared threaten his Mother.
Such scenes abound in Man of Steel, which are made for the excitable movie-goer. There is the interrogation scene where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) flirts like she knows her Superman more than anyone else. There is repeated mention of Superman as one under complete control of his powers, so much that for him to surrender, he must choose to. You let them put you on handcuffs? Lois asks him, bemused. Superman shrugs and says he had to give people the assurance that he was not above and beyond them. Moments later, in a burst of exasperation, he tells the FBI off saying he has been around for thirty-three years in the world and has not harmed anyone. If you do not see where I’m going with this, soon to follow is a scene where Superman goes to Church. He wants clarification. That he would risk his neck for the people of the Earth is certain. But could he trust Zod with his word? Superman walks out before the Pastor could say anything, but he runs after him asking him to take the leap of faith first.
But then he needn't be told that. For he is (insert irritating Hans Zimmer-styled thumping here)
the son of God.