Don’t think my title is giving anything away is it? We all know Superman is ultimately going to win. Hardly much of a franchise reboot if he dies at the end. In this instance, my title is referring to the latter third of the film, where it all goes a bit Hulk a la Avengers, smashing up city skyscrapers – but more on that later.
To backtrack a sec, Man of Steel is – what I’m classing as – a reboot of a much-loved character. Perhaps to shake the memory of the utterly bland 2006 entry, Superman Returns. Anyone remember that one? Brandon Routh donned the cape (average depiction of the character) and faced off against Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor (doing the best he could in the circumstances). Kate Bosworth, whilst very pretty, I could take or leave as Lois Lane. Less said about James Marsden’s drippy character the better.
So why did the last one fail?
Bryan Singer was a strong and safe pair of hands. He’d got The Usual Suspects and X-Men and X2 on his CV. The cast seemed solid enough, the effects were passable. Maybe that was the problem? Each component part of the previous instalment failed to deliver the wow-factor. Add them all up and you end up with a below-par showing.
Mostly it harks back to script. Without a good script you’re finished before you even start. Tone is quite important too. I mean, look at Brandon Routh’s Superman in his sky blue lycra and red pants, it looks so dated.
Fast-forward to 2013
And the dream team of Zack Snyder (directing), Christopher Nolan (producing) and David Goyer (writing); between them they should deliver a rock-solid script right? After all, these guys – in their careers to date – have given us 300 and Watchmen (Snyder); Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises (Nolan and Goyer).
Happily – and somewhat expectantly – they do deliver, this outing worlds away from Singer’s efforts. Literally, worlds away – the opening sequence begins on Krypton.
Epic in scope and ethereal in places (as you’d expect and hope when depicting an alien species) the sequence is an exhilarating start to the film, although at times seeming to borrow from Avatar and the 2009 Star Trek (the destruction of Vulcan bears striking resemblance to the tragic and fiery demise of Krypton).
The reason for the Krypton opening sequence and much of the film’s first half – and why I think this is a reboot – is Goyer and Nolan are playing to their strengths (as they did with Batman) and doing an origin story. Perhaps fair, given the franchise had somewhat lost its way – or perhaps never found it since the original in 1978?
Either way, what we’ve got here is a much darker, more sombre tone. Ultimately, it’s gone all Nolan-esque, with a buffed and bearded Clark roaming the globe trying to find his place in the world, helping strangers along the way.
Remind you of a certain Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins? This style and tone continues throughout. Take Michael Shannon’s General Zod and his chilling message to the people of Earth – reminiscent of the Joker’s video message to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight anyone?
Despite these obvious parallels I am of course, nitpicking. This film is massively epic, indeed, it’s epically massive. The final third goes very Matrix Revolution/Avengers with Kal-El/Clark and Zod going at each other in what can only be described as an unparalleled destruction of every skyscraper in Metropolis.
Something that no doubt most of the audience would have been waiting for yet, for all its action set-pieces, the film tended to hit home more effectively in the quieter, more poignant moments. Scenes with Clark’s foster parents (wonderfully played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) were particularly touching at times.
So all in all, Snyder did a fine job, perhaps his best work to date. Yet Nolan and Goyer’s influence was clear to see and, whilst their contributions undoubtedly helped reboot the franchise, they may have taken it too dark in tone. That said, watch out for a scene in the closing moments that suggest a sequel could be lighter and more playful.
Oh…and Henry Cavill is easily the best Superman to date. Live long and prosper. Sorry, wrong rebooted franchise! As you were.