Superman: Man of Steel
By B. Michael Rubin
It’s summer in the US and that can only mean one thing in Hollywood vocabulary – summer “blockbuster” movies. Blockbusters are American movies with large budgets and big actors designed to capture summer viewers when younger film fans are on vacation from school. Blockbusters often make use of elaborate special effects that push the budgets of the films over $100 million per movie, well above average for a Hollywood movie. Included in these huge budgets will be money for large advertising and marketing campaigns that coincide with a blockbuster’s release to attract the necessary big audiences to recoup a studio’s investment in the film. The budget for the new Superman film including advertising was $225 million.
There have been a few blockbusters already released this season, and there are more coming. Critics and audiences have not been excited about any of them in particular, but I enjoyed the newest version of Superman, Man of Steel (O Homem de Aço). Like all blockbusters, this film is designed to appeal to younger audiences who thirst for action/science fiction films with fantastic special effects. However, it will also appeal to older viewers who enjoy the comic book superheroes who have been well-translated into film like Superman and Batman.
For fans who enjoyed the Batman Begins film that traced the origins of Batman’s power and the history of his family, there will be an immediate appreciation for Man of Steel. This film is so focused on Superman’s family and early development that it is only at the very end of the film that people have decided to call him Superman.
In the TV series of Superman that was created in the 1960s, Superman works as a journalist for the newspaper Daily Planet, where he must find clever ways to convince his colleague Lois Lane that he’s really a fumbling reporter, Clark Kent, and not Superman. In Man of Steel, the entire story unfolds before this, so that Superman enters his role as reporter Clark Kent only in the final scene of the movie.
Also taking an unexpected turn, Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is Superman. Perhaps the most startling and in some ways most satisfying element in this new Superman incarnation is he’s finally allowed to kiss Lois Lane.
Another pleasant surprise in Man of Steel is the film has intelligent and entertaining dialogue, which is often lacking in action films. For instance, Lois Lane questions why Superman’s costume has a giant S on his chest. Also, when Superman saves Lois Lane’s life and they finally kiss, she says, “They say it’s all downhill after the first kiss.” To which Superman replies, “I think that’s only if you kiss a human.
Man of Steel, besides having unexpected and creative plot developments, and outstanding special effects that include the near destruction of Manhattan, also boasts an excellent cast. Lois Lane is portrayed by Amy Adams, who has already been nominated for four Oscars even though she’s still in her 30s.
Oscar winner Russel Crowe is Jor-El, Superman’s biological father from the planet Krypton, while Oscar winner Kevin Costner plays Superman’s earthly father, Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane, an Oscar nominee, is his mother, Martha Kent.
Michael Shannon plays the evil character in Man of Steel. This is Shannon’s first blockbuster role, but he’s a fine actor with many excellent roles behind him, such as Take Shelter, Mud, and Premium Rush. Oscar Nominee Laurence Fishburne portrays Perry White, publisher of the Daily Planet.
The cast also includes the excellent actors Richard Schiff (Solitary Man); Harry Lennix from the Matrix series; the Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer; and Chris Meloni from the TV series True Blood and Law and Order.
The film’s producers made a wise choice in Henry Cavill to play Superman. He’s an excellent British actor who will not be familiar to most Brazilian or American audiences. He had a small role in the Woody Allen film from 2009, Whatever Works. By choosing an unknown actor, viewers are more likely to focus on the character and his development, history, and family than on the actor.
One interesting element in Man of Steel that is not typical of summer blockbusters is the movie jumps back and forth in time, making the action more complex, rather than a simple chronological story that can keep children involved in the movie. The story also has an environmental message, describing the planet Krypton, while home to a civilization advanced beyond humans, is destroyed by its inability to manage its energy needs
Another terrific aspect of this film script is the writers’ concern for philosophical issues related to Superman living on a planet that is not his. There are several scenes that focus on alienation and what it’s like to be different. As a young boy, Clark is often the victim of bullying by his fellow classmates. His father (Kevin Costner), who knows his son is from another planet and destined to be a great leader of the human race, insists that Clark never reveal his true identity to anyone. When Clark is still a boy and first realizes he has super powers, Costner tells him: “Keep this side of you a secret. It will change our notion of what it means to be human.” The secret culminates in a touching scene where Clark could use his superhuman strength to save his father’s life during a tornado in Kansas, but instead his father stops him, sacrificing his own life so his son’s powers will remain a secret.
After his father’s death, only his mother and Lois Lane know Clark Kent’s true identity. They come to accept the wisdom taught by Clark’s father that the world is not ready to accept an alien living on earth. In fact, it is only at the end of the film when Superman has saved earth from his evil nemesis, General Zod (Michael Shannon) from planet Krypton, who plans to conquer the earth, that Superman is accepted as a friend of humans and not an enemy.
With several Superman films already produced, the writers and director of Man of Steel are to be congratulated for reaching beyond the formulaic and finding a new direction for the Superman series. It is no surprise that Christopher Nolan, the writer/director of Batman Begins gets a writing credit on this film. For extending the everyday action film plot and adding a layer of intellectual consideration — existential alienation — to the Superman character, this movie is worth seeing.Man of Steel (O Homen de Aço) Director: Zack Snyder Writers: David Goyer and Christoper Nolan Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Meloni, Ayelet Zurer Currently in theatres in Curitiba in 2-D and 3-D versions
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.