If you’re like me, then you know today marks a very special occasion. Action Comics issue #1000 has been released! With this day, I wanted to discuss a film that I believe was, and will continue to be, ahead of its time, as far as comic book movies go. I will say at the outset, that I was born in the late 80’s and have been a Batman fan over Superman since I can remember. That was, until Zack Snyder released Man of Steel in June of 2013 and forever changed my feelings and opinion on the ‘Big Blue Boy Scout’ we all are familiar with.
With Action Comics hitting this momentous milestone, I thought it would be fitting to give a retrospective analysis and in-depth look on the film that changed how I viewed Superman, along with commentary (some even personal) on how Snyder changed it. I will say these are my own expressions and thoughts and while I did not grow up with the 1978 The Superman film, I can fully recognize that some view that film as the only representation of Superman. I believe that you can be a huge fan of both films without the need to compare which one is better, especially when forming your feelings of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about the character we all love. After all, Superman is now 1,000 issues in and if he was the same Superman that debuted in June of 1938, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I hope you’ll see why I feel ‘Man of Steel‘ is still relevant 5 years later, how Kal-El became a favorite over the Nolan Trilogy (which is phenomenal) and how Zack Snyder truly made me believe a man could fly.
Man of Steel opens with the literal birth of Kal-El; this films version of Superman and with the realism that I wasn’t aware I wanted in a comic book movie. We see Jor-El and Lara, Kal’s Mother and Father, in their home, in what looks like a womb itself, preparing for his arrival. The operatic theme from Hans Zimmer slowly builds and, with its familiar notes reminiscent of the John Williams Superman theme, gives rise to the theme we will be given to encapsulate Superman. With Kal’s arrival, the camera cuts to show Lara’s exhausted but loving stare at her child, at which point the camera cuts to Kal letting out his first cry as he’s welcomed into this new world (I’ll explain why this is so relevant near the end). The why of having Kal with a natural birth doesn’t become clear just yet, but we know it’s something that doesn’t happen too often. We then see that we are on Krypton, the home planet of Superman and visually it’s so beautifully striking that it’s a shame we only get to spend about 20 minutes of the film here. It looks otherworldly and yet, has a lot of meaning and similarities to our own world here on earth.
We then see Jor-El pleading to the Council of Krypton that, unless something is changed immediately, the planet will implode, killing every Kryptonian there is. Their only resolution for this cataclysmic event is to sit around and debate among themselves to devise a strategy. Jor-El being their foremost scientist, plans to garner their trust by announcing to them that he and Lara have had a child of natural birth, citing hope for the future of their race if he’s given control of the genetic template of every Kryptonian born (they call it a codex). It’s at this point he’s interrupted by General Zod blasting his way into the Council, killing members and committing genocide among his people. He realizes that Krypton is doomed, the same as Jor-El, but wants to save his people from destruction and start anew, becoming a Totalitarian state by severing the degenerative blood lines he feels lead Krypton to their current state. This conflict gives amazing foreshadowing to what will come to head at the climax of the film.
Now, what I’ve just written is only the first 5 minutes of the film, giving way to what eventually ‘Man of Steel‘ is about. The freedom of choice and chance. I haven’t even begun to describe what the score is creating or the wonderful imagery being created by the cinematography. So as you can tell, there is major groundwork being laid down on Krypton alone that it’s a brilliant way to introduce Superman’s alien nature and understand Krypton Culture as a failed society. It’s reminiscent and eerily similar to what we have done as a civilization to our own Earth, for better or worse. We can also see that we have two ideologies that are willing to go to extremes to preserve their race. For example, Jor-El and Lara having Kal naturally as oppose to artificial population and General Zod committing high treason and murder as oppose to discussing what options they have left to save their race. Now back to the film.
With uncertainty and chaos abound, Jor-El finds himself witnessing death and destruction by General Zod while absconding the Council of Krypton. Time is of the essence as he knows with current distractions, he can possibly secure the codex to save his people before his planet faces annihilation. After securing the codex, he arrives back home with his wife Lara, and their child Kal. This is the moment it became very personal for me, ironically almost exactly a year after the film came out mind you, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to tell Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer how much they helped me during the most difficult time in my life. As Jor-El arrives home, he asks Lara if they’ve found a world to send off baby Kal. Lara is worried that the Earth will treat him as an outcast and a freak. That Kal will be killed by humans. Jor-El confidently assures her that he’ll be a god to us. Once Lara realizes that this child, a child she just had the pleasure of meeting and barely spent time with, has to leave them and will be sent to an unknown world by himself, her true worries come out. Jor-El reasons with her that this is his only chance at survival and their people’s only hope, thus the sole purpose they dedicated their lives to preserve. During all of this, they realize General Zod is heading their way with 5 attack ships, ready to mobilize. Jor-El, with calmness, tells Lara he has to ready the launch to prepare Kal’s ship. Lara looks at Kal, tears running down, and faintly says “Wait, just let me look at him.”. As the score comes together with a beautiful female vocalization of pain, she wonders aloud “We’ll never see him walk…….never hear him say our names.” Those words aren’t spoken as filler words or followed up with a joke to lighten the mode, they’re real. They mean something and give weight to the entire situation of what Jor-El and Lara are doing. And as those words are spoken and without fully experiencing what was just said, you aren’t really aware of what she means. By that I mean, I have had the unfortunate circumstance of coming to that realization in real life. My second daughter was diagnosed with an incurable disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, at 4 months old back in January of 2014. With no cure in sight, and no survival rate of Stage 1, her time here on Earth was limited. She was the most courageous and toughest little girl I had ever met in my life; she was my Wonder Woman. She entered the hospital on April 20th, which ironically, is close to the same date Action Comics releases its monumental issue this year. The doctors gave her 3 days but she kept on fighting. Every day she faced battles and still had a smile. She lost her battle on June 7th, 2014 which was almost a year to the day Man of Steel was released. To this day, I always wonder what it would be like to see her walk next to her big sister, or to hear her say my name. So every time Lara looks down at Kal and shares her thoughts on what it means to entrust her child into the unknown, I feel her pain. But then, when Jor-El tells her “But out there, amongst the stars, he will live.” it gives me assurance that she is living among the stars and she’s free. I will forever be thankful for that scene because it helped me through my loss, and it’s because of that reason, I realized this wasn’t an ordinary comic book film. That this has real, raw emotions being written and shown on-screen that exist in the real world that has yet to be seen again (excluding Batman v Superman). To see all of this, in the first 10 minutes of a film mind you, was my indication that we were about to experience something never before seen for a comic book movie.
As Kal’s ship is prepared to be sent out to Earth, Jor-El prepares to face General Zod and his fellow officers. We then realize how important the codex truly is to the people of Krypton, as Zod battles his way to try and prevent Lara from sending Kal and the codex to a different world. The fighting sequence of Jor-El and Zod is amazing in and of itself, but when you realize that both of their Armored suits were CGI, you wonder how it was made to look so real and that’s when you truly are first introduced to the meticulous ways of Snyder. As Kal’s ship disapeears to his destination, Zod is surrounded by the Council of Krypton’s military force. As they proceed to send him and his officers to the Phantom Zone, he tells everyone that they won’t kill them because they won’t make decisions for the greater good. That reason is exactly how Krypton is in the state it’s in now because of their decisions. Then he makes his attention known to Lara that he will find Kal. The level of acting from Michael Shannon during that scene, was the reason his villain is the standout toughest of DC Films thus far for me. Having humorous moments in between all of these serious situations, would have made me feel like I shouldn’t have to take this film serious for what it was wanting to be; a true origin story about Superman. Instead, I was given the impression that this was a serious take on everything about Superman and its adult themes would flourish throughout the course of the film. We then are left with one of the most gorgeous comic depicting moments I have ever witnessed on film; the destruction of Krypton and Kal’s arrival on Earth. “Make a better world than ours Kal.” Lara says, as Krypton implodes, knowing she’ll never see or speak to him again. That’s her hope.
Traveling to present day, we are now shown what Clark has been doing with his life here on Earth. And once he learns there’s an oil rig that has caught fire near his boat he’s on, he does the one thing he was born to do; save the people trapped on the rig. This moment is vital because it establishes that Kal-El is willing to help save lives even without the Suit he’s famous for wearing. I would surmise that it was intentional by Zack Snyder to have Clark (he’s on Earth after all so we call him Clark) standing on Steel, saving the remaining men on the rig and have the ‘Man of Steel‘ be present during it all. After the rig explodes, we notice Clark dazed while in the water, and that gives us the first indication that Petroleum type explosions weaken him to an extent. That may be a new feeling for him since right after that, we get a glimpse of a flashback of his first experience of some of his abilities developing when he was a child. The emotion of not knowing why you can hear everything around you and being able to see inside people would cause any adult to worry, much less a child. With Clark feeling like an outcast to the other kids and hiding in a broom closet, its only fitting that we are first introduced to Martha Kent, his Earth Mother. She comforts him and at the same time, teaches him how to control some of his new abilities. When Clark asks her “What’s wrong with me mom?“, just remembering her say his name is enough to wake him up which I feel was intentional by Snyder. It shows just how much her nurturing helps guide him to be the person he is in the present.
Upon waking up, Clark travels North and sees a school bus pass him by. Another flashback comes to mind, this time, when Clark is unsure of what to do when faced with helping his fellow classmates after the bus falls off a bridge and into water. Not hesitating for a moment, Clark hurries to the back and lifts the entire bus out of the water along with helping a kid to shore who was just bullying him about sports moments ago. With this flashback though, we are now introduced to Jonathan Kent, Clark’s Earth Father, and another important person in Clark’s life. As Clark hears a parents concerns and fear about what happened on the bus, we see Jonathan head out to talk with Clark. This next scene has been controversial to some but if you only look at it with a closed mind, then you won’t see the real meaning behind it. After Clark says he just wanted to help (which is classic Superman), his father tells him that Clark has to keep that side of his life a secret. Clark then asks the ultimate question: “What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?” to which Jonathan Kent replies “Maybe?”. Some felt that it was the wrong thing to say but I feel that you would only feel that way not being a parent. When I heard that line for the first time, I completely understood what he meant. Clark has abilities that, if found out, could jeopardize his own life or he could potentially lose his son to higher authorities. But at the same, he’s not really sure what should happen since, had Clark not had those abilities, those children would most likely have not been saved, thus Clark changing fate sort of speak. When he tells Clark “When the world finds out what you can do, it’s going to change everything. Our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be Human, everything.” He is basically explaining in our real world, what would happen if someone like Superman existed in today’s society. He then tells Clark “You saw how Pete’s mom reacted, she was scared Clark.” When Clark asks why, Pa Kent simply states “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” which couldn’t be more true. In this day and age, now more than ever, people are quick to judge anything and if it’s not their way, its wrong. But it’s at this point in the film that Clark is told that he’s not from this world and that he’s the answer to ‘Are we alone in the Universe?’. If you will, for a moment, imagine your younger years, and finding out the reason for everything you’re going through, was because you’re actually from a different planet, and that your parents aren’t really your parents. Just imagine how crazy your world would be to learn that and also to realize that you have to keep what you are a secret. That, in actuality, is what a lot of people struggle with daily in the real world. Just another example of how this film represents another area of real life emotions. To top if all off, Clark is told that one day, he’ll have to make a choice of whether to stand proud in front of the Human race or not, but that it’s his choice alone. He doesn’t know it yet, but that’s exactly what his real Father wanted as well.
Now back to the present and Clark finds out the U.S. Military is actively searching for something in Canada. After confronting a slightly drunk truck driver who inappropriately touches Clark’s current girlfriend, we are given the first humor of the film. Clark, not willing to punch this person for fear of what it might do, does what I feel a lot of us would do if given his particular skill set. Damage an inanimate object. I prefer humor to be given in areas of a film that warrant it, without having to feel forced or fed in to upend the tension. Knowing he’ll have to leave the area, he lands a new job at the active site of the finding. It’s at this new job where his first interaction with Lois Lane comes about, the last important part of his inner circle of who Clark Kent/Superman truly is. Another humor moment when Lois tells “Joe” to be careful with her bags because they’re heavy. One thing I absolutely love about what Zack did with almost all of these characters, was give them weight and meaning. Lois doesn’t feel like she’s just in the film to be Superman’s girlfriend. She has a purpose and whether Superman is in her life, she is a Pulitzer Price winning journalist. She also doesn’t care much for people who don’t show respect where it’s due as she tells Col. Hardy “Look, let’s get one thing straight guys, ok. The only reason I’m here is because we’re on Canadian soil and an appellate court overruled your injunction to keep me away, so, if we’re done measuring d***s, can you have your people show me what you’ve found?” I fell in love with Amy Adams’ portrayal at that very moment. This is where the film really picks up because Clark finally learns who he is and where he comes from. It’s meaningful that the same time he meets Lois, he is finally introduced to his real father and who he is as a Kryptonian.
This is the first half of my retrospective analysis and it just shows you how in-depth Man of Steel truly is for me. And if you can start to tell, seeing Clark go through things in his life throughout the film, is what starting to make me see him in a different light than just always being the boy scout we know. I will be finishing the second half tomorrow. Thank you for reading.