What defined ‘Man of Steel’ for you? What scene, sequence or dialogue summed up the movie and the character? For me it’s a sequence. General Zod has served his ultimatum to humans, and Clark Kent has decided to surrender. It’s a cold bright day. A small company of the Army has been deployed to bring him in. They’re waiting for him in the desert. It’s eerily calm. There’s no wind blowing, no dust. Superman is just levitating in front of the soldiers. Unlike many such cliched scenes from the past, this time his cape doesn’t flutter. He doesn’t float. He just remains fixed at that height. Unmoved. Immovable. As if he wants to let them know their firepower has no effect on him. The whole stillness in that scene is deliberate, enforced, yet subtle. It’s the calm before the storm. They walk him to the holding room in handcuffs. Louis Lane points out that he let them handcuff him. He calmly says it makes them comfortable. It’s the beginning of the history of things to come.
It’s been epic. It’s been hypnotically epic. Trust Nolan to pull out superheroes from the confines of cold storage, thanks to the efforts (or lack of) by lesser mortals. He did that for Batman and having satisfied himself that the Dark Knight has now been firmly embedded in our consciousness, he turned his attention to another superhero who deserved, and needed it. The Superman of the ’70s was well received. The beginning was true to the comic book origins and the movie character remained loyal to the creator’s vision. ‘Superman Returns’, the previous attempt to revive the last son of Krypton also didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. It was a financial success ($400 million) and also received positive reviews, but it wasn’t quite the Superman movie that they thought it would be.
But this time, DC got serious. They saw what Nolan did with the Batman story arc, and they saw what Zack Snyder was capable of with ‘300’. They also hired David Goyer, just for good measure, and also because he seemed to understand what direction DC was taking with The New 52. Like their previous tryst with the superhero genre, they went back to the drawing board and turned the Superman storyline on its head. The beauty is they still kept it true to itself.
They got the casting just right. Atleast where it mattered. Henry Cavill looks every bit the part. They’ve also given him a sexy makeover. The physique looks just perfect. The suit is slick and just plain awesome. There is a seriousness to him, a screen presence that is essential for any actor to play such a colossal superhero because let’s admit it, they don’t get any bigger than this. Russell Crowe is intense as Jor-El. Michael Shannon’s fanatic General Zod is the perfect foil and every bit as larger than life as Superman. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent ably brings out the simple farmer who has this responsibility called Kal-El thrust upon him. His struggle to be a father to a child who has the potential to be his world’s saviour or its worst nightmare, his genuine efforts to make his son self-aware of his powers and abilities is beautifully captured by Costner.
And then there’s the story. Krypton’s dying hours. The clash of ideologies. The despair of hope. The non-linear storyline, switching between the past and the present. Clark Kent’s pursuit of anonymity and yet his inability to hold himself back in a crisis. His reluctant and unsure metamorphosis into the superhero the world needs him to be is stunning. The film has been criticized for the insane destruction at the end, but I believe it was necessary to show the sheer strength and level of the hero and villain and to firmly impress upon Earthlings that they’re witness to powers they cannot harness or control. It was important that an entire city be demolished as Superman and Zod ravage through it without so much as a hair ruffled or a scratch or bruise to tell humans how powerless they are, and how naive to think they’re the “superior” species on Earth.
I just love the direction the new wave of DC films are taking. Marvel is good entertainment but it cannot hope to match the cerebral, dark, gritty and serious nature of DC movie. Marvel doesn’t quite engage with its audience in the same way that a Dark Knight movie did, or Man of Steel did for that matter. While entertainment rules the box office, DC movies truly make me feel content yet longing for more cinematic brilliance.
Man of Steel was just an example of how would we react to a God in our midst.
There’s more to come.