So. That happened.
I’ve never been a massive Superman fan. I’ve never even been into comic books beyond their cinematic interpretations (and Wikipedia). The most I know about Superman is from common cultural knowledge and yes, I’ll admit it, an on-and-off relationship with TV series Smallville. I can’t deny that he’s an iconic character, and I always wanted to like him, but I found his frankly crazy levels of power more distancing than anything else. He always seemed so bright and shiny compared to everyone around him. However, after the success of Christopher Nolan’s dark and menacing Batman films, the promise of a Nolan-produced Superman film did catch my attention. I personally needed a darker figure of Superman to engage with, and it’s undoubtedly been shown in recent years that the public gets behind these edgier films too. So today – on the very day that the film was released, which is something I only remember doing once before (Quantum of Solace, if you’re interested) – I went to see Man of Steel.
I’d been prepared for a darker, vaguely humourless interpretation of the content from skimming several reviews and general assumption. The film’s opening is fairly dark – Krypton is failing, an attempted military coup has resulted in several deaths, very very bad things happen to Krypton. I don’t know whether it’s a spoiler to divulge deeper into the opening sequence, so I won’t. However, it’s not necessarily a general mark of the tone. I think Man of Steel is a darker interpretation of the Superman character, and as I’ve tried to convey from my opening paragraph I think this is something it needed to be: it’s certainly something I wanted it to be. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that the film is without its lighter moments. I personally found scenes with a young Clark kind of adorable, and there are several lines in the film it’d be kind of difficult to not smile at (an exchange about surveillance equipment towards the end of the film made me chuckle). There are some lines I personally would have played for laughs – the first actual mention of ‘Superman’ definitely – but I think that’s more related to my taste (or lack of) and not something the film lacked.
The structure of the narrative is interesting too, as the story doesn’t unfold chronologically and instead opts for flashbacks and cutaways to add character definition and plot development. This isn’t exactly unusual (in fact it happens all over the place, obviously), but the frequency of these flashbacks felt particularly right for something which is a definite origins story. I think it was also very well-cast, with Henry Cavill making a great Superman and Amy Adams a more interesting – and thankfully more sassy than usual – Lois Lane (before she essentially just started screaming, which was a shame but then again in her situation I’d probably be shrieking too). The film does look fantastic, too. The opening on Krypton is a gigantic set-piece which shows the scale of what’s going to follow. The scenes on the Kent Farm, and during Clark’s general wanderings about the earth, again show this range of action. And both Metropolis and Smallville see really, really bad days.
The film isn’t entirely without issue, as things never really are. The plot seems a little absent until it’s explained about halfway through the running time, as the film seems more comfortable defining who Clark Kent is rather than anything else. In the final battles there comes a point where buildings are getting levelled just because it is really, really fun to level them. However, the film is honestly so much fun that I didn’t really care about that by the end. There are also several sight-gags which do bring home the obvious attention and care put into the film – the (literally) throwaway reference to LexCorp and a sign on some scaffolding spring to mind. It’s a whole heap of fun, which is definitely what I want from a summer blockbuster, and I don’t think I can ask much more than to leave the screening smiling, which I did. It’s also so fun, if slightly ridiculous, to immediately recall Edna Mode (“NO CAPES”) during one of the final big battles in the same way that I was reminded of Regina George in The Great Gatsby (“How do I even begin to explain Gatsby? Gatsby is flawless. I hear his hair’s insured for $10,000 etc etc”). It’s nerding around at its most entertaining, and it only added to the happy kid I felt like as the film ended.
(On the other hand, my cinema experience was truly awful. Code-of-conduct breakers all over the place, shouting, texting with their phones on loud, clapping during the film, eating loud food. It was a nightmare, and I’m not going back to that cinema any time soon. I can’t quite stay away from the cinema generally though – even though I’ve been to a couple of bad screenings over the past few weeks – because I want to see Behind the Candelabra…)