With a June debut coming up, there have been a lot of questions regarding how the movie is going to turn out. A lot of them revolve around whether Superman as a character and as a concept is compatible with Nolan’s version of the DC universe. Superman is by nature, the embodiment of hope and salvation, not just in Metropolis but across the world. He is a throwback to a purer kind of superhero who experiences no human frailties and generally operates in a godlike fashion, in fact, a main comment of comic book fans and literary critics regarding Superman is his utter perfection, or at the very least how he embodies what humanity believes is perfect. This striving towards perfection can be seen in the Reeves era and the Singer revival where Superman has a certain “Mom and Dad apple pie” attitude abound. He does not use profanity, does not kill, does not manipulate or coerce anyone, and does not dwell on emotions such as anger or hatred. The age old challenge with Superman is how to make such a perfect individual relatable to an imperfect and painfully human audience? (I refer to you and I). Warner Bros and DC felt that the answer lay with the troubled and sharply realistic world of Christopher Nolan.
Nolan’s universe hinges on the inherent darkness within human society and within the human heart. His Batman movies deal with more than just the physical corruption and chaos that takes grip of Gotham city, each instalment of the Dark Knight saga is in reality a wrestling match between Bruce Wayne/Batman and the personal demons which chip away at his soul, from the grief over his parent’ death to his obsession with the cape and cowl, each Batman move is its own cocktail of despair, vengeance, and virtue and that is why the franchise was such a hit because it took a timeless comic book icon and gave him that kind of grungy, anti-hero appeal that reverberated with the viewers.
How this kind of treatment will apply to the bright-eyed and hopeful Kryptonian remains to be seen but if any sort of clue can be gleamed from trailers, it appears that Nolan, through his handpicked protégé Zack Snyder, plans to focus on Superman’s search for his identity. The struggle of Superman reconciling his Kryptonian heritage with his Earth upbringing has been glossed over in the previous Superman films but it appears that it may be the crux of the character struggle in Man of Steel. The choice of Henry Cavill (Theseus from Immortals and Humphrey from Stardust) reflects the mood of Nolan’s Superman because he has the look of a decent, honest, yet pensive man, which is ideal if Snyder plans to depict a Kal-El in search of his purpose in his adoptive world. To better highlight the struggle of nature versus nurture, the movie boasts a break from tradition by electing General Zod (the Kryptonian villain in the 1980 Superman II, in case you’ve forgotten) as the first villain of the rebooted franchise. Played by Michael Shannon (of Boardwalk Empire fame), the Kryptonian general and refugee looks to challenge Superman both physically and mentally as he questions Superman’s dedication to a human race which is vastly inferior in his eyes. While most people expected Lex Luthor to make the starting line-up, the decision to feature General Zod first only shows that there is a serious commitment to set up Man of Steel as a definitive origin story (much like how Nolan shocked the world in Batman Begins by foregoing the Joker for Ras Al Ghul). In fact, Zod will probably play the same plot role as Ras Al Ghul by being the villain whose encounter will shape Superman’s ideology and moral framework for his eventual sequels (In the Begins, Batman adheres to a non-lethal brand of justice after seeing first-hand through Ras the extreme side of vigilante justice).
Nolan and Snyder’s choices for the supporting cast is going to end up as one of the unsung highlights of the film, Russel Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s biological father (a role once carried by the one and only Marlon Brando), Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Pa and Ma Kent, Laurence Fishburne as an African-American version of Clark Kent’s Daily Planet boss Perry White, and the talented Amy Adams as Lois Lane Clark Kent’s inquisitive co-journalist and Superman’s lover. With such a well rounded and talented supporting cast, expect every scene and dialogue in Man Of Steel to be gold and expect each cast member to challenge one another bring out their ‘A game’ in every scene.
Zack Snyder is a great pick for director; his resume includes a lot of notable comic book adaptations such as Frank Miller’s 300 and Alan Moore’s Watchmen so this is nothing new for him. He is very good at staying loyal to the source material while adding just enough original elements to make it movie worthy (he displayed this skill in 300 where he developed the side plot involving the Queen of Sparta which did not exist at all in the graphic novel but which gave the movie that level of interpersonal drama you won’t find in Miller’s work), for Man Of Steel, expect him to masterfully balance Nolan’s realistic setting, with the growth of the characters while at the same time delivering enough action to do justice to Superman’s incredible powers.
Man of Steel should be a huge commercial hit and it is safe to say that it will fly well with critics. That said its ramifications will go beyond just being the latest in a slew of Superhero movies. If the movie bombs for any bizarre reason then it will set back DC’s plans to the stone age, join Green Lantern in the loser’s club, and destroy any hopes of making the Justice League movie work, however if it is done properly it will reinvigorate the Superman film franchise and give it the kind of cinematic respect that the Dark Knight trilogy has enjoyed (Every Batman movie under Nolan was both a commercial win and a critical gem).
The success of Man of Steel will also mean that DC and Warner Bros will have enough future firepower to challenge the current chokehold that Marvel has on the Superhero movie genre and to an extent on big Hollywood blockbusters. It will set the stage for Warner and DC to gamble on bringing the rest of their comic book roster to life (the roster includes other icons like Aquaman, Flash, and Wonder Woman) and redeem past failures such as Green Lantern and it will ultimately culminate in a Justice League movie that hopes to rival the Avengers film franchise (for the Justice League movie to work, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have to be established with audience very well, since Batman is good to go and there’s been no word on Wonder Woman yet, its Superman’s turn to hit a home run). A lot is riding on this latest silver screen incarnation of Superman to truly make the comic book icon a household name in today’s comic book crazy world. Regardless of the epic trailers, the Nolan stamp of approval, the ensemble cast, and that gut feeling that it will be the biggest film of 2013, only time will tell if the real Superman has finally landed.