I’ve watched this movie dozens of times in the five years that it has existed, including in IMAX the very first time out, and somehow it manages to always get better every single time I watch it.
Man of Steel is the movie that started my “second viewing” rule about DC Extended Universe movies because the first time I watched it, the cognitive dissonance was strong in my brain. Like everyone else at the time, I was conditioned and brought up on Superman ‘78 as the model for Kal-El’s interpretation on the big screen. That’s what I knew and that’s how I processed the character my whole life.
Then comes Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill with what I consider to be the greatest Superman story in cinematic history. A film that takes the concept of the character and makes him the most relatable and identifiable he has ever been in my lifetime. Someone that despite being the most powerful superhero we have ever known, was raised as a human being and instilled with values that we all can identify with, and for the first time when we see him struggle to adjust to our world, we’re right there along with him for a journey that we can actually understand this time.
Those are the strongest moments in Man of Steel, the ones where we see Clark Kent grow and adjust to who is he and what he can do on Earth. The scene where the X-Ray vision and super hearing overwhelms him in class, when he saves the school bus of children including Lana Lang and Pete Ross, when he is excited to tell his mother Martha that he found his real parents and knows where he truly comes from, and when he speaks to the priest about whether or not he should give himself up to Zod. Those are the moments in Man of Steel that give this Superman story the most heart, the most emotion and the most humanity that we have ever seen on the big screen with such a powerful character and it holds up so well.
The rest of the world holds up their end of the bargain too. Amy Adams with a definitive modern take on Lois Lane as the dogged and determined journalist that is resolute in finding the truth about Clark and his origins, Michael Shannon with a monstrous and dominant performance as General Zod, the Kryptonian military mind hellbent on resurrecting his dead world at the expense of billions of lives, and Russell Crowe’s heartfelt and intelligent Jor-El, the father of our hero who wanted only the best for his son and realized the potential he had to help Earth not make the same mistakes that Krypton made. All the classic tenets of Superman’s origin story are all there, but presented in such a vibrant and powerful manner here, creating a movie that has a relentless heart and swell of emotion that wants to make you feel every word, every hit, every sight and every sound that it has.
The visual effects in Man of Steel remain some of the strongest work ever done for a movie, let alone a comic book movie. Five years later, it looks anything but dated and you wish it had been a template for more of the movies we see today filled with CGI and incredible explosions. The way that Zack Snyder composed this film visually is a masterclass of making a superhero origin story an incredible epic with a mountain full of gravitas and energy. The Kryptonian ships, the devastation of Metropolis, the struggle for Superman to destroy the world engine in the Indian Ocean, and the final battle between Kal and Zod at the end, all feel like they are the comic come to life in front of us and Superman had never, ever looked that good to us before on the big screen. All of this along the backdrop of one of Hans Zimmer’s most dynamic and visceral scores in his esteemed career.
Man of Steel is the greatest Superman movie made to date and one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. We’re still waiting for another solo Superman effort like it, but it’s safe to say that we were all genuinely unprepared for the sequel to this film that would be delivered to us three years later.