Now that its course has definitely been set aside, now that Snyder’s ideas, now that Henry Cavill ‘s Clark Kent definitely belong to a dead and buried past.
the 2013 film reboot of the Man of Steel franchise , takes on a very different value, it’s good or bad history of the genre.
When it came out, exactly 10 years ago, Man of Steel left critics and audiences divided, the box office did well but not according to expectations, in fact it opened that course of the DC Cinematic Universe, which would later founder between criticisms, changes at the top and an immense confusion to say the least. Yet somehow this film leaves no one indifferent.
The choice of a different Superman than expected
It was Goyer who first thought of a way to create a Superman who would become what Richard Donner had created in the 70s and 80s. He talked about it with Christopher Nolan while they were completing the filming of the Batman Trilogy and the director was fascinated by the idea, by the concept, by the desire to bring back to life such an iconic but also so problematic character, so tied to a very particular era of cinema .
Man of Steel was initially connected to the desire to recover some iconic elements of the classic story lines by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Brad Meltzer . A trilogy was thought of, the comparison with The Godfather was uncomfortable, it was thought to fully embrace the Golden Age of the character, but Nolan and Goyer instead wanted something that fully represented the 2000s but above all to humanize the character more. They were fans of Superman Returns , but they also had to take into account the film’s failure, which suggested that entirely recycling Donner’s atmospheres was not a winning idea. A new reading of the character was needed for a new audience. That’s why the non-linear narrative line, also to fit Marvel and how it had revolutionized the genre. The relationship between this Superman and the MCU was actually much deeper than it seemed, because in Snyder’s mind, he was supposed to do what Iron Manhad done: to activate an interest in the public and pave the way for other films, which would compose a cinematic universe capable of bringing DC back to the glories that Nolan (here producer) himself had been able to create with his trilogy. Perhaps the mistake was to assume that a filmmaker like Snyder could be appreciated across the board? In hindsight it’s easy to say, but certainly Snyder for what he had shown, with his visually telluric style, could only be the best choice at the time.
Pros and cons of a film other than what the public wanted
10 years later, however, one thing can be said: among the many mistakes that Man of Steel made, Henry Cavill was not among them. Until then he had had prominent parts in TV series, in some films as a side character, but Man of Steel allowed him to go beyond what was thought. In fact, even today, despite the failure of the project, even though he was finally excluded from Gunn’s course, he was able to become Superman for everyone, even for those who didn’t love this or the subsequent films.
Beyond the physical strength, the incredible resemblance to the character, Cavill had that luminosity, that charm under the lines, that fully personify the goodness, the courage, the purity of soul of a boy raised as a human but who in reality he was an alien still in doubt about his world and his true identity. Man of Steelmade Cavill the bearer of the same existential unease, of the same “monster-hero” theme that Nolan had applied to the Dark Knight, in a universe equally divided between darkness and light, often with apocalyptic tones. Perhaps this was the real mistake, not so much the theme of the hero’s solitude, which Snyder took over from Sophocles, in line with the titanism of DC heroes, much more “elevated”, tragic and full of drama and battles compared to the Avengers. Cinematography by Amir Mokri , costumes by James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson (who guessed it all when changing Superman’s suite), set design by Alex McDowell, generated a sense of oppression, pessimism and drama, which part of the public (almost all under 25 and used to the perennial cheerfulness of the MCU) did not like very much.
This combined with a vision of the superhero concept not as a light-hearted adventurer like Flynn, but as a divided and restless mythological being. Fascinating, but for a few.
The legacy of a divisive incipit
Man of Steel had an incredible villain in Michael Shannon ‘s ZodHumble fake, basically inspired by the Waffen SS and their mortuary sadomasochistic creed, he was the perfect alter ego to Cavill’s still instinctive spontaneity. The casting of Russell Crowe as Jor-El was very successful, in perfect contrast with his charisma, his ambition, to the pure and simple humanity of Jonathan Kent, to whom Kevin Costnerhe was able to give not only a very “American” spirit. His merging with Crowe to indicate the two possible paths for Clark / Kal-El remains fascinating as a concept. One road, that of Jor-El, is to rise, to be a guide and beacon and protector for humanity. The other is hiding because he is different, therefore automatically hated by the rest of society. Jonathan Kent’s death, as conceived, was a gross narrative error but not a semantic or coherence error. The still “human” son, dominated by the father who wants to hide him to protect him, does not show his powers because the father, a cumbersome figure, imposes it on him. Metaphor, also linked to both Greek and Christian mythology, of sacrifice, of the death of the father as the liberation of the son, is one of the many elements that makeMan of Steel maybe not a great Superman movie, but a very good superhero movie. With a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer , a vision of the son of Krypton purified by the do-gooders of the 70s, it gives us a protagonist who is a child of the 2000s: they were years made of terrorism, wars, economic crisis, racism, fear and conflict . It can be argued that it was not what the public, this strange animal, wanted, but not that it does not continue to exert an absurd, however imperfect, fascination. And after 10 years, it remains vastly superior in so many elements and boldness to what the MCU since Infinity War has done on the big and small screens.