When news comes along of a new Superman reboot, I immediately switch into defensive mode. As a lifetime Superman fan, who could blame me? Ever since the Donner movies; Warner has tried to breathe new life into the Man of Steel on the big screen. In the 90s, they hired Kevin Smith who actually produced an excellent, and very true to the comics, script that drew from the Death of Superman storyline. It even had a Batman cameo! But that never came to be, so Superman went to the drawing board.
In the early 2000s, Warner approached JJ Abrams to write Superman: Flyby. His script was so blasphemous to Superman that it still makes me vomit a little in my mouth. Among its many transgressions; Krypton didn’t explode, there was a Kryptonian civil war that comes to Earth, Ma Kent is almost raped in front of Clark, and Lex Luthor is Kal-El’s long lost evil brother from Krypton. Yes, it sucked. It really, really, sucked.
Then they went back to the Donner movies with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. I enjoyed Superman Returns as a continuation of Superman and Superman II, but in the years following I realized why it didn’t do that well in theaters. It wasn’t for a lack of action or the fact that Superman stalked Lois at night, but rather a very large segment of the audience was confused by the movie as it was drawing from an origin movie many of them never saw. It’s now been more than thirty years since Donner’s movie, and it’s time for the origin to be retold for a new generation.
Thankfully, Zack Snyder got it right with the help of David Goyer’s script. This is really the first time in history that the Superman we see in the comics every week has been realized on the big screen. It captures the fantastical science fiction look and feel of the comics perfectly, and the result is the Superman movie I’ve waited my entire life to see.
As someone who grew up with the Donner movies and actually reads the monthly Superman comics, I’m really defensive when it comes to changes being made to Superman. That’s why the JJ Abrams script is so horrible. It made drastic changes to the mythos to be new and edgy, which is the exact opposite that Goyer did with Man of Steel. The small changes made here are smart, and they make sense. Lois Lane is supposed to be an investigative reporter, and you’re telling me she can never figure out that Clark Kent is Superman? The change to Lois they do in this movie is something that should’ve been done a long time ago.
But still, this is the Superman of the comics on screen. Krypton especially is the wild, very alien, and very scifi version of the comics. Jor-El is the scientist we see in the comics, and the same character willing to buck the rules of Kryptonian society because he knows his planet is doomed. The scene where he goes on his own to retrieve the Kryptonian Codex reminded me a lot of the New 52 Jor-El who we saw investigating Krypton’s deteriorating core in the comics. Even Kal’s mother Lara is given more to do here, just as she has in the comics. Another New 52 reference is definitely the Superman costume, not only in its look but its origin as well.
But the New 52 isn’t the only place elements of the movie were pulled. There’s a lot of Birthright in there. Quite a bit in fact, especially the element of Clark roving the world to find himself prior to becoming Superman. The updating of the story to a modern setting, with Clark being found in the late 80s, is also right out of JMS’s excellent Superman: Earth One. But on an even larger scale, this feels like the monthly Superman comics brought to life.
I love the Donner movies. Growing up my time was split between obsessively watching a VHS tape either of Star Wars or Donner’s first Superman. But those movies were based on a very specific Superman with a much narrower, “street level”, focus that doesn’t really represent how Superman has been for the last thirty or so years in the comics. Especially Post-Crisis, Superman stories have been very epic science fiction with Kal-El facing off epic cosmic threats. In the last fifteen years or so, his Kryptonian heritage has taken on an even larger role in the stories.
In 2013, making a Superman movie where he flies around rescuing cats from trees and busting street level thugs wouldn’t be Superman. If you want a movie like that, you want Batman.
Superman is meant for bigger threats. You don’t have him spending two hours in a movie chasing after Lex Luthor on a yacht. No, the Lex Luthor of the comics would jump in a Kryptonite-powered suit of armor and face Superman on his own terms, or he’d do something more “mad scientist” and infect Superman with a Kryptonite virus that creates a twisted Kryptonite-derived Superman/Monster hybrid (which is actually happening in Action Comics right now).
Which is why if you want to show Superman in the movies, you need a threat as powerful as Superman himself. That’s why I have no problem with them re-doing Zod for this first movie, as having Superman fight another Kryptonian can show just how awesome that sort of action can be. And in this movie, the action and destruction makes The Avengers look like a direct-to-DVD movie in comparison.
Naturally everyone was worried about Hans Zimmer’s score. How could he possibly live up to the John Williams’ theme that literally sings “SUPERMAN!”? Quite well in fact. Zimmer’s score is amazing and the new “theme” (which plays in full over the end credits and was in Trailer 3) is awesome. This is better than his very low-key Batman scores and I can’t wait to see how it grows even larger in the second movie.
If I had to rank Man of Steel among other comic book movies, it’d take the top spot easily. The action and scale of a Superman comic book has finally been realized on the big screen, while establishing a new shared cinematic universe for DC comics. I’m extremely excited to see where it all goes from here.