Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel: Superman’s Rise to Relevance in 21st Century Film


Up until last year Superman was an antiquated hero. His morality and characterization trapped in the zeitgeist of the late 1970s. Superman was a campy hero who rescued cats out of trees and was able to fly so fast around the Earth that he could turn back time. I’m referring of course to Richard Donner’s Superman: The movie which was good for its time, but is horribly dated for modern cinema. In 2006 Warner Bros. and D.C. Comics attempted to continue donner’s series of films with Brian Singer’s appalling Superman Returns. The movie was a critical and financial disappointment and the franchise was shelved. Even though Warner Bros. had failed to make Superman popular with a modern audience, their new interpretation of Batman with Christopher Nolan directing was hailed as a breath of fresh air compared to the Tim Berton and Joel Schumacher films from the 80s and 90s. Nolan’s Batman trilogy wrapped up in 2012 with The Dark Knight rises.

While developing The Dark Knight rises Nolan and his co-writer David Goyer came up with a modern version of Superman. Nolan and Goyer pitched their idea to Warner Bros. and they were given the green light to develop the film. Nolan and his wife, co-producer of the project, met with Zack and Deborah Snyder to discuss the movie.

OK, here’s some background on Zack Snyder. Snyder directed music videos and commercials in the 1990s and early 2000s. His first film was a reboot of Dawn of the Dead in 2004. The movie was generally well received by horror fans. According to an interview with Snyder in 2013 during the press tour for Man of Steel, he said that Warner Bros. offered him the job as director of a Superman movie in 2005. Snyder turned down the offer because his adaptation of Watchmen was in active development. His follow up in 2007 was the blockbuster 300, an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name. The movie was a box office hit and made Snyder a hot commodity in Hollywood. His next movie, Watchmen, was a controversial adaptation. Critical reaction was mixed, and the box office results were tepid. Audiences accused Snyder of being too faithful or not faithful enough to the source material. Personally I think the film is flawed, but shows moments of brilliance. I don’t think fans of the original graphic novel can accept the flaws of the book. It’s a good movie, and it has a bad reputation among comic fans because of the changes Snyder made. Anyways, this is about Superman not Watchmen. Snyder made an animated movie and the ill received Suckerpunch. So Man of Steel was a return to form for Snyder.

When man of Steel was announced with Zack Snyder attached to direct, it was an unpopular decision among comic book fans. I didn’t know that the casting of Henry kavell as Superman was a controversial decision either. To me he embodies Superman perfectly. After a couple different release date changes the film was released in the summer of 2013. It was the summer of Iron Man 3, Star Trek into Darkness, and several other successful franchises. Man of Steel was getting mixed reviews leading up to the week of its release. Critics said it was too bombastic, too indulgent, and too long. Despite these reviews the movie opened with a 110 million dollar weekend in America. After that weekend the Internet irrupted into a firestorm of debate over the film.

(Spoilers for Man of Steel ahead.) There were a number of criticisms leveled at Man of Steel. Most fans said that Snyder had presented a hyper violent inaccurate interpretation of the character. Fans declared that the movie was “not a Superman movie.” In my opinion these accusations are utterly ridiculous. Comic book fans get upset about minor changes in an adaptation. If something is not exactly how it was in the comic they are stirred into an unending rage. They are ultimately uncompromising in their disdain for these changes. The Superman we see in Man of Steel is a conflicted man who is unsure of his place in the world. This movie emphasizes how Superman is an alien, and is more of a science fiction action movie. Some fans fail to notice that this is a reimagined origin of Superman. The film takes place mostly during one day, and highlights how Superman is learning his powers and his limitations as a Kryptonian on Earth. People also complain that Warner Bros and Zack Snyder attempted to make Superman into Batman. This is the farthest possible thing from the truth of the matter. Snyder, Goyer, Nolan and Warner Bros. presented the most relevant and most personal version of Superman yet. Yes the character’s development in this reboot was different than the version before, but that is a good thing. Fans of the comics again cannot accept any change to their beloved heroes. I personally think it’s a good thing movie studios ignore fan opinions. They don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to filmmaking. Leave it up to the professionals to decide what would or would not make a good Superman movie.

One of the largest criticisms of the movie is how Superman kills General Zod by snapping his neck at the end of the movie. Fans claim that Superman “does not kill.” They’re getting Superman confused with Batman. Superman has killed enemies of his in the past. He also killed zod in Superman II which was Richard Lester’s sequel to Richard Donner’s movie. Superman had to kill Zod. During their final confrontation General Zod states that one of them has to die. It is evident to me that Superman made the ultimate sacrifice and pledge to the people of Earth. He would rather save humans than try to change the mind of a Kryptonian. Each Kryptonian is someone who is essentially programmed to be a warrior, leader, scholar, or scientist. Kal-el chose the people of Earth over someone from his own race because he is an alien raised in Kansas. He’s essentially an immigrant from outer space. He recognizes that Earth is his home, and that krypton is a relic of a past civilization. After all it was Jor-El, Superman’s father, who said that only Kal-El could be Earth’s savior, and that Superman could be a guiding light for the people of Earth.

My opinion of the movie is fairly evident. I think it’s a great achievement for comic book filmmaking. The only problem I have with the movie is some of the dialogue, and the Lois lane and Clark Kent relationship seems slightly forced. Maybe if they had held that back for the sequel it would have worked better. It’s obvious by the middle to the end of the movie that their relationship is developing, and that they trust one another. I think their relationship can be expanded on and more developed in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the sequel to man of Steel. This movie is fantastic, and the action is great. It’s a very kinetic film that keeps the viewer interested in the characters from the destruction of Krypton to when Superman joins the Daily Planet at the end. Fans might argue that Zack Snyder’s reboot is a piece of crap, but I disagree. The mere fact that man of Steel is still a topic of discussion among movie goers and comic book fans highlights how relevant Superman is now Zack Snyder has reintroduced the world to the last son of Krypton.



  1 comment for “Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel: Superman’s Rise to Relevance in 21st Century Film

  1. kirbykrackle
    October 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I have to completely disagree with this article. There has never been a time when Superman hasn’t been relevant in comics, film, television, animation, and pop culture in general. First of all, scores of songs have been written about Superman in genres ranging from hip hop to third wave ska.( Also, celebrities ranging from former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal to comedian/actor Jerry Seinfeld have made Superman a big part of their branding.

    Turning to media where Superman actually appears as a character, Superman has had two live action TV shows since the 1970s, including Smallville, which lasted for ten seasons on the CW/WB, and he was a big part of the beloved DC Animated Universe in the 90s through Superman: The Animated Universe as well as the Justice League shows. He also made a few big appearances in the recent Young Justice cartoon where he struggled with his relationship with his clone, Superboy. These cartoons showed both the strengths and weaknesses of Superman’s moral code. He sees the best in humanity, but this leaves him open to manipulation by the government and foes, like Darkseid, the alien tyrant of Apokolips. As well as these shows, Superman has appeared in at least one DC Animation direct to DVD films since 2007, including adaptations of legendary comics storylines like “Death of Superman” and All Star Superman.

    And Superman has definitely been a big deal in the comic since the 70s with a variety of storylines that aren’t campy in the least bit. From John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel series that rebranded Superman for post-Watchmen/Dark Knight comics readers by making important innovations like changing Lex Luthor from a mad scientist to businessman to the 2008 All Star Superman series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, which had lush, beautiful art while restoring him to his god-like power levels and turning him into a self-sacrificing hero, who literally restarts the sun to save the world, there have been some great Superman stories over the past thirty years. It had a Superman, who really inspired people and had human emotions despite his great powers. Here is a link to a great panel from the comic that shows that Superman still cares about humans even though he has to deal with things, like the sun being destroyed or Lex Luthor having his powers for a day.

    The lack of this kind of compassion shown in All-Star Superman is why Man of Steel didn’t resonate with me, not the changes with the costume or something silly like that. The almost non-presence of Clark Kent, who is the most innovative part of the Superman mythos, was another problem. It seemed like the filmmakers watched the Bill’s speech about Superman holding humanity in contempt at the end of Kill Bill Vol 2 and took it to heart. There is also the much mentioned problem of Superman letting the Kryptonians tear up Smallville, his hometown, including Ma Kent’s house and main street instead of fighting in one of the many uninhabited cornfields one can find in rural Kansas. As far as Metropolis and killing Zod, I think the Zod sequence would have worked if the filmmakers had shown Superman going out of his way to save civilians and showing how almost impossible it is for him to beat Zod and save the city. However, what we got was disaster porn and a dark Superman, who seemed to care very little about humans and definitely didn’t inspire me to be a better person, like the Richard Donner film or the DCAU portrayals of Superman, or All-Star Superman.

    I agree that Man of Steel did have some good action scenes (the opening Krypton sequence and the one on one fights against Faora and Zod especially), but it lacked heart. After the events of the film, a businessman like Lex Luthor or Bruce Wayne has every reason to mistrust an alien, who despite having godlike powers, decided to wreck a lot of their assets and buildings instead of taking the battle somewhere else. This sympathetic Lex Luthor (as well as how the hell is Wonder Woman going to fit in the film) is what I’m looking forward to most in the upcoming Dawn of Justice film. But if Superman continues to be dark and non-inspirational, there’s always All-Star Superman to re-read.

    In closing, Zack Snyder didn’t make Superman popular and an iconic character again. He has never not been an American icon across all media. And the day that someone isn’t able to buy Superman underoos at Target will be an extremely sad day.

Comments are closed.