Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
Man of Steel serves as the foundation of the DCEU – a thoroughly underrated franchise – and almost a decade on, it remains a divisive film. There are many who appreciate the grittier approach to Superman that Zack Snyder opted to take, but equally, there are those who didn’t like the creative liberties taken with the characterization of the iconic hero.
As a lifelong Superman fan, Man of Steel is a bittersweet sort of movie. Watching it objectively, it simply doesn’t achieve the things it sets out to, and in that sense, it’s a fundamental failure of the character. It’s a genuine shame, because Henry Cavill’s Superman is an interesting iteration of the character, and the actor has everything necessary to make the Man of Steel work in a cinematic sense, but the film’s tone is inescapable.
For no apparent reason, Man of Steel is thoroughly gray and bleak, with everything filtered through Snyder’s edgiest filter. Making Superman an outsider is an interesting touch, and narratively speaking, it works well to establish the deeper themes of the film and make its story feel coherent. However, everything about Man of Steel is thoroughly unappealing.
Conceptually, the film’s visuals are excellent. However, filtered though Snyder’s gritty, grainy ideas, it all feels hollow. The wanton destruction – while important for the DCEU’s wider story – makes Man of Steel feel as much like a disaster movie than a superhero movie, and somehow, it expects the viewer to root for the disaster. Furthermore, with so many convoluted plans hinging on alien jargon and pseudo-science, it’s almost impossible to care what exactly Man of Steel is trying to say. By the final act, all that can be done is see who’s left standing when the dust settles and hope that they explain what’s happened.
Of course, making Superman feel fresh and exciting after the character’s long history is no mean feat, and Snyder tried valiantly. However, his best efforts feel somehow both empty and overstuffed simultaneously: there’s a lot going on, but it’s hard to care about any of it. The stakes never feel particularly high, even when the Earth’s destruction is at hand, because Man of Steel does practically nothing to make its characters feel human, or interesting, or sympathetic.
Though it may be an unpopular opinion, Man of Steel is not a good movie. It’s clear what Snyder was trying to achieve, and there certainly are deeper elements to its story, but ultimately, it just isn’t very exciting.
Summary: Snyder gets points for trying, but Man of Steel falls victim to its own ambition. Trying too hard to reinvent Superman without actually changing anything significant was a recipe for disaster, and the resulting film is thoroughly uninteresting.
Highlights: Superman’s interactions with human characters show how convincingly Cavill can play the hero.