With Zach Snyder’s Justice League now slated to offer movie fans a divergent timeline within the near-decade’s old DC Extended Universe, many believe that it is time to reassess that franchise’s original tentpole launch, 2013’s Man of Steel.
As YouTuber John Campea explains, that while the film had a cast of A-list talent–including Henry Cavill, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe, respectively, as the paternal figures Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, and Michael Shannon as General Zod–it also faced the difficult task of reintroducing a beloved character to a new generation holding on to memories of a classic film franchise and incredibly high expectations.
Man of Steel also faces a unique and daunting challenge that, quite frankly, the MCU films never did—a long history of beloved previous movies and TV incarnations, each of which gave audiences some understandably preconceived notions of what this Superman should be like.
Wisecrack, while acknowledging that the expectations were high and director Zack Snyder’s willingness to revamp decades’ old superhero tomes were sound, the modern trend of gritty, dark approaches to the genre were not completely necessary to the Superman mythology.
By trying to graft darkness and grit onto a character devout of such qualities, Man of Steel stumbles into a mess that would ultimately doom the DCEU.
Therein lies one of the greatest debates among superhero fans regarding not just the entire DCEU, but specifically with the franchise’s reboot of Superman himself—perhaps the most iconic of the shared universe’s tentpole characters. YouTuber Nostalgic Critic stated this approach in their own review.
This is a new kind of Superman—he’s obviously not the one we grew up with … You just can’t accept the fact that this is something new. We all know that although the first two films are legendary, it’s time for a different way of looking at this story that’s been told a thousand times the same way.
According to almost all YouTubers—and fans alike—the fundamental changes made to the Superman story were universal, and garnered either the most amount of praises, or controversy. The emotional evolution of Henry Cavill's Clark Kent, which could either be seen as a contemporary, humanist approach, or a redundant “refusal of the call” was one of the primary sources of debate. John Campea adds that this could have been one of the reasons critics and fans were so decisive in their opinions.
Man of Steel decides to show us the confusion, fear, and panic that a kid like Clark would have felt if completely unexplainable things were suddenly happening to him.
YouTuber Wisecrack was vocal in its disapproval, claiming that this fundamental change in Superman’s very drive to be a hero led to a film where it was difficult for audiences to relate to the story’s hero, and his crucial journey to Earth’s protector.
On the contrary, Superman is supposed to be the ideal: all-powerful, yet completely pure; there is not a malevolent bone in his body. He’s the ultimate good guy.
Here, YouTuber Wisecrack even spots a symbolic approach to this struggle, claiming the film presents Superman’s reluctance as a form of “coming out” story.
When Clark first discovers his powers during class, he runs and hides in—you guessed it—a closet.
Many views insisted that Superman’s relationships to other characters not only reflected this internal struggle perhaps in too realistic a manner, but shaped the very struggle into a form of moral gray-area that was either praised for its genuineness, or overly somber for a superhero film. This, according to YouTuber Black Nerd Comedy, can be seen early on in the film with the presentation of its primary villain, General Zod as played by Michael Shannon, who is depicted as a reluctant and misunderstood “hero of the people” in his own right.
Then Zod comes in and is like, ‘the people, people, people!’ I guess that’s the thing that you have to do now if you’re a villain in a DC Comics movie is you have to keep talking about the people. Bane was about the people, and then Zod was like, ‘the people‘!
John Campea shared this observation but was more forgiving in Snyder’s reshaping of the Zod character, claiming that this approach successfully added to Superman’s own reluctance to blindly side with the morally flawed human race.
This notion of saving Krypton as opposed to just wanting to rule Krypton gives depth and dimension to the character of Zod.
Aside from the many individual nuances regarding Man of Steel and its modern approach to Superman’s heroic evolution, nearly all audiences were universal in the polarizing effects of the title character’s relationship with both his Kryptonian father, Jor-El, as played by Russell Crowe and his adoptive human father, Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent—here, both paternal figures divided in their own beliefs in Superman’s ultimate place on Earth. John Campea wholeheartedly approved:
This adds another layer to the internal struggle Clark must face as his search for identity has to pass through the filters two well-meaning, loving, and great ideologically different fathers.
However, YouTuber Wisecrack was significantly more divided on this dramatic approach to Jonathan Kent’s realistic confusion regarding his adopted son’s secret identity, summed up in one of the film’s most controversial scenes.
After young Clark saves a bus full of young students from drowning, Jonathan Kent tells him that maybe he shouldn’t have … Let that sink in.
The commentators of Nostalgia Critic were divided, as well, but presented this scene as, at least, a crucial moment for Superman’s eventual acceptance of his powers—and one that audiences could related to on a very human level.
It’s [Jonathan]’s way of saying he doesn’t know, and that’s what’s so great about it, because it mimics real life far more than previous Superman films. It shows that people don’t always have the answers.
This faith on Jonathan Kent’s part directly leads to, perhaps, the most controversial scene in the first third of Man of Steel; where once the adoptive human father had been killed off from natural causes, in this modernist approach, it is a deliberate choice on the character’s part to die, thereby protecting his son’s secret identity just a bit longer—at least until the people of Earth are better prepared to embrace his Otherness among them. On this, YouTuber John Campea praised the realism, adding:
Jonathan Kent being willing to die was the ultimate expression of his love for Clark
However, Wisecrack felt that the same lesson could have been handled in a less heavy-handed and morally ambiguous way, humorously observing:
When Jonathan Kent gets sucked up into a tornado, Man of Steel’s intent is to depict the moment as a tragic lesson but, in execution, it is far less. Clark could save his Pa from death, but can’t because doing so reveal his powers to too many.
YouTuber Nostalgia Critic echoed this opinion in their own review.
Yep—even though there’s about a million other ways that this problem could have been solved, Jonathan Kent sacrifices himself because he stands by how Clark should change the world by never doing a goddamn thing.
But when it comes to Man of Steel, the source of the film’s divided consensus among audiences can truly be broken down to the overall approach to the DCEU’s tone that chief architect Zack Snyder took as director. This is primarily seen in the action sequences—a facet of filmmaking that the director is all at once defined by, and on occasion, criticized for glorifying.
YouTuber Wisecrack remained adamant that this approach to action was more akin to violence and a nonchalance to the perceived human collateral damage—something which Zack Snyder would deliberately address in future DCEU installments.
Man of Steel carries this cynicism to its conclusion, where Superman and Zod duke it out in Metropolis nonchalantly killing hundreds of thousands, if not more.
But for the special effects and CGI wizardry, used specifically for the sake of realism and dramatic emphasis, John Campea was vocal in his own assessment.
The combat action sequences in the third act of Man of Steel are some of the most awe-inspired fight scenes in all of comic book movies.
YouTuber Black Nerd Comedy agreed with this positive assessment, also echoing the overall acceptance on the part of general audiences that Man of Steel was not just a reboot of the Superman character, but its modern take on the character would set a new standard for seeing the beloved characters of the full DCEU in future incarnations.
A lot of people were concerned about Zack Snyder’s movie style because of stuff we’ve seen him do in the past—but there was no slow-motion, nothing crazy, it wasn’t weird, it wasn’t just a bunch of action for the sake of action. It was a beautifully-crafted movie that told the origin of Superman story in a beautiful way.