Why Man of Steel is the best Superhero movie of 2013
"As another year in movies draws to a close it’s once again time for the usual annual debates, ranking movies released in 2013 according to various criteria of consideration. While every critic and awards show will be arguing over which movie ranks as overall best, or which actor or actress did best, we here at Screen Rant would rather take on a more specific – and more volatile – debate: which superhero movie was the best of the year.
2013 brought us a group of sequels - Kick-Ass 2, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World – and a semi-sequel thingy (Wolverine), but the biggest story was no doubt the world being reintroduced to the character of Superman on film. It was a long and hard road to get the character back into theaters, but for all intents and purposes, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel has indeed secured a place in the zeitgeist for a new vision of Superman.
My praise of the film should come as no surprise to any longtime readers of Screen Rant; I gave Man of Steel a four-star review, whereas so many other critics (and viewers) were harsher. I’m not ignorant of the many objections to the film (if you listen to our Man of Steel podcast, I even support a lot of them) – it’s just that there’s been such deafening debate about what all is wrong with the Superman reboot, it’s drowned out a lot of the discussion about just how much was done right.
Here is why – in my opinion – Man of Steel is actually the best superhero film of the year – maybe of the last few years.
It Has Something to Say
Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and Kick-Ass 2 were all fun times at the theater – but all three were also short on substance when it came to any real themes or messages. That distinction is often the difference between comic book movies that make a deep impression on the cultural consciousness, and ones that are cast eventually off and forgotten for being silly, shallow, or generally ill-conceived.
Man of Steel is a different story. Literally. Chris Nolan and David S. Goyer – whatever you want to say about their dialogue or narrative structure choices – crafted a very substantive and multi-layered examination of who Superman is, and why he is an icon. Director Zack Snyder only compounded those ideas with some keen and insightful visual iconography and visual metaphor.
Whereas Superman Returns tried to repackage the world’s greatest superhero in a familiar (read: dated) package of Richard Donner nostalgia, Man of Steel posited ideas that are wholly relevant to the here and now. By way of the reboot, Superman is made a symbol to any kid who feels closeted, ostracized, unsure of their identity or is simply impatient for a greater purpose in life that awaits them. He’s a reminder that basic salt-and-earth principles and values never go out of style, that righteousness is a choice one must make – I could go on…
People have centered in on the “Fall of Metropolis” climatic battle or Superman’s killing of Zod as evidence that MoS has ”ruined Superman,” but not only are these specious assertions - Zod wanted to level Metropolis and far outclassed Superman as a warrior; Superman also killed Zod in the comics as well as in Superman II - they are also views of narrow focus that totally discount the aspects of the character and mythos which Man of Steel highlighted in ways no other movie has before (Superman’s youth spent (sometimes literally) “in the closet,” his ethnic identity struggles, his faith, etc.).
The reboot offered real and timely messages about the world, by way of one of its biggest icons. No other piece of superhero escapist entertainment this year even came close to such an accomplishment. Very few superhero films ever have, if I’m being truthful.
It’s Faithful to the Core
In truth (as someone who followed the long process), Man of Steel was nitpicked to death long before it ever reached the theater. The changes to the character being made – in origin, depiction, or those controversial costume updates (no red briefs on the outside?!) – were given such heavy spotlight that very little discussion has been heard about what Snyder and Co. got right about Superman’s character.
It’s hard (for me at least) to look at Man of Steel and not recognize the reverence for the character being displayed. Not just reverence for Superman himself, but also reverence for just about every other character in his world and mythos. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) was more badass than ever; Pa Kent was as wise and moving as ever; Perry White (now black) was just as much the stern-but-compassionate father figure that he’s always been.
Best of all, the ladies in Superman’s life (Lois, Ma Kent, Lara – even the evil Faora) were depicted as being stronger and smarter in some ways than their male counterparts. (Seriously, count the times that Superman relies on or draws from a woman’s strength in this film; behind the Man of Steel are some iron ladies.)
People make jokes about heavy-handed religious iconography, an Avatar-style Krypton or those modern-day updates (NO RED BRIEFS????), but really what gets ignored is the fact that Nolan, Goyer and Snyder actually highlighted the fundamental truth about Superman: That a child of two worlds, with all the power in the world, is forever transformed by the simple power of loving parents and down-home, all-American values. Superman is a god that views humanity (in all its imperfection) as an ideal – which is what that climatic battle with Zod (and that controversial train station execution) are really all about.
Never before has the Superman story had to exist in a modern world as complex as this one; Man of Steel dove headlong into those complicated waters (sexuality, immigration, ethnic identity, foreign politics – all issues this movie alludes to or touches upon) and still managed to present a strong argument for why Superman is the man (not the “Super”) that he is.
In a storm of modern complications, Man of Steel never lost sight of its character, distinguishing and defining him better than any other one of the 2013 superhero films – each of which had character-defining story arcs – ever did.
Pa Kent wisdom trumps General Zod-style dogma every time – the core of any authentic Superman lore.
It Has Superior Action & Visuals
While Iron Man 3 was throwing away decades of iconic Iron Man suits on generic action sequencing – while Thor: The Dark World was trying to offer its best Star Wars prequels imitation – while Kick-Ass 2 was just wishing it could keep up with the rest of its blockbuster brethren – Zack Snyder was once again making visual milestones in the comic book movie genre.
Some people complain that there was “shaky-cam” – but come on, this film wasn’t Green Zone or Cloverfield. The hand-held Cinéma vérité style, juxtaposed to the extensive digital effects, created a Superman film experience that felt grounded and intimate, yet extraordinary at the same time. And when it came to the action sequences… well it’s hard to look at any other comic book film released this year and say with a straight face that it equaled the level of THIS:
Was Krypton a little Avatar-y? Sure. Was the Battle of Metropolis over-the-top by the time the 39th building came crashing down? Sure. But too much impressive action is a unique problem to have in the superhero movie genre, where climatic “boss battles” are so often disappointments, and action is typically limited to a three-part progression of small, medium, then large sequences. Man of Steel kept the action quotient high – Krypton war, oil rig fire, spaceship battle, Smallville battle, terraformer sabotage sequence, Supes vs. Zod boss battle – and kept it pretty spectacular, throughout.
The man behind 300 and Watchmen did it again, and in much different style than many expected. Not only was the action good, Man of Steel is also an all-around superior piece of visual storytelling, even in its calmer moments. That early shot of a seagull hovering in a hard wind? Metaphor for Clark’s fight to spread his wings and fly, so to speak. That shot of a butterfly on the Kent farm, later on? Metaphor for that point in the story where Clark is transitioning into being Superman. Let’s not even start with the emotion the came with that final shot of a young Clark Kent playing in the yard with a red cape tied around his neck; what little boy (or girl) didn’t feel a pang of precious nostalgia from that piece of visual iconography?
You could break this film down on a film school level and most of it would hold up as artistically sound and purposed. Please don’t try the same trick with Kick-Ass 2… Man of Steel is not superhero moviemaking on a blockbuster level – thanks to Snyder’s ingenuity (plus bonuses likes Hans Zimmer’s epic score and catchy new Superman theme song) it’s superhero moviemaking on a truly cinematic level, and deserves more respect for being so.
It Created an Exciting Future
The game of ticket sales was hands-down won by Iron Man 3, and combined with Thor 2′s success, we learned that the Marvel movie brand has only been strengthened in a post-Avengers world. But Marvel didn’t create the most anticipation for the future - Man of Steel did that, and did it without the crutch of a stunt-casting cameo or vague teases you had to sit around and wait for in the theater.
A Wayne Tech satellite and LexCorp company logo were enough to get fans giddy that Man of Steel was the new beginning of a DC movie universe; the subsequent hints that a sequel film could center on Batman holding Superman accountable as a world figure (and Metropolis destroyer) pretty much stole the show at Comic-Con 2013. Since then, the details of Batman vs. Superman - and really all of DC and Warner Bros.’ plans for the big and small screens – has taken hold of the pop-culture zeitgeist and gripped it tight. To say Marvel’s plans for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Avengers: Age of Ultron have made similar lasting impressions would be false. (Don’t think anyone is begging for that Kick-Ass 3 movie, so let’s just take that film right on out of this discussion….)
The entire world has seemingly gotten in on the debate about whether or not Ben Affleck can be Batman; wether Gal Gadot is a proper Wonder Woman; even whether a black actor like Denzel Washington can be the new Lex Luthor. That’s top headline material right there, and love it or hate it, the average mainstream person (not just geeks) is invested in how this DC movie universe shakes out in the next few years. Man of Steel got that ball rolling.
More importantly, though: Man of Steel helped to establish an approach to superhero films that sets DC Entertainment apart from Marvel. Nolan’s Batman and Superman may exist in separate continuities, but the films he inspired about both have convinced many that fantastical (read: potentially silly) heroes like Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Flash also have a shot at “grounded,” mature and modernized films. In fact, it seems like serious mythology and themes over fantastical escapist adventure has become the unofficial DC movie brand. And while debates continue about an exact game plan, or casting choices, this new DC brand is evidently something quite a few people want more of (sorry, Green Lantern, not you).
With a god-powered extraterrestrial re-introduced to the world in pretty solid and convincing fashion (to say the least), the incredible hurdle of fitting one of the most fantastical characters of the DCU into modern-day context has now been conquered. What we’ve seen since then is much bigger risks being taken, with an iconic Amazon set to be introduced, a new (and vastly different) Batman being re-introduced so soon after Nolan’s version – and even the TV series Arrow introducing bigger and more fantastical DC Comics’ elements into its mythos (see you soon, Flash TV show!).
In the end, Man of Steel gave birth to a whole new era of the live-action DC Universe. Big things are happening as a result, and while the experiment might turn out to be a failure, there is still no denying that right now, the Superman reboot accomplished more than just its own goal of re-introducing Superman. We have a whole Justice League universe now. That’s definitely more than the other 2013 superhero flicks can say.
Heck, all we got from Marvel was a fake Mandarin, a powerless Iron Man and an especially odd-looking Benecio Del Toro…."http://screenrant.com/man-of-steel-superman-best-superhero-movies-2013/