Man of Steel (2013)
4) How and when should we use the power we’ve been given?
1) Killer Opening
Man of Steel kicks off with an extended sequence on Krypton much longer than most summer movie openings. It’s pretty memorable and makes up for the fact that there’s not much action in the first half of the movie. Though not particularly connected to the main theme of the movie, the events on Krypton sets the pieces in motion for the later conflicts.
2) Two Major Set Pieces
Unless you count the oil rig scene or the ancient scoutship, there is really only one big set piece in the middle the film: the Battle of Smallville. Like the opening on Krypton, it is a rather extended sequence. If I would argue that it is perhaps the standout action piece of the whole film, capturing the raw power of Superman and his kin in a truly cinematic spectacle.
3) A Killer Climax
The climax arrives with yet another extended set piece, this time split across three distinct phases: the World Engine, the Kryptonians in Metropolis, and finally the last stand of General Zod. All three have a definite goal which Superman is able to accomplish sequentially. If anything the final battle with Zod feels slightly unnecessary.
4) A Concise Statement of Theme
What does it mean to belong and how far should you go to defend the people to whom you belong?
Man of Steel opts for a huge opening, a huge middle set piece, and a huge climax. For the most part this works well. However where the formula falls short is Superman’s characterization. He is after all a man juggling three different identities: Kal-El, Clark Kent, and Superman. Compounded by the fact that his main character moments were split between Lois, Martha Kent, Jor-El, Zod, and Jonathan Kent, it’s too much material with too little focus. The story is technically sufficient but clearly one that left many people wanting.
The Story Punch
Clark’s struggle in this film is his isolation. It is about how he is separated from other people due to his strange powers. He hides his true nature, traveling the world in search of his origins until eventually he finds out about his people. When Zod and the Kryptonians arrive, Clark feels more alone than ever torn between saving his adopted home and destroying the last of his race.
The story punch, the defining moment of the story, comes in a flashback surprisingly. After discovering that his parents found him in a crashed alien pod, Clark asks his father worriedly, “Can’t I just keep pretending that I’m your son?” Jonathan replies without hesitation, “You are my son.” It is this foundation of love and acceptance from his adopted father, this moment of radical uncertainty confronted with paternal comfort and warmth, that ultimately enables Superman to become Superman.