Man of Steel was a successful re-launch of the Superman movie franchise (in terms of box office returns); not to mention, the blockbuster laid the groundwork for a shared DC Cinematic Universe, with the sequel – which we’ve been referring to as Batman vs. Superman – being the next building block.
Director Zack Snyder’s 21st century (read: contemporary) re-imagining of the Clark Kent/Kal-El character’s origin story is also one of the most divisive titles to have premiered during Summer 2013, if but for one simple reason: it truly re-imagined the mythos, by ramping up the action quotient and painting Superman’s universe in deeper shades of grey than many longtime fans are comfortable with. (Just look through the comments for Screen Rant’s official Man of Steel review and you’ll be able to gauge the intensity of the debate over this film within the hardcore fan community.)
Snyder chatted with The Japanese Times about creating a more flawed and vulnerable Superman (portrayed by Henry Cavill), while making a promotional visit to Tokyo ahead of Man of Steel opening in theaters in Japan tomorrow. One of the subjects that Snyder touched upon is how he perceives Kal-El’s dual heritage – being a child of Krypton raised by the human Kent family on Earth – as something that presents him with a personal obstacle that many Americans can understand (which the filmmaker sought to emphasize in his Superman movie reboot):
“One of the original authors of the Superman comics, Joe Shuster, was an immigrant. I thought it was fascinating how Superman — an infant from a distant planet — was placed in Kansas, which is the most iconographically central location in the U.S. Clark Kent represents a dichotomy: He’s a complete foreigner, literally an alien, but trying to come into his own in Kansas. And he holds a mirror up for ourselves. In many ways, Clark Kent’s dilemma is the American dilemma. Wherever we’re from, we all have this very strong desire for acceptance. When he’s young, most of Clark Kent’s efforts are directed toward being like everyone else. So the fact that he’s not like everyone and never will be is very difficult for him to accept. And he’s adopted too, which could be hard for a kid. I have four adopted children, so I know how that is.”
Supe’s personal quest for acceptance in Man of Steel is complicated by him being a superhero that – in Snyder’s own words – is “literally Biblical” – something that’s emphasized through the film with religious symbolism and allegory. Snyder’s logic, as he explained, is that Kal-El is fundamentally a being with God-like powers, whose self-appointed responsibilities to humanity conflicts with his own personal interests in a big way:
“A very large part of Superman has stayed on Krypton, but he can’t leave his adopted country because if he does the whole world could be destroyed. If he steps in to save everyone, he’ll never be accepted as a normal guy. It’s not an easy choice. Because after all that sacrifice, what does humanity have to offer Clark? You have to admit, it’s not much. In one scene, a priest tells Clark to take a ‘leap of faith.’ And that’s pretty much it for Superman. By the way, his Kryptonian name of Kal-El means ‘God’ in Hebrew.” (It actually translates as “Voice of God.”)
However, if there’s one element present in Man of Steel that the film’s detractors have taken the most issue with, it’s the way in which Kal-El handled the threat of Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his forces – not just in terms of what happened at the end of the climactic fight (we’ve already touched on that debate), but also with regard to the sheer amount of destruction and the collateral damage that results from the battle. Snyder, however, felt that having so much destructive spectacle (evoking 9/11 imagery) was necessary, given his attempt to create a modern American mythology with Man of Steel:
“I wanted the movie to have a mythological feeling. In ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters. In other countries like Greece and Japan, myths were recounted through the generations, partly to answer unanswerable questions about death and violence. In America, we don’t have that legacy of ancient mythology. Superman (who first appeared in ‘Action Comics’ in 1938) is probably the closest we get. It’s a way of recounting the myth.”
From day one, Snyder made it clear that the Man of Steel sequel will address the consequences of Supe’s actions in the first movie; that is, even before the rest of the world learned that Batman is going to be a part of the equation. Moreover, if you interpret Man of Steel as a superhero origin story allegory for real-world disasters (like Snyder does), then the logical direction for the second installment is to deal with the aftermath from the perspective of an older generation – one that’s weathered this sort of storm before, so to speak. That would appear to be the plan with the 41-year old Ben Affleck portraying a version of the Caped Crusader, who is described by Snyder as someone who “bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter.”
… And suffice it to say: anyone who knows what the older and wiser version of Batman is like knows that he will have strong opinions to share with Kal-El, where it has to do with to the responsibilities that come with being a superhero (and how the Last Son of Krypton has significant room for improvement in that area).
Man of Steel will be available on DVD and Blu-ray beginning November 12th, 2013.
Batman vs. Superman/Superman vs. Batman/Man of Steel 2 opens in theaters on July 17th, 2015.