MOTW: The Hope Behind "Man of Steel"

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
June 12th, 2013

MOTW: The Hope Behind "Man of Steel"

The summer of 2013 promises to be filled with cinematic blockbusters designed to capture the attention of moviegoers and hopefully break box-office records in the process. Among the most anticipated releases of the blockbuster season is director Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel." The film, a reimagining of the story behind one of the everlasting icons of the comic book world, Superman, has all the hallmarks of a big-budget action movie. There's plenty of bang to go along with the viewer's buck, with an exciting story that's sure to have audiences cheering. There's also a plot line that centers on the idea of hope and just what it means to have an old-school superhero flying around in today's modern world.

"Man of Steel" follows the traditional origin story of Superman, with a few twists thrown in to make the character more acceptable to modern filmgoers. As in the comics and earlier television shows and films, Superman is a man of two worlds. The character is born on the dying planet of Krypton, where he is placed into a spaceship by his Kryptonian parents and sent to Earth to be raised as human.

In earlier film adaptations, there is little attention paid to the Kryptonian heritage of Superman other than to state that the difference between planets is the source of his power. In "Man of Steel" however, the audience is given more than a cursory glimpse into the planet of Superman's origin. This look at the planet of Superman's birth emphasizes the prevailing theme of hope running throughout the film. In sending the child to Earth, Superman's father, played with dramatic flair by Russell Crowe, places the hope of the dying civilization onto the child's tiny shoulders. In saving the newborn Superman, he manages to save a part of his civilization. However, at the same time, he sacrifices a large part of it, knowing that his son will be assimilated into Earth's culture.

Assimilation for a young Clark Kent, as the child is named by his earthly adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent, is not an easy task. Martha Kent, portrayed by Diane Lane, is loving and supportive, instantly accepting of Clark's superhuman powers. Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, brings a quiet strength and dignity to his role as adoptive father. Whereas Crowe's Jor-El advises Clark to embrace his role as defender of the weak, Costner reels in Clark's enthusiasm, cautioning him about the dangers of being different. Despite this caution, Clark Kent continuously finds himself in the role of rescuer, unable to turn his back on trouble despite the danger of exposing his extraterrestrial origins.

Henry Cavill takes on the role of Clark Kent/Superman with an all-inclusive approach. While earlier works often put forth the dual-identities of the main character as two separate entities, "Man of Steel" continuously emphasizes that Superman is only an extension of Kent in a colorful outfit. As Kent works to embrace both his Kryptonian origin and his earthly upbringing, the Superman persona gradually emerges as a melding of the two philosophies from his different fathers. Throughout the process of self-discovery, though, is the continued belief that he can be a force for good - a force that his adoptive world soon turns to as their final hope against off-world assailants.

This new imagining of Superman sees the character placed into a world without the usual comic-book background of superheroes. Superman is seen as even more extraordinary against this backdrop, and he is feared for his powers. When the danger of General Zod, a Kryptonian general who makes his way to Earth, is fully realized, however, the people of Earth must place their hope directly onto the Superman they once feared.

Zod, played by Michael Shannon, is everything that Earth feared Superman could be. He's callous in his use of power, destroying anything that he pleases with ease. With Zod's appearance though, the audience gets to see the culmination of Kent's growth into Superman the hero.

"Man of Steel" has an established fan base ready to fill seats on opening night. Superman is a beloved character who's withstood the test of time to provide entertainment to generations of comic-book readers, TV viewers and filmgoers. The question remains, will this new hopeful approach appeal to this established fandom while filling seats with new viewers?

If past film response is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes. "Man of Steel" brings plenty of action to the big screen, but at the same time offers a deep plot line that explores the Superman origin story from both planets' viewpoints. Fans of the Man of Steel have always placed their hope in him, and they will not be disappointed as this newly envisioned Superman shoulders the hope of his adoptive world once again.