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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

Forging Steel with Humanity: Superman Reborn in “Man of Steel”

What does it mean to be human? Obviously science alone cannot be relied upon to provide all the answers when describing the depth of such meaning and accuracy because it’s not only about biology or physical makeup; it envelopes the entire cosmic being and its soul. It’s also a fundamental question regarding our existence that evolves through the relationships we build with one another and the world around us. How we view our choices, psyche, emotions, ethics and morality are the foundations for weaving together a holistic understanding of being human. To be a ‘super human’ one has to learn to be a human first and foremost. However, through the journeys we make in life, we begin to realize how inadequate we are as humans and thus, are naturally incomplete. Each is born with a goal in life that we are not aware of, but are left to discover.

Such a journey is gifted to one such individual, isolated because of his dissimilarities in the origin tale of Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The title of the film may give it away but “Man of Steel” is not a tale of the caped crusader and the adventures he gets himself into, but rather a re-imagining of the Superman saga where the man behind the famous red cape truly is trapped within, while paying homage to the comic books from 1986 exploring Kal-El’s genesis.

We all know the history of Clark Kent and Superman, but in Man of Steel we are given a glimpse into this legendary hero’s personal history and struggle—a struggle to find acceptance and belonging.

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) as Krypton’s rebellious scientist and loving father of Kal-El. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

The film opens up as the planet Krypton faces obliteration due to its unstable core as an effect from years of utilizing the planet’s natural resources. As the decree assembly is overthrown by rebel military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his followers, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) devise a plan to launch their newborn son Kal-El into a capsule headed for Earth. As young Kal-El was the Krypton’s first “unlawful” natural birth in years, Jor-El decides to implant a genetic codex in his son’s cells in order to preserve their Kryptonian race and heritage. In many ways, Kal-El will be Krypton’s hope. In a confrontation between Zod and Jor-El, Jor-El is murdered, resulting in imprisonment and banishment of General Zod and his followers to the Phantom Zone. When the planet Krypton explodes some time afterwards, the prisoners are freed, and Zod begins to search high and low for young Kal-El and the codex.

As Kal-El is sent to Earth, he is rescued and raised by warm and loving Kansas farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who call their new found son, Clark. As he grows up, young Clark (Cooper Timberline, Dylan Sprayberry) discovers a discrepancy in his growth that alienates him and casts him aside, as his alien DNA bestows him with superpowers on Earth. Clark’s humble parents soon worry their community and the world will fear their son, take advantage of him or even hurt him. For reasons of indifference, Clark hides his powers despite being bullied and grows up quiet, withdrawn and estranged from humanity. Even so, Clark is very much human because though he grew up isolated due to his abilities, he was unable to open up due to fear of rejection—a common human emotion many of us face.

Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) watching their son, Clark play in their Kansas yard. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

As Clark grows up and becomes a young man, he becomes reticent, introverted and almost tormented, wondering who he is and why he is so different. After his Earth father’s death, Clark (Henry Cavill) spends several years living as a nomad, quenching his wanderlust in order to discover who he is. Traveling incognito and working different jobs under false names, Clark saves those in harm’s way while grieving in his own way trying to adjust to the loss of his adoptive father. While he travels in disguise, Clark overhears classified information from members of the military about a possible scout ship found in the Arctic. As he finds out more for himself, so does tenacious and spunky Pulitzer Prize winning news reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), sent to cover a story for The Daily Planet. As Clark accidentally sets off a distress signal sent from the ship, General Zod and his crew lock on to the signal and plan a full-on invasion in order to recreate Krypton on Earth, even if it means wiping out the human race.

When we first meet Clark, he’s unshaven and sketchy but underneath that exterior is an incredibly wounded soul, full of angst and self-doubt. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the “Man of Steel” comes off very modest, sensitive and compassionate, especially when he transcends to the hero stature. Watching Cavill connect with this character that has been made over many times is uplifting and inspirational despite the inner conflict we see his character is clearly facing throughout the film. Cavill is a superb choice with his looks, charm, talent, and most of all, he’s incredibly likable on-screen. He’s able to convincingly portray innate humility, confusion, and eventual vigor, all characteristics of a human. His face and demeanor are genuinely the foundations of Superman’s—kind, warm and at times, vulnerable yet meek.

Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) watching the news in awe. Image Credit: Warner Brothers

Amy Adams as the intrepid and spunky Lois Lane, has the exact curiosity and drive Superman’s better half requires when unraveling the truth. In some ways, she’s the Rosalind Russell archetype from His Girl Friday and plays the role with great pert appeal as she’s ballsy, sharp and caring. When Adams and Cavill share scenes together, it’s exciting to watch them bounce off one another because they have instant chemistry; a dynamic imperative to the story-line since Lois has always been by Superman’s side and serves as a good influence on his choices and decisions, while being fearless in her own search for the truth. Their relationship in Man of Steel gives audiences plenty to think about and speculate on for the film’s sequel.

Laurence Fishburne, who plays the highly ethical and archetypal Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Planet is perfect in the supporting role. He’s able to play the famous editor slick and petulant, but incredibly fair-minded. He may seem incredibly tough and hard but under that exterior, he treats all his writers with great respect and looks out for them.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) in battle with Superman. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

As any story can be changed through the eyes of an antagonist, General Zod is an interesting character to look out and most definitely portray. Whereas many will see Zod’s attempts to overthrow civilization on Earth, he was born to be a warrior whose primary duty is to defend and preserve Krypton. He is simply doing his job to preserve life from his own planet and save millions without a home. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Zod is played exceptionally well. He’s livid, confident and personifies the maniacal General skillfully. On the other side of the spectrum, Russell Crowe plays Jor-El in a reinvention of the brilliant Kryptonian scientist and father. A portrayal nothing like Marlon Brando’s in Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, Man of Steel’s Jor-El is equipped with technologies we never could have imagined. Russell Crowe plays this redesigned character effortlessly with a slight rebellious streak as he’s quick, loving and tender, but remarkably heroic.

They may play Superman’s adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent but Kevin Costner and Diane Lane give two very heartfelt performances to Man of Steel while adding star power to the supporting roles. In the respective roles of Ma and Pa Kent, Lane and Costner may have small parts but give additional weight to the supporting roles, creating much more significance than a character actor would contribute. Affectionate and incredibly sensitive to their son’s superhuman strengths, both actors play the salt-of-the-earth characters with fine chemistry and a genuine concern for Clark. With their characters being such important figures in popular culture, Costner and Lane’s addition to the film makes it memorable and comfortable for the audience in a way that benefits the origin tale.

Zack Snyder directing actor Henry Cavill on set of ‘Man of Steel’. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

Upon hearing Zach Snyder would direct Man of Steel, I have to admit it had me a little nervous. Snyder’s strengths lay in elaborate theatrical fight sequences, dark fantasies and comic book artistry (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) but as good a director as he is, he knew how important this film was going to be for millions of fans. Snyder has proven with Man of Steel that he is able to push the envelope in his style of film-making and handle an original superhero film with interest and genuine precision. With that in mind, Snyder and screenwriter Goyer take Superman’s origins and have spun them freshly, having him struggle through a major moral dilemma: seeking balance between Jonathan Kent’s watchfulness on society and Jor-El’s expectations and hope, insisting “he’ll be a god.”

As Kal-El learns about himself and his true potential, one of the key conflicts in Man of Steel is whether Kal-El should protect his heritage and past, or his adopted planet and future. It seems palpable but the confounded hero really wrestles with the issue. While the past holds answers and comfort, the future holds promise, and though unwritten, the willingness to dream and to have something to work toward gives mankind something to strive for. While we watch Man of Steel, we realize Clark is as human as it gets. He is not what his father would call a “god”, but rather an image of justice to the people of Earth as he has a strong moral fortitude. Clark is not omnipotent and though given such a title by his father, we learn and realize his heart and choices makes his being and character mortal. He is not perfect and similarly to the comic books, Superman can’t save everyone. With this film we see that aspect, and see how much of a weight he carries on his shoulders with such a burden. In addition to his choices, we understand that humans help him greatly in taking part for creating solutions just like in The Dark Knight trilogy.

Lois (Amy Adams) and Superman (Henry Cavill) embrace in a scene from “Man of Steel”. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

Though directed by Zack Snyder, Man of Steel is very reminiscent of The Dark Knight trilogy. In some ways, the Batman saga has been conceptualized into the mold of Superman’s origin tale. Obviously so since Christopher Nolan, director of the famed trilogy produced Snyder’s film; along with screenwriter, David S. Goyer penning the script. Much of Nolan’s influence can be distinguished through the human portrayal of Superman, the darkened hues on film, the dramatic imaging, and the heart pumping soundtrack. Nolan and Goyer have a knack for expressing innate vulnerabilities and character flaws in order to construct a well-developed and rounded character. Man of Steel is a very naturalistic story, rooted in reality with a somber script that is action-packed but serves an intense emotional genuineness to the audience. Nolan’s producing helps to bring forth a gritty, torment-ridden reboot of the character’s origin story and smartly places key flashbacks central to Kal-El’s life in present day.

Unlike its predecessors, the Man of Steel is a genre story without the cartoon-like elements seen in past superhero films. With Superman being preserved for over 40 years on-screen, audiences have never really had the chance to understand who the man behind the suit really is and the potential for greatness that he can achieve. It takes great courage and conviction for a human to rise up in becoming a super human. The Man of Steel is human in one sense that he laments his lost childhood, but at the same time acquires the human attributes of love, compassion, fair play, and justice from his adopted parents. He shows some sensitivity but also learns to manage his anger and recklessness, with the innate strength, resoluteness and determination that he was born with on Krypton. On the other hand, just like a blade of steel which serves the dual purpose of defending and protecting, it can also be used to bring justice. This enables Superman to forge such gentleness with decisiveness and in doing so, has resurrected him to save the planet Earth from forces of evil and ensure its preservation.

Superman (Henry Cavill) in battle with General Zod. Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

The last few Superman films have somehow pushed ‘The Big Blue Scout’ into oblivion, creating a challenge for many filmmakers and studios questioning if he is still relevant to today’s filmography. This film proves he clearly is. Superman finally gets the film he deserves. Man of Steel is attentive, ambitious and a potent action film. From the story to the visuals, the film is in every aspect a summer blockbuster and a definite must-see, perhaps being one of the best action movies this season. Certain aspects of the film pay kind reference to the previous Superman chapters (was there a possible homage to Christopher Reeve in Snyder’s reboot?), as well as new plot additions which make the sequel eagerly anticipated by many. Though darker, the Kal-El/Clark Kent created in Man of Steel is an exceptionally humanized and an earnest depiction of the world’s most famous caped crusader. It’s interesting to see another side of him and realize he isn’t as two-dimensional as many in the past have portrayed and cast him as. For many years fans got a glimpse of a well-rounded Clark Kent through the popular CW show Smallville, but never have we seen a character like this on-screen. A lot rides on this ‘super man’ and it only makes sense to create a story with a strong, determined characterization like the one Snyder, Goyer, Nolan and Cavill ultimately created.

Man of Steel is the first Superman film in nearly seven years. It’s refreshing to see Zach Snyder and his cast have resurrected the comic world’s most iconic superhero with a blockbuster that is continuing to woo audiences at the box office. The film currently stands at a little more than $400 million since its June 14 release, and is number one at the worldwide box office.

Man of Steel is now playing in theaters.

Be on the lookout for Chris Hill‘s next article on the future of the Superman franchise!

Connect with Tania Hussain on Twitter and Google+!
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