It was inevitable that comparisons between the Superman films with the late Christopher Reeve and with the new “improved” Man of Steel starring English actor Henry Cavill would be made. But the comparisons have little to nothing to do with the actors or their portrayal of the superhero. It is purely a Superman versus Man of Steel comparison in the area of style, verse and, possibly budget.
The new Man of Steel, depending on who you talk to, is either a brilliant new take on the Superman mythos or a misbegotten attempt to introduce a Chris Nolan type feel via director Zack Snyder. According to Superman comic book lore, original creator Jerry Siegel initially conceived Superman as a very unfriendly chap who had telepathic powers who wanted to take over the world. He was a ruthless, terribly bald villain whose first appearance was in the short story “The Reign of the Superman” in January 1933.
It was only later through his collaboration with artist Joe Shuster, that Superman was reimagined as a dashing hero with superhuman strength and abilities. His looks were modeled after Douglas Fairbanks, who played Robin Hood and Zorro during the silent screen era. Then in June 1938, the Superman we all know and love, debuted in Action Comics and, as pointed out by most fans, Superman liked being a hero.
But this isn’t about the superhero of the comic books, it is the more recent cinematic cape wearing hero we are looking at. The 1978 release of Superman and the almost immediate 1980 sequel Superman II, helmed by Richard Lester are what have spawned the debate between the two versions of our tight wearing superhero.
Man of Steel is a remake of the 1980 Superman II with a little bit of the first superman film in the way of his introduction to Earth. But the touching “flashback” scenes with adoptive parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) lack the “mom and apple-pie” setting of the 1978 Superman film and feature a destruction filled schoolbus crash and a terrifying tornado.
Of course the interlude of the Man of Steel working in Maine further serves to confuse the “old” Superman fan and leaves one wondering where on earth that came from?
In both films, Kent is drawn to the Arctic and there he finds out why he is on Earth and what his mission is, via wise and revealing words from his father Jor-El.
The destruction of the planet Krypton in both verse’s are similar, with the only real difference being that Jor-El in Superman was the legendary in his own time, Marlon Brando and in Man of Steel, the legendary in his own mind, Russell Crowe plays Poppa Superman.
But the Superman versus Man of Steel with all the mixed reviews coming in are really more about change than about merit of one version being better than the other. Changes that have dismayed some viewers and not bothered others. But it is all about change in this new re-imaging of the superhero’s verse.
The biggest changes have to do with Kent’s job, unlike the 1978 film’s origin story(and the comic book) and its continuing thread of Clark being a reporter the new film doesn’t bother with any of that and the lack of the Lane/Kent relationship. Another big change is that Lois Lane discovers that Kent is Superman very early on. This development insured that there was no intrigue in the area of secret identities and none of the “will they, won’t they” teasing romance of the earlier Superman films.
In fact the two don’t really have a relationship at all. As someone else put it, you have no idea why the two are even drawn to each other. In the original films, Clark Kent was a bumbling journalist who overcompensated for his inherent lack of human DNA by acting like a clumsy idiot. Lois was the super smart and top notch journalist who was attracted to the klutzy newsman and the two had almost palpable chemistry.
In Man of Steel, there is no masquerading as a human. This Superman is alien through and through and pretty damned humourless. It is almost as though producer Nolan and director Snyder are going back to the original idea of Siegel’s superhero, before his “softening up” through the artist Shuster. Not only does he not “have a thing” with Lois Lane, but he’s not even nice to the folks he saves.
As pointed out by The Daily Beast, “In Man of Steel, there’s no clue as to why this brooding, relatively humorless alien wants to save these people, aside from the fact that his daddy told him to.”
The other comparison bound to be made is the FX. Snyder is known for his love of CG and he uses it to the maximum extent possible. And, again, depending on who you talk to, it works or it detracts. In 1978, the first two of the Superman films were limited to using the FX of that time. But is more CG necessary to sell the film? The answer is yes, but, not to the extent that it rules the new film.
Critics are saying that Man of Steel has either fallen flat or is a massive hit. The calls as to “hit or miss” seem to be relegated by the fact of the reviewer being a Superman fan or not. By fan we mean of the comic verse and not necessarily the films. Some reviewers have admitted to liking the new version of the superhero, but have pointed out that when the film lets you down, it does so spectacularly.
The reviewer from Daily Beast stated that, “At 143 minutes and with a $225 million price tag, Man of Steel feels overlong and overdone.”
The length and cost were most likely inescapable. The film is really a re-imaging of Superman II with a lot more emphasis on the science fiction part of the original film. Plus too, the first third of the film takes place on Krypton. Presumably, this long build up was to thrust Russell Crowe up onto the screen quickly to insure that the “big name” that Nolan and Snyder paid for would guarantee bums on seats and help to set up the “new-comer” Cavill as the caped superhero.
Jor-el aside, the amount of time spent on Kryton is needed to set up the super villains’ appearance, so the amount of time spent “setting up” the film’s main plot was necessary, if not a little too long.
It remains to be seen if “ripped” Man of Steel in a new outfit will overtake the sentimental favourite Superman in the contest of the “superhero of yesteryear” versus the “superhero of now.” Cavill has no real advantage over the late Reeve, they both “look” like Superman. Of course Cavill has a better fitting wardrobe that shows off his six pack to a greater advantage. Only time, and a sequel will help to see if the new Man of Steel can beat the old Superman.
By Michael Smith