Before Birds of Prey hits theaters we’re looking back at the entire DCEU, starting with Man of Steel.
Man of Steel began what would become the DCEU (DC Extended Universe). It is WB/DC’s take on the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The film held some nice Easter eggs for Superman and DC fans, but it never overtly referenced anything that took you out of the story. It simply told the story of Superman’s origin in a post 9/11 world. That’s the key to looking at Man of Steel; it’s placing the Superman mythos in our real world and saying, “How would this work out?” The problem with Superman is that he is someone/something that you can’t just set inside our world without making some drastic changes.
What Zack Snyder and the team behind Man of Steel created was a Superman film that feels more in line with a Batman film. The film takes the world for what it is, not what it could be. It isn’t afraid to say that this world is a difficult and tiring place and that people are just bad sometimes. However, in doing so and removing the hope that’s inherent in the world of Superman, it strips away all of the good that comes from a Superman story.
Superman works because his story takes a mirror to our world and draws bright colors over it. Man of Steel doesn’t work because it takes a mirror to Superman’s world and draws dark colors over it. A great Superman story isn’t as great if you bring him and his world down to our level. It has to exist in a world where there are greater things than what surrounds us. Even when Superman is facing realistic threats, there has to be the possibility of a better outcome than what we can achieve because Superman himself is a better than who we are as individuals.
Superman gives us the chance to say, “If we were at our best point in every way, what would we do?” We hope that we would save the world and that we would bring joy to everyone, but we know that that’s not always true. We know that if real human beings were given super powers, you’d more often see stories like Brightburn or Chronicle play out before the masses. Because in real life, power does tend to corrupt more than it helps. Yet, we still yearn for it because we hope that we would go the Superman route rather than the Brightburn route.
Man of Steel places Superman in this post 9/11 world, where threats to our entire world feel more real and surround us in ways we never expected. The destruction we see in Metropolis isn’t something fictional, it’s something we’ve see on the news. The terrible people of this world aren’t hiding in the shadows anymore, they’re in Facebook and Instagram posts we see five times a day. The darkness of this world surrounds us more than ever, and if anything we need Superman in ways we never did before.
There is a lot of good amidst the darkness of Man of Steel, the biggest highlight likely being Henry Cavill’s turn as Superman/Clark Kent. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well- from Michael Shannon’s Zod to Diane Lane’s Martha Kent, the performances are truly fantastic. The score is beautiful and stands on its own, despite being very separate from the iconic John Williams’ score. The script does have a few flaws here and there, especially in terms of the dialogue delivered by the female characters.
The reason Superman has endured for over 80 years is because he is a symbol of hope for humanity, something that Man of Steel likes to point out repeatedly, yet never truly lives up to. The film honestly isn’t bad, and is really entertaining, but it’s a poor Superman film. Taking that as the jumping off point for an entire cinematic universe isn’t necessarily the best idea unless you decide to take the character down a path that is more true to his roots. Sadly, that wouldn’t happen. While the film could have been the start of a truly great franchise that explored the ideas of what Superman truly means, it fell apart at the seams.
Man of Steel is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital. Be sure to keep following us throughout the week as we look at the DCEU leading up to this weekend’s release of Birds of Prey.
Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 5 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)