By Michael Harris
Having now seen Man of Steel in theatres, I though a few words on the film itself, and its music, appropriate. Put simply, this is by far the best Superman film since the 1978 original, and honestly I think it is the best interpretation of the character to ever make it to screen. (Warning: Spoilers follow). By essentially repositioning the story as that of a science fiction film first and a superhero film second, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, and Zack Snyder do for Superman what many of the same people already did for Batman. They make the character logical and believable (and once again, the term “superhero” is never actually used, much like in Nolan’s Batman trilogy).
However, I am not without my complaints about the film. Foremost of these is that the film sets up the fundamental question of “how would the world react to an alien among them” but never actually answers it. We never actually witness any sort of reaction from the wider world and even the military is largely indifferent to Kal-El’s presence and easily accept him as being on “our side” after a battle tears up downtown Smallville. This brings me to my second complaint: WAY to much destruction in the fight scenes. Both Smallville and Metropolis get severely jacked up when Supes is taking on the forces of Zod. While some of the damage to Metropolis was unavoidable due to Zod’s World Engine, when Superman was fighting in both cities, he showed little concern for the populace, never trying to move the fight away from the buildings which might still have people inside of them. If we are to believe that Superman actually cares about us lowly earthlings, then he should at least wonder if the buildings have been evacuated or try and lead those he was fighting away from the city centers. Also, these battles went on far too long in my opinion, time which could have been better spent on the characters. Which brings me to…
Most of the characters I cared very little about because the film told us almost nothing about them. Though this cuts both ways, because even though it spent very little time introducing and developing the characters of Lois Lane, Perry White, and others at the Daily Planet, it does this because the plot focuses on Kal-El/Clark Kent and his relationship with his two fathers (Jor-El and Jonathan Kent). This, I feel is the masterstroke of the film. Throughout, there is no real secret identity because there isn’t really a Superman. There is only one orphan child searching for who he is, and then seeing what the answers he finds mean to his identity.
So the tender piano theme that I discussed in my last post, which occurs at the beginning of the track “What Are You Going to Do….” and elsewhere in the score is both a Clark Kent and Kal-El and Superman theme because for this interpretation of the character, they are one and the same. There is no dichotomous personality like Batman and Bruce Wayne, no “mask” that he wears, at least not until the very end of the film when he walks into the Daily Planet as its newest stringer (though Lois already knows who he is, probably how he got the job!). So these themes play out as facets of his identity rather than as separate character themes. Instead of having two very different themes for Clark and Superman, which is normally the case in secret identity films, one naturally grows from the other. The fact that these themes are linked with musical materials that also point back to Williams’ original score for the 1978 film, just further underlines the high level of craft Zimmer displays here.
So where does the franchise go from here? Well, the film quite deftly sets up its sequel, I believe. In the closing scene of the film, Clark arrives at the Daily Planet, Lois already knows who he is (and they also already kissed, though it seemed a bit forced to me), and very cunningly, the filmmakers dropped in hints of the presence of Lex Luthor throughout the Metropolis fight scenes (we see signs for LexCorp on buildings and tanker trucks). So a sequel that explores the question of an alien among us, and an evil Lex Luthor trying to kidnap and unlike his genetic secrets, ostensibly for all mankind but really for his egomaniacal self, while also focusing on Clark/Kal’s attempt to integrate into our world via a relationship with Lois, seems like the logical next film.
In all, I find this reimagining of Superman a fresh take on the character. It takes what material there was, but spins it a different way and breathes life into the 80-year-old property and finally brings it into our modern world.