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Superman Begins: The Man Of Steel Gets “Nolanized”

June 24, 2013

Director: Zack Snyder


By Twylo Enmamud

Christopher Nolan has brought another superhero down to Earth (pun intended). It seems he takes delight in humanizing our otherwise idolatrized superheroes, and in doing so, makes them more accessible; a model we can more easily aspire to emulate. Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells his young adopted son Clark (the future Superman) at one point that each of us has it within ourselves to be a hero, that you don’t have to have special powers to do good.

But don’t get me wrong, here, this movie was actually directed by Zack Snyder of Watchmen, and 300 fame. But even though Christopher Nolan was just the producer, you can see his hand in it very clearly; the master puppeteer behind the scenes.

Kryptonite, the one infernal weakness of Superman is never introduced in this movie. The word is not spoken at all. Instead, our hero, at a crucial moment, is shielded from that which gives him strength, from that which inspires him on a biological level, our Sun, and even the Earth herself.
With the Man Of Steel, Nolan/Snyder attempts to penetrate the nearly indestructible physical shell to reveal the heart of the man in red and blue. Here we find the child who just wants to fit in; but he can never completely fit in because, as he is fully aware, he is different from the rest. Early on, Clark ( Cooper Timberline) becomes aware that he is physically far “superior” to the kids around him.

Cooper Timberline, plays a young Clark Kent with his dog.

Cooper Timberline, plays a young Clark Kent with his dog.

He is perhaps ten times as strong; his hearing is equally enhanced, and his vision is so acute that it can actually penetrate objects better than an x-ray. One might initially think these abilities would be Super cool to discover, but, in a stroke of genius, Nolan turns these super abilities against the young boy, Clark. When he is first besieged by these abilities, he cannot control them. The visions of the innards of others, of flesh and organs, and blood and skeleton are terrifying to Clark, who does not know how to stop them at first. His hearing picks up every little thing (clocks ticking, water dripping, birds chirping, chalk screeching, people whispering and laughing) and amplifies it all at once. Our young Clark is assaulted by an inescapably maddening orgy of sight and sound and seeks the temporary shelter of a dark quiet closet.

And so there is a learning curve involved with the advent of new abilities. I could not help but think that Nolan is perhaps drawing an analogy here to the governing body of our own country and unscrupulous use of surveillance cameras, wire tapping, drones and other hi-tech. Have we successfully passed the learning curve, or is all this capability driving us mad? And in what

Dylan Sprayberry saves the day as Clark at age 13.

Dylan Sprayberry saves the day as Clark at age 13.

primeval closet might we seek shelter, should it all become too much.

Nolan, in typical Nolan style, also plays on the dark side of human/super-human nature.  In another flashback to a point where Clark (Dylan Sprayberry) is thirteen, we find him on the school bus with a bunch of his fellow students.  Clark is being taunted and pushed by some of the student bullies when suddenly a tire blows out and the driver loses control.  The bus careens pass the road-guard, off a bend and plunges

Harrison Ford (l.) as Jonathan Kent councils Young Clark on the dangers of revealing his special abilities

Harrison Ford (l.) as Jonathan Kent councils Young Clark on the dangers of revealing his special abilities

headlong into a river. The bus begins to sink, and the cabin floods with water as the screaming kids struggle in vain to escape.  An onlooker calls for help on his phone then watches helplessly as the bus totally goes under. Clark, who has always been told by his father that the world was not ready to know who he is and that he should never to use his powers in front of others, experiences a dilemma; should he uses his powers to save the other kids on the bus, and risk exposure, or should he keep his secret in tact, and just let nature take its course. He hesitates momentarily, but then after watching the other kids (including young Lana) struggle to make their way to the ceiling of the bus to get what little air is left, he steps into action. Clark rips open the emergency door in the back, then goes out side the bus and pushes it out of the water and safely onto the shore. Some of the kids see what he does.  He then goes back under the water, and emerges moments later with the ring-leader (Jack Foley) of the bullies in tow.  Later, the mother of the bully that Clark saved pays a visit to the Kent

Russell Crowe (l.) and Ayelet Zurer (r.) as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman's parents, cradle their new-born child.

Russell Crowe (l.) and Ayelet Zurer (r.) as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s parents, cradle their new-born child.

residence.  She rambles on about how her son saw what Clark did to save the others, and how it is a miracle, and how it was not just her son who witnessed it.

Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane), of course, downplay the entire event, attributing the “miracle” the traumatized kids’ over-active imaginations. Jonathan goes to talk to his son about what happened and chastises him for using his abilities in front of others. When Clark asks him “What was I supposed to do, just let them die,” Jonathan seems conflicted for a moment, then answers, “Maybe…”

I don’t want to give too much away on this point, so, suffice it to say that Nolan

General Zod, (  Michael Shannon) and his fellow conspirators stand trial on Krypton.

General Zod, ( Michael Shannon) and his fellow conspirators stand trial on Krypton.

does not give us a pristine Superman with unsoiled hands, but one with his own short-comings, his own internal kryptonite, who has to make very tough choices with lasting consequences. Nolan’s choice for the title of this movie, “Man of Steel,” rather than something with “Superman,” in the title seems to be a reflection of his intent to bring Superman’s more human qualities to the surface.

A substantial part of this movie is actually about Superman’s home-planet, Krypton and the state of affairs that leads to the planet’s eminent destruction. Nolan gives us more background on Krypton, and, true to form, he uses it as a parallel to warn us of the evils of technology and its

Superman turns himself over to the athorities to avoid Earth's destruction by General Zod's forces.

Superman turns himself over to the authorities to avoid Earth’s destruction by General Zod’s forces.

misguided use in our own society. For centuries, the Kryptonians had tapped into their planet’s core, using it as an energy source. When Man Of Steel begins, the depletion of Krypton’s core has reached a critical stage where the planet can no longer sustain itself.

Jor-El (played commendably by Russell Crowe), a scientist, and father of the infant, Kal-El (the future Superman) has tried for years in vain to warn krypton’s governing body of the impending disaster, but they do not listen until it is too late.

Nolan’s Krypton is a planet who’s population is completely controlled by genetic engineering. Even before they are “born” every individual is genetically predisposed to carry out a particular

Amy Adams (l.) as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill (c.) as Superman taken aboard an alien vessel by Faora-Ul ( Antje Traue).

Amy Adams (l.) as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill (c.) as Superman are taken aboard an alien vessel by Faora-Ul ( Antje Traue).

function in society; whether it be scientist, artist, soldier, teacher, or whatever.

Children are no longer given birth to by their mothers, but are gestated on what might be described as “farms” which were visually depicted in a very similar way to the growth pods in the movie, “The Matrix.”

Kal-El (the future Superman) unlike his fellow-Kryptonians, is born by natural child-birth. He is the first child that has not been genetically engineered on Krypton in hundreds of years. His parents, Jor-El and

Superman and Lois Lane share a tender moment.

Superman and Lois Lane share a tender moment.

Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) keep his birth a secret. Ayelet Zurer, by the way does a great job in her role. She is a capable actor with a powerful screen presence.

The villain in this movie, General Zod (played quite zealously at times by Michael Shannon), is also delved into more deeply than in previous Superman movies. We begin to see what went into making him the person that he is. Zod was engineered to be a soldier and a leader whose basic instinct is to protect his people at any cost. This leads to his ultimate confrontation with the Man Of Steel, who as it turns out is the key to the future survival of the Kryptonian race.

Superman/Clark Kent is played by Henry Cavill, whom you might remember as Theseus from the movie Immortals a couple of years back. And although he is the main character in the movie, he

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, editor in chief of The Daily Planet.

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, editor in chief of The Daily Planet.

doesn’t actually have that many lines; or at least not that many dramatic ones. There are plenty of fight scenes (some of which might go on a little longer than necessary) and there are some moments of introspection, but his character is low on dialogue; the strong silent type, and the rest of the movie sort of revolves around him. So, his character may not be as accessible in this regard as Nolan may have intended. But hey, he is Superman – “nuff said,” I suppose. Henry Cavill does have a

Jonathan Kent reveals Clark Kent's true origins to him.

Jonathan Kent reveals Clark Kent’s true origins to him.

certain screen presence, though. He is good looking, and has the best physique of any superman I’ve seen on screen.
Other note-worthy performances include reporter, and love interest of superman, Lois Lane, (played by Amy Adams), and

editor in chief of the Daily Planet newspaper, Perry White (played by the, always dependable, and ever exuberant, Laurence Fishburne)
I liked this take on Superman, and as always, Christopher Nolan has given us a meaningful and thoughtful story. Being a comic book fan, I think I might like to see Christopher Nolan take on the X-Men one day!

I give Man Of Steel 3 ½ stars:

3 and half star

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