The Commerce Journal

June 5, 2013

'Man of Steel:' The Superman film we’ve been waiting for

Jordan Wright
The Commerce Journal


Since the 90s, superhero films have been the kings of the summer box office. Over the last two decades, audiences have been enthralled with the rise of the “X-Men,” the assembly of “The Avengers,” the chronicle of “Batman’s” life journey from start to finish, and, in roughly one week, will be treated to a new vision of world renowned American icon “Superman” in the form of Zach Syder’s “Man of Steel.”

A reboot of the film series, “Man of Steel” shares similarities to a previous summer blockbuster and superhero film reboot of last summer.

Released as a reboot for the “Spider-Man” film series, “The Amazing Spider-Man” saw its silver screen debut on July 3, 2012. Starring Andrew Garfield in the titular role of Spider-Man, the film was released to a generally warm critical welcome and a fair amount of financial success. It was also the weakest financial performance of the film franchise and the second lowest critically received film of the series, standing only above the divisive “Spider-Man 3.”

Both “Man of Steel” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” find themselves in interestingly similar binds in regards to their relationship with their own respective franchises. While I would not personally call “Spider-Man 3” or “Superman Returns” bad films by any stretch of the imagination, both were critically divisive, primarily because they dealt with set ups and ideas that were not designed for wide audience appeal.

“Spider-Man 3” for instance, did a somewhat admirable job juggling many plotlines and character arcs, but it was only inevitable that the film would collapse under the weight and quantity of its material. Meanwhile, “Superman Returns” was a fascinating character study and deconstruction of Superman from the perspective of his well-established Superman persona, going as far as to make parallels to Greek tragedy. It was highly-sophisticated content that was unfortunately packaged in a confusing mess of nostalgia chasing with a hollow climax that hits after the film runs out of steam.

Although both “Man of Steel” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” have both been charged with essentially winning back the crowd of moviegoers by rebooting a popular series so soon after its final entries, both having hit theaters a mere seven and five years apart respectively, “Man of Steel” has a few key advantages over the “Spider-Man” franchise and arguably other superhero franchises that may potentially make it the biggest hit of the summer.

The film’s ultimate ace up its sleeve is that, despite Superman’s status as a triple A icon, there has been a general lack of material to satisfy the “Superman” hunger. Whether you hated or loved “Superman Returns,” at the end of the day, it simply wasn’t the crowd pleaser that it needed to be in order to earn its shot at success.

Meanwhile, “Smallville’s” television run has been regularly confronted with inconsistent writing quality in addition to its billing as a long-lasting “Superman” origin, which makes for a fun twist on the superhero formula but not quite the same as a quintessential “Superman” story.

Compare this to the “Spider-Man” franchise which has become Marvel’s whipping boy and primary source of income before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off. Within the last 25 years, “Spider-Man” has seen at least 3 comic book reboots running parallel to its primary continuity, at least five different cartoons, one of which is currently running, numerous books and book series, several comic book and animated spinoffs, and of course, a trilogy of multimillion dollar films culminating in a reboot that has come long past a point of oversaturation.

That is not even taking into consideration the film itself, which offered very little new to the “Spider-Man” mythos beyond a few tweaks.

In comparison, “Man of Steel” has been teasing at a fair amount of reinvention. The character remains at the heart of his status as a paragon that humanity should strive to be but the downplaying of the overtly American imagery and bombastic fanfare commonly associated with the campy Silver Age of comic books shows promise towards creating a “Superman” of the modern day.

The property’s straightforward nature prevents it from being tinkered with but Snyder’s vision, with the help of David S. Goyer’s screenplay, would appear to be taking all of the appropriate steps toward giving the film its own identity while keeping it the “Superman” film that the world has been hungry for.

Jordan Wright is a reporter and film critic currently studying news and editorial journalism as a senior at Texas A&M University-Commerce. He hopes to write professionally on the video game and film industry.