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Everything You Need To Know About 'Man of Steel' On Its 10th Anniversary

By Brian Richards | DC Movies | June 20, 2023 |

By Brian Richards | DC Movies | June 20, 2023 |


Before the late, great Richard Donner was chosen to be in the director’s chair for Superman: The Movie, it was considered a near-impossible task to make a live-action Superman film that would convincingly bring the beloved character to life on the big screen. But Donner, along with a cast and crew of immensely talented collaborators — including Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, the late Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, and the late Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent — was able to defy the odds, and make it happen while also fulfilling the promise of the film’s classic tagline: “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

Twenty-eight years later, after the release of Superman, followed by Superman II, two other sequels of decreasing quality, and a failed attempt at making a Superman film with Nicolas Cage in the lead role, Warner Bros. decided to make another attempt at putting Superman on the big screen. Director Bryan Singer (who makes a lot of people angry-sigh at the very mention of his name for far too many reasons) was hired after the success of his films X-Men and X2: X-Men United, and instead of helming X-Men: The Last Stand (a job that ended up going to Brett Ratner, another director with a sordid history of being the kind of problematic f-ckboy that Maureen Ryan would write about), he directed Superman Returns, which starred Brandon Routh as Superman/Clark Kent, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, and (angry-sighs) Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.

It wasn’t until the release of Iron Man in 2008, and its creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that Warner Bros. wanted another big-screen Superman movie that would give Marvel Studios a run for its money by launching their own cinematic universe with characters from DC Comics. They hired director Zack Snyder, who helmed the comic book films 300 and Watchmen for the studio, and on June 14, 2013, Man of Steel opened in theaters.

After failing to convince the supreme council that their home planet of Krypton is on the path to immediate destruction, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife, Lara-El (Ayelet Zurer), make the painful, but necessary, decision to send their infant son, Kal-El, far away from Krypton and to the planet Earth, where he will live amongst humankind. Despite the violent and ruthless interference of General Zod (Michael Shannon), his second-in-command, Faora (Antje Traue), and their crew of loyal followers attempting to overthrow the council and rule over all of Krypton themselves, Jor-El and Lara-El are able to send Kal-El away. This unfortunately leads to Jor-El being killed by Zod, who is then captured and imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, along with Faora and their cohorts, right before Krypton explodes and kills everyone on the planet. Kal-El’s ship lands in Smallville, Kansas, where he is found and raised by kindhearted farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane), who name him Clark, and urge him to keep his superhuman abilities a secret from the rest of society, even though he still ends up using those same abilities to help people whenever they need it most.

As an adult, Clark (Henry Cavill) takes a job at a military research facility in the Canadian Arctic, where he discovers that there is a mysterious spacecraft that has been buried underneath the ice for thousands of years. He not only crosses paths with investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who is also there to find out more about this same spacecraft that the military has uncovered, but he realizes that the scout ship is of Kryptonian origin, and its technology allows him to finally learn the truth about who he is, where he came from, and what he was truly meant to do with his powers on Earth. Clark’s discovery and activation of the scout ship, however, also alerts General Zod and his crew of his location. After being freed from the Phantom Zone, thanks to Krypton’s destruction, not only do they want to terraform all of Earth so they can make it into their new home planet, but they also want the genetic codex in Clark’s DNA so they can use it to repopulate their new version of Krypton, however they see fit. And Clark — who is now known as Superman, thanks to Lois — is all that stands between Zod taking over the world, and exterminating all of humankind while doing so.


When Superman Returns opened in theaters, it was both praised and criticized because of Singer’s approach to making the film as if it were a direct sequel to Superman II, and following very closely in Donner’s footsteps in how he adapted the material. Snyder, on the other hand, chose to go in a different direction, and not only took a hard sci-fi approach with the Superman story he was telling, but also wanted to show just how difficult and terrifying it would be for an alien from another planet to suddenly arrive on ours. Not just for the people of Earth, but for Superman himself, who is constantly wondering whether he can ever really trust humankind, and if they could ever trust and accept him in return. Even Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), Lois’ editor-in-chief at the Daily Planet, understood just how much would be at risk if Lois were to write a story that revealed the existence of alien lifeforms like Superman or Zod living amongst us in Metropolis, or anywhere else on Earth. (Man of Steel was also released in theaters five years after this country elected Barack Obama to be its very first Black president, and one year after he was re-elected for a second term. After seeing how this country has reacted to that, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the audience to imagine how much more angry, hateful, and paranoid they would be towards an alien from outer space. Even if that alien does resemble a handsome and able-bodied white man.)


Man of Steel received mixed reviews from critics, and upon its theatrical release, there were several complaints made about the film, which continue to be brought up on social media repeatedly to this very day: Clark lashing out at a drunk truck driver who was sexually harassing his colleague and ruining his livelihood by destroying his 18-wheeler in response; Jonathan seemingly implying that Clark should’ve let his schoolmates drown in the school bus crash, instead of revealing his powers and saving their lives; Jonathan and Martha not being as kindly and openly supportive of Clark using his powers to help others compared to previous versions of the characters; Jonathan sacrificing himself so that Clark wouldn’t reveal his powers and put his own life at risk as a result; Superman fighting Faora and the other Kryptonians in the middle of Smallville; Superman fighting Zod in the middle of Metropolis, and not enough being done by Superman in both fights to prevent any collateral damage; too much product placement being seen during the fighting in Smallville; Superman not using his hands to cover Zod’s eyes in order to block his heat-vision; Superman actually killing Zod; and Superman/Clark not smiling enough, not being happy enough, and coming across as far too Randian and self-involved to be the hero we know and love, and is only helping others as Superman because of Lois, and because he was told by his parents to do so.

The responses that Man of Steel fans have for each of those complaints every time they’re brought up?

The truck driver was a bully and a sexual harasser who was planning to get back on the road and drive after getting drunk, so his livelihood being ruined means nothing; Jonathan did not want Clark’s schoolmates to drown, or for Clark to let them drown, but was simply torn between being proud of his son doing the right thing, and his son being shunned by humanity, and taken away by the government to become a prisoner and a lab rat; both Jonathan and Martha make it clear to Clark that he has their support and guidance, but when it comes to who he is and what he can do, he is the only one that can decide what path he should follow; Jonathan chose to perish in the tornado and not let Clark save him because of the aforementioned reasons, and also because Clark’s safety truly mattered to him more than his own life; Superman was outnumbered and outgunned by a group of experienced warriors challenging him to battle on his first day as Superman; there was just as much product placement in the Superman vs. Zod, Ursa, and Non battle in Superman II; Kryptonians can feel pain and be hurt if they’re blasted with heat-vision (which was shown earlier in the battle back in Smallville), and Superman covering Zod’s eyes wouldn’t have helped; and Clark has spent the majority of his adult life wrestling with grief, loneliness, confusion about his origins, and the responsibility of helping others whenever he knows that their lives are in danger.


(As for the complaint about Superman/Clark being Randian and an objectivist, and only caring about his own happiness? That seems to have been started by film critic/Pajiba archnemesis Devin Faraci. And whether or not you agree with that criticism, if there’s anyone who has no business whatsoever passing judgment and talking sh-t about anyone and their morality, it’s Devin Faraci.)

The film’s defenders and detractors have grown more intense and passionate over the years. Detractors have stated how grimdark and moody and depressing it is, that it conveys a tone that is far too similar to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and both the film and its lead character aren’t nearly as joyful and uplifting as what the world saw in Richard Donner’s Superman. Defenders have said that the film isn’t dark or depressing at all, but is just as warmhearted and inspirational as it is exciting and action-packed. They’ve said that Clark shouldn’t be required to smile all the time to convey his heroism or his kindness (a complaint that was frequently directed at Brie Larson when she played Captain Marvel, because women look so much better to men when they smile!), and that seeing him earn the trust and friendship of his enemies by fighting to help and protect them with every fiber of his being is very inspirational, and exactly what we should want to see from Superman. (Some fans have even compared Clark in Man of Steel to people who live with autism and who are neurodivergent, hence why they enjoy the characterization seen in the film.) Cavill’s version of Superman isn’t Christopher Reeve’s version of Superman, and expecting him to be exactly like that is both tiresome and unfair, as there should be room for other adaptations that aren’t trying to be Superman or Superman II.

“Superman doesn’t kill! Superman shouldn’t kill!” That has been the biggest and most persistent complaint regarding Snyder’s portrayal of Superman in Man of Steel, even though it wasn’t as infuriating for fans when he killed Zod, Ursa, and Non in the theatrical version of Superman II. In Man of Steel, Zod makes it crystal-clear that he plans on killing every single human on Earth, just to punish Superman for sending his people back to the Phantom Zone with no hope of ever seeing them again, or of rebuilding Krypton. Despite Superman doing everything possible to stop Zod from unleashing carnage (and even bringing their battle into outer space away from the rest of civilization), Zod remains an unstoppable juggernaut, and leaves Superman with only one remaining option since the Phantom Zone can’t be reopened, and that is to end Zod’s life. Which he clearly isn’t proud of, and which leaves him nearly inconsolable.

As for everything about Man of Steel that has earned the film so much praise: The action scenes and their accompanying visual effects are incredible to watch, as they give the audience a front-row seat for what a no-holds-barred battle between superpowered titans (and heavily armed, but ineffective, members of the military) would actually look and feel like, as well as simply showing us just how unbelievably strong, fast, and powerful Superman is as he grows more comfortable with his abilities.

There are many scenes in Man of Steel that give the film its heart, and make it the complete opposite of grimdark. Martha consoling young Clark when his X-ray vision and enhanced hearing suddenly activate by telling him to focus only on her voice; teenage Clark realizing that he’s an alien from another universe and asking Jonathan, “Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?,” only for Jonathan to tearfully respond with “You are my son!”; the look on Clark’s face and excitement in his voice when Jor-El tells him what his real name is, followed by Clark learning about his family in the House of El, and what their symbol represents; Clark’s reunion with Martha and her confession about how scared and protective she has always been when it comes to raising him; Lois hearing from Clark just how and why Jonathan died, and deciding from that point on that his identity doesn’t need to be published for the world to know.

Superman thanking Lois for believing in him and telling her how much it means to him; Jenny being trapped under a pile of rubble as a result of the World Engine terraforming Earth and causing massive destruction to Metropolis while doing so, and both Perry and Steve Lombard refusing to leave her side, or even take their eyes off of her when their rescue attempts fail, and all they can do is wait for the World Engine to kill them as it gets closer and closer; the brief conversation between Clark and a priest as he is torn on what to do when Zod demands his surrender; and the ending of the film itself, in which Clark starts his first day of work as a reporter at the Daily Planet, and is introduced to Lois, who says, “Welcome to the Planet.” And Clark can’t help but smile as he graciously responds with, “Glad to be here, Lois,” who smiles right back.


As for the cast, and their outstanding performances: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, the investigative reporter we all know and love who takes zero bullsh-t from anyone who interferes with her doing her job, is both fearless and clever when it comes to seeking out information, a lot more compassionate than she’s willing to let on, and extremely good at what she does, as evidenced by her connecting the dots and figuring out who Clark really is, and where he can be found; Michael Shannon as General Zod, who is fiercely devoted to his sole purpose of protecting Krypton by any means necessary, and lashing out with immeasurable fury when Superman takes that away from him; Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, who is wise and experienced enough to know that there are limits to what he and his reporters should do when it comes to what they publish; Antje Traue as Faora, Zod’s loyal and ruthless second-in-command who clearly likes to toy with her prey by letting it think there is a fighting chance of survival, right before dashing those hopes and devouring it completely; Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Jor-El and Lara-El, who have no desire to be separated from their only child, but still have faith in their son’s ability to bring out the best in humanity and in himself; Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, who love Clark deeply, while also being careful and guarded at all times to protect his secrets, and protect him from dealing with a world that would treat him with fear instead of acceptance.


Last but never least, there’s Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent. His search for answers about himself, his origins, and his place in the world may leave him feeling alone and withdrawn, but none of that changes his overwhelming need to be a hero and a savior whenever he is needed. As Lois says to him upon their reunion at Jonathan Kent’s grave, when Clark threatens to leave and disappear for good if she reveals his true identity to the world: “The only way you could disappear for good is to stop helping people altogether, and I sense that’s not an option for you.” Which she’s absolutely right about, and it has nothing to do with him feeling obligated to do so. It’s because he truly wants to help, however and whenever he can. When he finally learns the whole truth about himself from Jor-El, and becomes Superman the moment he walks out of the scout ship, it doesn’t take long for him to not only embrace his status as a superhero, but to embrace Earth as his one true home. Cavill does a remarkable job of showing all of these aspects of his character, and making the audience care about them, whether he’s exploring the world as Clark, or risking his life as Superman to protect it. The moment when Superman is testing the limits of his powers, and laughs with delight upon realizing that he can actually fly, is a clear sign that Cavill was an excellent choice for playing the Big Blue Boy Scout, and that Snyder and his casting directors, Kristy Carlson and Lora Kennedy, chose wisely.

FYI: The very first time I saw Man of Steel was in Chicago during its opening weekend with Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastién. When Clark rescues the oil rig workers from their exploding platform, and directs them all to safety aboard the Coast Guard helicopter, we both saw this particular moment right here:


When we did see it, along with the much-appreciated (and thirsty as hell) camera tilt that showed Clark’s six-pack in all of its sweaty and glistening glory, Angelica said, “Mama like!” And I too responded approvingly of what I was seeing with a “Mm-hmm!”

The supporting cast in Man of Steel is equally impressive, including Christopher Meloni as Col. Nathan Hardy; Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton; Harry Lennix as Gen. Calvin Swanwick (long before he was revealed to be the Martian Manhunter in disguise); Michael Kelly as Daily Planet reporter Steve Lombard; Rebecca Buller as Daily Planet reporter Jenny Jurwich; Christina Wren as Major Carrie Farris (who is unable to hide her opinion that she thinks Superman is hot); and Battlestar Galactica alumni Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliana, who both make brief appearances in the scenes of Clark, Lois, and the military in the Canadian arctic.

In 2016, Snyder followed Man of Steel with the equally controversial sequel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, with Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

2017 saw the release of the theatrical version of Justice League (a.k.a. Josstice League), which was largely directed and co-written by Joss Whedon after Snyder stepped away from production of the film when his daughter, Autumn, died by suicide. The film was considered a near-unwatchable mess, and after being approached by Warner Bros. in 2020, Snyder was finally able to release his version of the film the way it was meant to be seen. That film was Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which premiered on HBO Max in 2021, and starred Affleck, Cavill, Gadot, Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg.

Even though many people watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League who wanted to see more of what Snyder had planned for the DCEU, and were hoping that he would get the green light to make the two Justice League sequels that would conclude his intended five-part saga, Warner Bros. made it clear that Snyder’s four-hour-long epic would be the last DC film he would ever be allowed to make. Not too long after that, when the merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery occurred, and new CEO David Zaslav began to slowly make everything at Warner Bros. so much worse, he soon hired James Gunn (writer-director of the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy) and Peter Safran (producer of the Shazam films and The Conjuring films) to be the CEOs of the newly established DC Studios. They began by coming up with an entire slate of content, so that they could scrap the DCEU, replace it with the DCU, and finally give the Marvel Cinematic Universe some serious competition. One of Gunn’s first decisions was to announce that there would be a new Superman movie coming soon, but that it wouldn’t star Henry Cavill in the role (which came as a shock to everyone, including Cavill, especially since he publicly announced how much he was looking forward to continue playing Superman after his cameo appearance in Black Adam), as Gunn was going in a completely different direction with Superman: Legacy, which he will be writing and directing.

However, if you want to watch Superman being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and flying over tall buildings instead of leaping over them in a single bound, but you don’t feel like waiting until Gunn releases his own version of the Last Son of Krypton in 2025? There is the option of either watching Superman & Lois on The CW (which has apparently gotten much better since I watched and reviewed the pilot back in 2021), or watching the new animated series My Adventures with Superman, which premieres next month on Adult Swim.

The DCEU is coming to an end this year with the releases of The Flash, Blue Beetle, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom before Gunn and Safran reboot the DC Extended Universe with their own ideas for DC Studios. But Man of Steel will always be remembered and discussed (both positively and negatively) for being the first film of the DCEU, and for giving hope to many DC fans of what that cinematic universe could be. Much like its groundbreaking predecessor from the Seventies, Man of Steel made people believe a man can fly, but it also wanted us to believe in the man who is doing the flying.

Man of Steel is now streaming on HBO Max. (Yes, I know what I said, and no, I’m still not calling it that.)