In 2013 we were introduced to a new Superman… the Man of Steel. Much different to the characters previous iterations Henry Cavill’s Superman has become the staple Superman for this generation. Now within the 4 years since this new Superman first graced the big screen we have already witnessed his Birth (Man of Steel), Death (BvS) and Return (Justice League). That is some journey that this Superman has already been on in the space of 4 years! To some it has been an amazing journey and to others like myself it has been more of a bumpy ride with both highs and lows. So in this article we will be looking at the journey of Superman across these three films and the development of the character in completing one of the biggest comic book story arcs ever.
Man of steel (2013)
This is where my love for the character of Superman started back in 2013 with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. I finally had a Superman that I could relate to! This was a bold and new take on the character compared to its iconic portrayal by the legendary Christopher Reeve. While I have gone back and watched films such as Superman: The Movie and Superman II which I love by the way. I just found Henry Cavill’s Superman more interesting and most importantly most relatable. We now had a Superman that wasn’t perfect, someone that was going to make mistakes and someone that was conflicted by being the most powerful being in the world. This was a different Superhero movie and Superman altogether. We weren’t going to see scenes of this Superman saving a cat out of tree doing all of your stereotypical superhero acts from the comics. Now don’t get me wrong Christopher Reeve’s Superman made sense for that time and now I can confidently say Henry Cavill’s Superman was a much needed take for this generation. Times have changed and the character went through a much needed change with Man of Steel in my opinion.
Man of Steel focuses heavily on Superman’s relationship with humanity with both its highs and lows. Throughout this film Clark Kent struggles to find a place in the world from being bullied at a young age to moving from place to place taking on numerous jobs after failing to find a place to settle down as a adult in the beginning of the film. However this all changes when General Zod invades Earth and gives Kal-El the option to join him in turning Earth into a new Krypton. But Superman can’t bring himself to join Zod on his objective which will end up wiping out the entire human race. In the short time of being Superman Kal-El has finally realised why he was sent here. His purpose was to be that leader that Earth needed and he was there to set an example to the people who would eventually join him in the sun.
By the end of the film Clark has finally found his place in the world. Not only has he just saved the world but he now finally settled down with the love of his life Lois Lane. He found a job which allowed him to live somewhat of a normal life. The line that Lois says to Clark at the end of the film “Welcome to the Planet” isn’t just a cliche line, no this line has much greater significance in that an alien who has been struggling to find their way for 30 plus years has finally been accepted by the world and is no longer seen as an outsider.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
What’s it like to save the world and then become a huge figure of controversy being both loved and hated by those same people who’s lives you just saved? Well the answer lies here in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While Man of Steel built on Superman’s relationship with humanity Dawn of Justice tears that down as well as Superman’s character who throughout the film is even questioning his role in the world. There is this underlying theme throughout the film about whether the world actually needs a Superman or not. Not only is he blamed for the destruction of Metropolis but behind the scenes Lex Luthor is plotting away framing Superman for horrific acts which he did not commit fuelling to the hatred of this omnipotent figure.
The treatment of Superman in this film is something that can be described as a social commentary on issues today in the world such as immigration and racism. It can even be compared to stories of the past, the most obvious being the story of Christ. Again this doubles down on the reliability of the character for me. I mean who can’t relate to Superman in this film? I for one can. Doing all you can to the best of your abilities but at the end of the day you get demonised for your efforts. Now granted I haven’t experienced anything like the type of backlash Superman experienced in this film but I couldn’t help myself from feeling sorry for the character. Lets also get one thing straight of course this Superman isn’t going to be smiling throughout this film. Would you if you felt like the whole world was against you? I mean Jonathan Kent in man of steel did warn Clark what would happened to him if people really found out who he truly was and he was right. That’s one thing that has always annoyed me the way people criticise Jonathan Kent for wanting Clark to keep his powers a secret which ultimately led to his death. Look at how they treated him in Dawn of Justice and now imagine that same reaction but this time to a Superman that was basically a teenager in Man of Steel.
The world’s reaction to Superman again has him questioning his place in the world. This is shown in scenes where he is talking to Martha where she tells him that he has the choice to be their monument or be nothing because he owes them nothing. This whole film is built up to the moment when Doomsday is created and Superman realises he is the only one who is capable of taking this monster. I think it’s powerful how with everything he’s gone through in this movie he says the line “This is my world” making the ultimate sacrifice while saving a world that contained many people who wanted to see him dead or in jail. Here is where Superman’s relationship with humanity is restored and in fact made stronger. We see the world mourning him in the streets, the people realise that Superman not only saved the world once but twice now at the cost of his own life this time. Most importantly Superman left his mark on the world with the idea of hope in which he inspired others with his sacrifice just like he did with Batman.
Justice League (2017)
While I enjoyed Superman in Justice League I can’t help myself from pointing out the major issues I had with the character as a whole in this film. I’m not even going to talk about the whole CGI debacle with Henry Cavill’s moustache. This is more to do with the change in character of Superman once he returns in the film. Superman comes back and all of a sudden he is saying lines such as “I’m a big fan of justice” and “Is this guy still bothering you?”. While I loved a lot of what he done in the third act it just didn’t make sense to me. Superman’s character done a 180° turn from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice. This change in the character is fine in my opinion but it didn’t seem natural, it all felt forced. I would argue that the studio was responding to the criticisms surrounding this Superman as one that wasn’t hopeful enough and didn’t smile at all. I’m fine with them wanting to take the character in this direction but it felt rushed to me and in the process we missed out on probably the most crucial part of this character’s development. I feel like we were missing a scene of Clark having a vision talking to Jor-El or Jonathan Kent where they were telling him how the world needs him now more than ever.
With that being said Justice League as a whole was a film that was riddled with issues that not only affected Superman but all of the members of the Justice League. I guess what Justice League solidified for me was my issue with killing Superman in the first place. At the time I still felt it was too early to kill him in his second movie and I 100% stand by that now. The death of Superman should have happened in the third Superman film or at least at the end of the first Justice League movie and. Part of me feels like they knew they made a mistake with his death because of the way they handled his return in Justice League. They didn’t even show the world’s reaction to Superman’s return which was a huge disappointment for me. The relationship between Superman and the public has been one of the most interesting aspects of this character but it was completely ignored in Justice League. When he actually returns, there’s no crowd of people cheering him on or anything. It’s just sad to see how we started off so well in Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice the character’s arc isn’t done justice (pun intended) in the end with Justice League.
So where does this leave us now with Superman? Well Justice League ends with Clark Kent running down the street revealing the iconic ‘S’ just like Christopher Reeve’s Superman. Is the Superman from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice gone now? Will the next Superman film see a return to the more classic image of the character? In my opinion I’ll be happy either way all I ask from the future creators is that they treat the character with the respect and care that it deserves.
Let me know what you think down below