5 Reasons: Man of Steel is Insanely Underrated

Published on November 12th, 2013

You’re probably wrong about Man of Steel. Wait, don’t be upset! You’ve got strong opinions about it. Your expectations weren’t met. It wasn’t really like the comics. Totally understood. But check this out: it’s still a pretty good movie. Why? How can you change everything and still have it be a good adaptation? It was accomplished, ironically, by throwing out nearly everything we’ve come to expect from a Superman movie:

1. Genre

Man of Steel isn’t a just super hero movie, it’s a science fiction epic.

We’ve seen superheroes filtered through the lens of palatable genres before. Probably more effective is Nolan’s neo-noir take on Batman. Only in this case we might be seeing the first fully-committed genre superhero film. Comics are known for liberally sprinkling stories with elements from all sources. Magic, science, religion, philosophy, anything goes.


Orson tried to warn us.

Consequently there are like 70 plus years of wildly divergent stories. Filmmakers taking on this much history are left with difficult decision about how to translate all of this into a direct, unequivocal moviegoing experience. Snyder has chosen to incorporate a sparse number of traditionalist comic book tropes, exchanging them for science fiction icons and stark life and death symbolism.

Superman no longer represents a handful of cartoon archetypes superimposed into the real world. Instead a lifetime of stories are distilled into a single mythic conflict about desperate people in a struggle for survival.

2. Plot!

What’s so great about a DNA codex?

Many comic book origin adaptations become episodic sagas, sometimes having the film contain at least two or more plots. Jor-El attempting to save his people by linking the codex to his son sets a story in motion that directly impacts the resolution in the final act. Terraforming, first contact, war; it’s all for a singular purpose. Where comic movies often struggle, establishing an understandable need for its villains, Man of Steel pretty much nails it.


We’ll have to get back to you about why “Lizard Men” was a thing.

We can see how Zod & friends are an effective choice as antagonists because they are intrinsically linked to the hero. The conflict between bloodlines is inescapable. Even Kal-El’s quest for identity mistakenly rouses the enemy’s interest. He must atone for his father’s sins, no matter how well intended they were. And like Zod, he must shed the blood of his own people to protect the future of his planet.

3. Alien New World

Name Superman’s home world. Did you say Krypton? Well yeah, but no. Krypton is Earth.

Depleted resources, indoctrinated people and conflict with disrupting the status quo are not alien in nature. This planet isn’t just decaying naturally. Fundamental problems within their social structure and government have pushed them beyond the pale. A Platonist man of the light seeks change. Tragically he’s already dead.


He never got to finish his cool powerpoint presentation though.

When Jor-El imbues Clark Kent with the history of his ancestors, we’re told Krypton was once a vital world. The ancient El uniform is emblazoned with a lively red crest and cloak. By contrast his father’s shield is dull and black, representing death. Like Clark, we’re given a chance to understand that Krypton, not dissimilar to Earth, had ages and development. Their history contains prosperity and destruction. Both of which are lessons that can be used to build a better future.

4. True Romance

Reconsider your ideas of traditional on-screen romance. Seems lofty, but give it a try. Lois and Clark’s relationship starts with intrigue, and grows into a mutual respect and admiration. This is not a superficial “gosh, we’re so stupid for eac hother because we’re cute” fantasy love story.

Lois Lane is a courageous, professional adult. She doesn’t simply fall head over heels for Clark because he’s attractive. They grow to admire each other. Sure, he saved her life, but at almost no cost. She protects his secret at a professional expense. She makes hard moral decisions, like Superman, and a bond builds between them over time. Lois Lane is a hero.


“Earn this…”

Look, they needed that rubble kiss. Embracing eachother after surviving the near-apocalypse is what anyone might do.

5. Big Blue Soldier

Superman takes no shit, clearly harkening the original characterization of the 1930’s. A caped egalitarian with the strength to fight entire governments. By the 1950’s, Superman was an American symbol and marketing tool. While exceptional stories were told using this new iteration of the character, Superman as “America’s Father Figure” definitely stunted its dramatic potential.

Man of Steel’s interpretation crafts a self-made soldier, not unlike his biological father. He’s a proactive humanist who fights for people who he trusts are good, even in spite of their actions.

Speaking of which, he doesn’t even know how to fight. Homeboy’s putting it on the line every time he goes off to battle with these mean-ass Kryptonians.


Your tactical failure was not killing Superman while he’s pondering for 20 minutes.

The conceit of the story isn’t that any one man is perfect. Whether it’s a desperate couple saving their child, or an army against a formidable alien force; goodness comes from determination. Like the filmmaking team’s approach of the character with a clean slate, Clark is on a mission of discovery, trials and experimentation. He has to define himself in the context of a great history.

There is a choice to be made, to break free of the old ways (represented by Zod’s army) and to build something new. Along the way he learns the value of selflessness, and the ultimate cost of war. It’s all there in the film. A lot of work must be done to become a completely trusted alien figure, complete in your own traditional native clothing, in a contemporary American setting. But there’s hope, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing that progress in our hero’s journey.

Randall Maynard