Zack Snyder is one of the most divisive filmmakers in Hollywood right now. Over the years, the filmmaker’s aggressive directorial style and penchant for creating apocalyptic action sequences on-screen have won him a dedicated fanbase. His frequent attempts at bringing beloved fictional characters and properties to life have similarly helped make him one of the most well-known directors working today.
Nowadays, of course, it’s difficult to think about Zack Snyder’s work within the superhero genre without also thinking of all the controversy and behind-the-scenes disagreements that plagued his era of the DC Extended Universe. However, there was a time when Snyder’s future in the DCEU seemed bright and wide open. That was in 2013 when he released a film that seemed to signal the start of an optimistic new period for DC Comics fans.
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We are, of course, talking about Man of Steel. The Superman origin story film introduced audiences for the first time to Henry Cavill’s Kal-El/Clark Kent, and while it’s not without its flaws, Man of Steel still stands as one of the most visually impressive superhero movies that has ever been made. Fortunately, it’s now available to stream on HBO Max.
Here’s why Inverse recommends that you do so ASAP.
Throughout the entirety of its runtime, Man of Steel seeks to look and feel totally different from any other Superman movie. For the most part, it succeeds at doing that, especially in its opening, Krypton-set prologue, which looks like something out of The Matrix (or Jupiter Ascending). Following that sequence, the film continues to defy traditional origin story rules by adopting a non-linear storytelling style.
It’s a trick that pays off well for the film. By juxtaposing the way he was as a young boy to the man that Cavill’s Kal-El has become as an adult, Man of Steel is not only able to engage with the parts of Clark Kent that define him, but it also allows the film to create a collage of memorable moments. As a result, throughout most of its first and second acts, Man of Steel never really has to pause too long on a scene or worry too much about linking its narrative beats together.
That structure also allows Snyder to create several surprisingly impressionistic images throughout Man of Steel. As a director, he has always been better at creating memorable visual moments and shots than he is at telling complete, legible stories. In Man of Steel, that skill pays off for Snyder better than it has in any of his other films.
The movie’s first two acts are less concerned with detailing the specifics of Clark Kent’s origins and more with creating a portrait of his youth and adulthood. Snyder, in turn, uses his most artistic, painterly instincts to do just that — turning each flashback and pre-Superman moment with Clark into a brushstroke that just further completes the film’s picture of him.
Man of Steel’s strong first half eventually culminates with Clark’s first flight as Superman. The sequence remains one of the most awe-inspiring in comic book movie history and easily stands as one of the best scenes that Snyder has ever assembled. It’s rousing, dramatically engaging, and visually gorgeous, and it serves as a strong reminder of just what Zack Snyder is capable of achieving when he and his film’s stories are in tune with each other.
Unfortunately, where Man of Steel goes in its second half is significantly less engaging than everything it does in its first. The film’s third act is filled with far too many mind-numbing CGI action scenes, and as a result, it becomes the section of Man of Steel where the movie abandons its own inventiveness in favor of becoming something familiar and safe.
But despite how disappointing it is to watch Man of Steel devolve into nothing more than a series of overlong fight scenes, the impression its first half leaves is still powerful enough to make revisiting (or checking it out for the first time) a worthwhile endeavor.
Man of Steel is available to stream now on HBO Max.