DC’s efforts for a connected movie universe started tentatively. It’s funny to say that after Batman v Superman, isn’t it? Back in 2013, they were hesitant and unsure; it wasn’t even clear if Man of Steel would gain traction, so the studio remained noncommittal as to what’d come next.
For me, that’s one of the film’s strengths. Rather than working to establish a franchise of marketable heroes (as BvS did, with mixed results) it grounds itself firmly in the story of Clark Kent. More concerned by characterisation and his journey from outcast to the icon we know, there was an elegance in its simplicity.
This is what I find disappointing about the sequel. It muddled a setting I thought to be compellingly grounded, weighing things down with rushed twists that broke my suspension of disbelief. Likewise, unearned spectacle cheapens the world Man of Steel worked so hard to create.
Although Superman’s big-screen origin has its flaws – namely a final third bloated with action – the plot’s narrow focus made for a cohesive whole. It’s very much the story of a man trying to find his place in life. Say what you will about Clark’s decision in the controversial finale; this is a culmination of his struggle to figure out who he wants to be, and it’s in-keeping with a world where there are no easy answers. Such consequences are what I love about this film, up to and including a sense of threat offered by the Kyrptonian World Engine taking hundreds of lives. The decision to kill off General Zod may not tally with the big blue boy-scout from the comics, but that’s potentially reductive. What would he do in a no-win situation? Good story-telling means putting characters in a position where they’re forced to change, followed by them dealing with the ramifications of that choice. There needed to be greater build-up explaining the significance and impact of crossing this line (it would also carry greater weight if Superman had worked to minimise the collateral damage of his battle, as explained by Marvel writer Mark Waid), but in general the climax had me buzzing at its implications.
This sense of consequence was present in the wonderfully paced opening, too. Besides a location sporting well-realised depth, his parents’ struggle was given substance thanks to the inevitability of their planet’s destruction. Spectacular fight-sequences didn’t hurt, of course, and this is something that’s true of the entire film; it’s wonderfully shot and rendered, with great overall design as well. However, what’s crucial is how grounded it felt.
Which is partly why I left the cinema feeling deflated after Batman v Superman. In more ways than one, it failed to meet the promise of its predecessor.