Every Way That Man Of Steel Borrowed From Smallville


Though tonally different, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel actually borrowed a number of key narrative elements and ideas from the Superman origin series Smallville. In an attempt to replicate the budding success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2013 saw DC follow suit. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel introduced a grittier take on the most iconic hero of all time, establishing Superman’s origin story and exploring his somewhat unique characterization within the DCEU. Though Man of Steel proved to be somewhat divisive, it successfully laid the foundation for DC’s own shared universe, while introducing Henry Cavill’s Superman in the process.

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As Man of Steel introduced a new version of the character, it follows that the movie would explore Superman’s origins. The character’s history and alien heritage are particularly important to the DCEU’s wider story, so establishing what sets Cavill’s Superman apart from other versions was something that Man of Steel simply had to do. Despite telling a unique and interesting spin on the more traditional Superman story, Man of Steel also managed to show reverence to the character’s history in a number of ways.

One of the previous Superman stories that Man of Steel borrowed heavily from was Smallville. Though it may be a somewhat surprising choice to inspire Snyder’s gritty take on Superman, Smallville‘s Superman origin story was singularly comprehensive: running for 10 seasons allowed the show to explore almost every conceivable facet of Clark Kent’s younger years, so it proved a particularly rich well of inspiration for Zack Snyder to tap. There are numerous ways in which Smallville influenced Man of Steel‘s story, and though some are more obvious than others, they all evidence just how important Smallville truly is to the Superman mythos.

Kryptonian Conquerors Were Thoroughly Explored In Smallville First

Perhaps the most obvious way in which Smallville influenced Man of Steel was the movie’s subtle use of an idea that was firmly established in the show. In Man of Steel, a key element of the film’s story is Zod attempting to remake the Earth’s atmosphere to better suit Kryptonian physiology, hoping to colonize the planet to seed a new Kryptonian society (at the cost of all human life). The idea of the villainous General Zod as a tyrant may not be unique to Man of Steel, but the idea of Kryptonians attempting to take over Earth was a key plot point in Smallville‘s early and middle seasons.

In Smallville, it’s not just Zod that’s intent on ruling Earth, but Jor-El, too. In the show, it’s revealed that Jor-El intended for Kal-El to conquer and rule Earth as a god, making Clark’s biological father something of a villain. This established Smallville‘s Kryptonians as a particularly harsh and unforgiving race, intent on dominating those with less power than themselves, and it was only Clark’s human upbringing that spared him from the same mentality. This is also an idea explored in Man of Steel, with Cavill’s Superman refusing to entertain Zod’s ideas due to his love of his adopted planet. There’s also a compelling theory that Jor-El is Man of Steel‘s villain, and that his plan for Earth was identical to that of Smallville‘s Jor-El, meaning that it’s possible Snyder subtly lifted the entire arc from the show.

Man Of Steel Referenced Original Smallville Characters

It may be a relatively small point, but Man of Steel actually went out of its way to reference key Smallville characters. This wasn’t limited to those characters who were already an established part of Superman’s origin story – like Lana Lang and Peter Ross – but also to Smallville‘s original characters. Man of Steel honors these characters through easy-to-miss Easter eggs, but the subtle Smallville nods are clear indicators of Snyder’s inspiration.

In a throwaway line of dialogue, Man of Steel references Whitney Fordman (albeit with his name slightly changed to Fordham), a Smallville jock with a particular fondness for picking on Clark. During one early scene, there’s also a large sign advertising “Sullivan‘s Truck and Tractor Repair,” which is believed to be a nod to original Smallville character Chloe Sullivan. Though the way in which Snyder included original Smallville characters in the DCEU’s Man of Steel was subtle, it seems to indicate an intent to honor the beloved series.

Man Of Steel Also Used Many Smallville Actors

Smallville‘s 10-year run meant that its cast grew bigger than that of many shows, but there seems to have been a deliberate intent to cast Smallville actors for roles in Man of Steel. The most obvious of these is the DCEU’s Lois Lane, Amy Adams, who played a minor Smallville role early in her career. However, numerous other Smallville guest stars appear in Man of Steel: Alessandro Juliani (Dr. Emil in Smallville) plays a military officer, Tahmoh Penikett (Wes Keenan in Smallville) briefly shares a scene with Adams’ Lois Lane. Also, Chad Krowchuck (Wendell in Smallville) appeared as a reporter, David Paetkau (who appeared twice in Smallville) is the first person to say the name “Superman” in Man of Steel, and Mackenzie Gray, who played two separate roles in Smallville, appears as Kryptonian Jax-Ur in the movie. The use of so many Smallville alums in minor roles seems to spell deliberate intent on Zack Snyder’s part, creating another Smallville connection for Superman’s first DCEU outing.

Other Story Elements That Man Of Steel Borrowed From Smallville

One smaller but vital story element that Snyder may have taken inspiration from Smallville for was in Man of Steel‘s Jonathan Kent story. The notion that Clark’s adoptive father would sacrifice his own life to protect Clark’s secret is lifted directly from Smallville. As if that parallel wasn’t convincing enough, the manner of Jonathan Kent’s death is also something that appears in Smallville: a sudden onset of inclement weather that results in life-threatening twisters. The manner of Jonathan Kent’s death in Man of Steel may seem coincidental when considered separately, but alongside all of Snyder’s other references, it seems as though it may be another nod to Smallville.

Why Man Of Steel’s Smallville References Were Perfect (& Subtle)

Though Man of Steel contained a number of Smallville references, they were all incredibly subtle. The reason that they are easy to miss is relatively simple: the contrasting tones of Snyder’s movie and the far less gritty origin series were so incompatible that Snyder needed to hide them rather than forcing the similarities. However, the reason that Man of Steel‘s Smallville Easter eggs work is because of how organic they are in relation to the film’s story. The way that Smallville established its supporting characters and their stories so thoroughly has helped them to feel like an integral part of Superman’s character, and that allows them to work within Snyder’s vastly different origin story.

Through the persistent use of small references to Smallville, it’s clear that Zack Snyder understands the show’s importance to Superman’s mythos. Not only is it a clever way of honoring the character’s history without overtly tying the movie into a previously established continuity, but it’s also something that adds a layer of subtle depth to the DCEU’s very first entry. Though Man of Steel may be somewhat divisive, its ability to pay homage to Smallville prove the film’s Superman credentials.

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