Review: Man Of Steel

Directed by: Zack Snyder.

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Ayelet Zurer, Antje Traue.

Rating:   Running Time: 143 mins.

On the planet Krypton, a caste society rules whereby all Kryptonian children are engineered to fulfil specific roles in society before they are even born. Due to tapping of the planet’s core for power, the planet has become unstable and will eventually explode. Knowing this, a scientist named Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayalet Zurer) have had a child, the first naturally born on Krypton in thousands of years. Their son Kal-El will be sent in a ship to Earth, along with the stolen codec, so that something of Krypton will survive on another world. But General Zod (Michael Shannon), a firm believer in the caste system, sets out to prevent this, and to ethnically cleanse the codec of the ‘inferior’ bloodlines so that a superior Krypton may be rebuilt on another world. When his coup fails, he is banished with his followers to the Phantom Zone, vowing to find Kal-El and the codec, fulfilling his role as a protector of the Kryptonian way of life.

33 years later on Earth, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), leads a solitary life, drifting from one job to another under an assumed alias, he keeps his abilities a secret, waiting until a time when the world is ready. Searching for clues as to who he is, he remembers key events in his life with his adoptive mother Martha (Diane Lane) and father Jonathan (Kevin Costner), while reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) pursues stories of a man with extraordinary abilities who disappears soon after. When a man named General Zod arrives in a space ship, looking for Kal-El and the codec, he confirms that humans are not alone in the universe, and issues an ultimatum – that Kal-El surrender himself to Zod, or the planet Earth will be destroyed – forcing Clark to decide if it is time to reveal himself.

The last Superman movie released to screens was Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns in 2006. The movie did financially enough to be successful, but the movie’s tone left a lot of the fans with a foul taste in their mouth. It was made as a continuation of the Richard Donner universe that started back in 1978. Here the decision has been made to reboot the franchise with a fresh take on the character and a new actor in the role.

Writer David S. Goyer, who has a long record of writing for comic book characters on the big screen including the not so great Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, but also some great adaptations like the vampire battling Blade, and most successfully, the character of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Christopher Nolan is influential here as a producer on Man Of Steel, but his influence is evident throughout the movie and all for the better. Certain elements of the story have been ret-conned to make changes here or there, but none of them detrimental or unfaithful to the original source material.

How Lois and Clark meet is perhaps the biggest change made, but it works so much better than you could hope, and makes the character of Lois such a stronger reporter as she should be. There’s also been great care taken to handle Superman’s abilities properly, his ability to fly feels very much like an extension of movement. At first he starts out making long jumps, as do the other Kryptonians when they arrive, and then it becomes more like he pulls himself against gravity, and like flexing a muscle, is something that comes with honing his skills. It’s something which could have caused the movie’s momentum to stall horribly, but it works so much better than expected.

A great deal of the movie is spent on flashback sequences showing us events in Clark’s life that made him the man he is today, and are handled well, setting up the viewer’s knowledge of this version of the Superman universe while not being so obvious or too long. When his x-ray and heat vision first kicks in, when he saves his school bus with his super-strength after it plunges off a bridge into a river, when he holds himself back from retaliating against a bully, all moments that not only provide you with character moments for Clark and the internal struggle he has had to make with his abilities.

Most of these flashbacks include Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, and you see how he guides his son through his earlier years, protecting him from exposing his abilities to the world for fear of the world not being ready to know that human beings are not alone in the galaxy, and the fear of how a god-fearing people may react. It’s something that was never considered in Richard Donner’s version thirty years ago, but something that feels very apt to the world today.

Costner is stand out among the cast as Superman’s human father, but that’s not to say the rest of the cast disappoint. Henry Cavill, whose last big screen appearance was in the lacklustre The Cold Light Of Day is absolutely on top form here, showing Clark’s struggle and inner turmoil consistently throughout the movie. As said the character of Lois Lane is written so much better than in previous incarnations, and the performance by Amy Adams more than lives up to portraying her strength and determination on the screen, but also her vulnerability when need be. Michael Shannon as General Zod is as powerful as he ever has been, but more than that, he’s a villain who isn’t just there to chew the scenery, he has a method to his madness, a reason by which he justifies his actions.

Also adding to the cast are Russell Crowe, who absolutely hits all the right marks as Jor-El, Clark’s Kryptonian father, appearing not only in the opening sequence on Krypton but also later in the movie as a hologram with all of his memories. His scenes with Cavill are stronger than you would have thought and the two have a great chemistry together as father and son. Diane Lane as Martha Kent and Lawrence Fishburn as Daily Planet editor Perry White are perhaps a little underused in the movie, though they both shine in their performances and have their moments. Mention should also be made of Ayelet Zurer as Clark’s Kryptonian mother Lara Lor-Van, who in the opening sequence really shows the struggle of sending away her newborn son. She and the actors who play the younger Clark in the flashback sequences all bring strong performances to what could have been minor roles.

The movie packs a lot into it’s 143 minutes running time, but does feel a little like it has one too many acts. You have the opening Krypton sequence, which comprises the first twenty minutes of the movie – a lot longer than expected, or in the Richard Donner version, but also a lot more involving. You then have an act where Clark is searching for his identity whilst also having flashbacks to key events of his life, and then you have the moment when Zod arrives and Clark becomes Superman. In that third act, there is a moment where it appears the movie is going to end, when in fact there is more to come. It’s a minor stumble in the pacing, and perhaps intentionally, but it’s a moment that stands out.

From then on the movie does become very heavily laden with special effects sequences that recalls visuals from such movies as The Matrix Trilogy, though to be honest that is what the movie needed to do to be truthful to the devastation and outright carnage that would come from two super-beings battling it out in a towering metropolis, true Superman fans would have been disappointed with anything less. I would have liked there to be a few more moments for humour to let the audience take a breath once in a while, a particular example of how this would have worked is evident in an early scene where Clark gets revenge on a drunken trucker, which got a great laugh from the audience, and it would have been nice to have a few more moments like this in the movie, though not too many – it’s a fine line between levity and spoof.

Man Of Steel is the Superman movie that you’ve been waiting for the last 20 years since special effects technology has advanced. While some feared that would mean it would become all effects and no story, those fears can be put to rest. It is filled to the brim with special effects as it needs to be, but also with heart and emotion, some will even find that at some crucial moments they may begin to well up. This is by far director Zack Snyder’s best movie to date and while it still has a few imperfections it’s by no means a flawed Superman movie. Word has it the rough cut of the movie was nearer 3 hours which would have just been too long, but at 143 minutes running time, though it’s a long watch it has everything in it you want from a Superman movie.

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Posted on June 15, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is good, but not sure it’s Snyder’s best film. Watchmen is about as good as this, possibly better.

    • Watchmen is a great movie, but it’s more concerned with being a statement movie and a series of iconic images rather than a story concerning it’s characters. Thanks for the like!

  2. sober-minded review. You mentioned the fact that the special effects WERE a bit overdone, but good job keeping your eye on the story throughout the film. I feel like as viewers we need to remember that how much we are stimulated by visual effects can literally distract us from the beauty of a story. And our perspective gets so skewed that we think the movie turned out bad. While the effects are partially to blame for this phenomena, critics are blaming the filmmakers WAY too much.

  3. Nice review. An epic movie through and through, but disappointing when it becomes a loud, bombastic superhero movie. Something I was not expecting.

  4. I have to agree with Dan above. This just didn’t speak to me. All I saw was a soulless piece of Hollywood product. A weak story with a really bad script and an over-reliance on special effects to dazzle viewers.

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