Man of Steel Review
by Daniel Rester
It’s best to go in to see Man of Steel not expecting an old-fashioned Superman movie. The approach of Steel is meant to be game-changing for the hero, and it is. Writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (with Goyer taking screenplay credit and the two sharing story credit) and Director Zack Snyder aim to do for Superman what Nolan and Goyer similarly did for Batman with The Dark Knight trilogy: to reinvent him for a new age in a darker and more emotional way while still keeping the character close to his known origins and characteristics. Do they succeed? Well, I’d say definitely, at least for the most part.
The origins story for Kal-El is pretty much the same here. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his baby Kal-El to Earth after Krypton begins to turn to rubble, much to the dismay of General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod seeks a codex (which is sent off with Kal-El) that could help build a new Krypton, though Zod and Jor-El have different ideas of how that should be done. On Earth, Kal-El is taken in and raised by Americans Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Now as Clark Kent, Kal-El realizes he is different as he grows up. As a man (Henry Cavill), Kal-El begins to realize that he is meant for more – and that he may be the only hope for the humans against Zod and his crew, who seek out Kal-El.
While Steel keeps the basic origins intact, the filmmakers dare to mix things up story-wise with their structuring and style. This take on Superman has more of a non-linear fashion in the way certain things play out, more of Clark as an outsider, and less concern with the character’s association with the Daily Planet. There is also greater emphasis on themes (especially hope) and the power that Kal-El’s journey has on everyone. I’m sure some more traditional parts of the character’s story will play into the inevitable sequels, but Steel keeps things concentrated on just setting up the necessities.
The way everything unfolds feels a bit disjointed at times, but it is also refreshingly different from the way usual origins stories dish things out. The script has little to none of the charm or humor that the 1978 Richard Donner film had, which it could have used an ounce of, and it too often resorts to flashbacks. But, as said, this is a reinvention. And in such ways, most of the writing is effective and dramatic (though everyone speechifies a bit too much), with greater attention given to childhood issues, growing relationships, the villain’s reasoning behind things (with Zod actually making a few solid points), views of outsiders in this day and age, etc.
Helping to give weight to the writing is the solid cast. Cavill is appealing as our hero, and looks terrific in the newer and glossier outfit. He is a bit too square-jawed and serious at times, but he does a fine job at conveying Kal-El’s inner struggle and sense of wonder and responsibility. The actor is no Christopher Reeves, but he is by no means a bad Superman at all; in fact, he is quite great.
The supporting players also add a lot, though Shannon and Crowe are the only other ones besides Cavill who have a decent amount of character development for their parts. Shannon (who is one of my favorite actors) is menacing and fitting as Zod, managing to not overplay things or become too nutty. Crowe, Costner, and Lane are all excellent as well, providing the film with most of its heart as Kal-El’s parents. Amy Adams is tough and fun to watch as Lois Lane, though her and Cavill’s chemistry is hit-and-miss. Still, she puts a nice spin on the character. Also joining in on smaller parts are such talented individuals as Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Antje Traue.
But big mention needs to go to Snyder and his technical team. After making such films as 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009), and (the disappointing) Sucker Punch (2011), the man has really established himself as a director with an eye for spectacle. With Steel, Snyder, along with Cinematographer Amir Mokri and many visual effects artists, has created a visually dazzling superhero extravaganza. The film contains more than a couple of moments that truly knock your socks off; a standout for me was a fight involving Cavill and Traue in Smallville.
Snyder actually does justice to the old hero in displaying him for modern times, and he even delivers perfect strokes with a mix of visuals and story in the first half. But the film’s main flaw lies with its second half. Instead of quitting while he is ahead, Snyder allows the climax to go on forever. The results in the last thirty minutes are still mostly amazing to see, but a lot of it is just repetitive, loud, and dizzying.
In the climax, there are not only a few hazy images and plenty of moments with motion blur, but there is also some imagery that is uncomfortably reminiscent of 09/11. Seriously, at least ten buildings crash to the ground and then some ash-covered survivors have to pull each other out of the mess. (At the same time, it doesn’t feel as if there is enough mention of consequence because of the film’s PG-13 ways of showing things.) So while the climax is impressive, it just becomes exhausting after a bit (with Hans Zimmer’s booming score attacking the ear drums in order to go along with the display) and features too much doom-and-gloom in the air. Also, we don’t care enough about the side characters who are in trouble at this point, so it is hard to connect with them emotionally as they go through such ordeals.
I’m not the biggest Superman fan (diehards may nitpick a bit more than I do), but I found Snyder’s film to be very entertaining and worthy for the most part. Honestly, I don’t understand why many critics are hating on it as much as they are – though I acknowledge some of the flaws that many point out. I found it to be much more captivating and rejuvenating than Iron Man 3, which seems to be getting the better reviews this season. All I can say is that I enjoyed it despite some overblown moments and issues with the writing (including a weak and forced ending touch). It has a lot to offer as a summer blockbuster, including a fantastic story, Cavill as a star-in-the-making, and some of the most arresting visual effects of the past few years.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).