Movie Review: Man of Steel

Here it is: The latest big and blockbusting effort to make Superman relevant to the masses again. I saw it four days ago.

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Starring:
Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams
Director:
Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen)
Rating: M
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man-of-steel-poster-3
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Man of Steel was one of my most anticipated films of 2013 and it had been so for a while, despite the fact that I am not a comic book reader and never have been. There were just so many fascinating questions to be answered – could Christopher Nolan‘s influence on the Superman mythos translate into another superlative movie despite the unavoidable need for the inclusion of superpowers? Would General Zod prove a worthy villain in yet another reboot of the character? And how would Zack Snyder‘s post-Sucker Punch direction factor into things? Having seen it now, when all is said and done, it turns out Man of Steel is a rather difficult film to review. Or at least to score. It has been tormenting me for days.

Man of Steel is ultimately a complicated beast. On one hand it’s a real spectacle of note, showcasing the very best of Zack Snyder‘s considerable action directing talents. On this front the director has surely now cemented his reputation as one of the absolute premier architects of fantastical celluloid action sequences. He has been well known in recent years for a liberal use of eye-popping slow motion in his blockbusters, and though it is rarely seen here in its purest form, the canny visionary sneaks it in here and there with such in-universe reasoning as the sheer difference in speed between his superhuman combatants and the mortals around them, or the lack of gravity in outer space. And the results are beautiful.

On the other, Man of Steel struggles to live up to the legacy of Warner Bros’ most famous DC comics effort, the Dark Knight trilogy, in more ways than one. It was co-written by Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer, after all, both of whom worked on said trilogy. Though Henry Cavill is an amazingly well-cast Superman, with an impossibly well formed face, a winning (though rarely seen) smile and a glorious beard that has altogether too little screen time, his character is written as a moody and reluctant hero whose opinion is swayed perhaps a little too easily by others. Cavill gives his all to a believable performance, but some of the Kryptonian’s decisions seem jarringly out of place with what the traditional Superman would do. If that much is obvious even to someone who has never read a full Superman comic, something isn’t quite right. The film also has a rather dreary feel to it.

That Dark Knight feeling comes from more than just the film’s tone (and from Hans Zimmer‘s typically wonderful score). Nolan and Goyer are big fans of grounding the speculative elements of their work in a set of rules that makes everything explainable. So, naturally, the film has a rather large focus on the Krypton homeworld, its inhabitants and technology. Russell Crowe‘s part as the father of the man who would become Super is consequently a lot larger than any trailer has suggested and the Aussie handles it well. In fact some of the movie’s best scenes feature him as the focal point of the plot.

It is Michael Shannon as the hyper-militant Kryptonian General Zod who really shines, though. Not only do he and his sidekick Faora get most of the film’s coolest Snyder-special action scenes, he is a genuinely fierce villain with genuinely credible motives. His initial approach to Earth is a memorable sequence and his menacing yet slightly pained demeanor is infinitely watchable. Zod and his fellow Kryptonians overshadow most every human supporting character, save for perhaps Diane Lane‘s Martha Kent, which is both a shame and kind of awesome. Even Amy Adams‘ earnest efforts with the role of Lois Lane fall largely by the wayside. Though she is believable as a feisty journalist, her role in the larger epic storyline feels forced and she somehow manages to have very little chemistry with Cavill, though the latter is more the fault of the script’s lack of attention to their relationship. And the less said about the staff of The Daily Planet the better.

Overall, Man of Steel is a film well worth watching, if only for its incredible action and mostly strong performances, but it isn’t quite as striking, cohesive, or effective as the best comic book films of the last few years. Eh, the run had to end somewhere.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Fantastic action sequences, great superman actor choice, memorable villains
Bad:
Human roles seem pointless, out-of-place moody tone
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3.5 VsG !

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