‘Man Of Steel’ Movie Review: Superman Broods Amid Extravagant Explosions
As a long-time fan of the Superman films and Smallville, I was eager to see what director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen) and Batman Begins mastermind Christopher Nolan had planned for the Big Blue Boy Scout in Man of Steel. The early trailers teased a grittier, bearded Clark Kent, a far cry from Christopher Reeves’s clean-cut portrayal. Based on that and the decidedly darker tone of the film, I expected it to be in the same epic vein as Batman Begins. With Nolan and Batman’s screenwriter David S. Goyer on board, why wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Man of Steel begins with Superman’s origins. On the distant desert planet of Krypton, which bears a strange resemblance to Star Trek’s Vulcan, Lara (Ayelet Zurer) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) welcome a naturally born son in the midst of a global crisis. Krypton’s core is deteriorating, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is rebelling against Krypton’s high council for control, and Jor-El must prepare for Kal-El’s evacuation. Before he sends his newborn son into space, Jor-El implants the planet’s codex, a genetic registry of all Kryptonian souls, into his body for safekeeping. Zod is none too happy about this development and vows to hunt Kal-El down.
What follows is a non-linear progression of Kal-now-Clark Kent’s life on Earth. Clark (Henry Cavill) is not the mild-mannered reporter we all know and love, but a loner working on a fishing boat. After rescuing oil rig workers from a fire, Clark quietly moves on to the next blue-collar job. This just so happens to be in Canada, where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is investigating a mysterious object encased in ice. Clark keeps a low profile, as flashbacks to his childhood show a struggle to understand and hide his powers, which creates a moral conflict after he saves a busload of classmates from drowning. These flashbacks highlight some great scenes between younger Clark and his adoptive father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner), who wants Clark safe. If that means allowing other people to die, then so be it. In present-day, Clark and Lois’s discovery of an ancient scouting ship from Krypton is the catalyst for Clark’s evolution into Superman, his introduction to Lois, and an arrival from a Kryptonian enemy intent on revenge. After these revelations, the second half of the film revolves solely around high-octane action sequences.
Explosions and battles are a requirement in a superhero flick such as this, and Man of Steel does not disappoint in that regard. Water towers and stores blow up, buildings collapse and bullets ricochet off super-bodies. Zod and his team of Kryptonian rebels are formidable enemies for Superman and they never seem to have a breaking point. Oftentimes, however, these scenes feel too lengthy and exhausting, so much so that the climax doesn’t pack the punch it should. The excessive amount of jump cuts grounds you on the battlefield, but they also disorient. I favored the quieter, reflective moments of Clark’s childhood, where he questions his humanity and place in the world. It might have been useful to explore those formative years, especially his relationship with the Kents.
In recent years, a notable line of British actors has taken on American superheroes (see Christian Bale’s Batman and Andrew Garfield’s Spiderman). Henry Cavill, who was attached to play Superman back in 2006 before Bryan Singer became director, is a worthy contender for the role. He certainly looks the part – there are several gratuitous shots of his superhuman physique. Whether he embodies the role effectively is up to the viewer. In the suit, he is stoic and deadpans his lines, unless of course, Lois is present. Then he appears pained. Cavill broods well, but has little chance to do anything else. As Clark, he is less hardened, but still detached. Superman’s relationship with Lois isn’t well developed either. Despite the many encounters they have, they seem to share a deeper bond than the film lets on. It might have been a little more realistic if they hadn’t been as close as they are at the end.
The supporting cast is Oscar-worthy, though they do not have any Oscar-worthy moments here. Amy Adams as Lois degenerates from intrepid reporter to fawning damsel within the first hour. Most of her scenes with Superman feature flirtatious gazing and cautious handholding. Shannon does what he can with Zod, whose prime directive of the film is to enact revenge and recolonize Earth as a new Krypton. Other than that, his character isn’t very original. I would have also liked to see more of Diane Lane as Martha Kent, since the emphasis of the flashbacks deal more with Jonathan and Clark’s relationship. Laurence Fishburne plays curmudgeonly well as The Daily Planet editor Perry White.
Nolan set a pretty high standard for origin stories, a bar Man of Steel does not quite reach. Still, it’s a satisfactory summer blockbuster that will no doubt spawn another DC trilogy.
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