Movie Review: Man of SteelPosted: June 27, 2013
Superman, despite being the most iconic of all superheroes, is a tough sell on the big screen. He’s often unfairly dismissed as a cheesy, dull character and his “truth, justice and the American way” style harks back to a simpler time, when heroes were more clean cut and there wasn’t so much darkness in the lives of costumed crimefighters. But he’s actually a rather interesting character in the DC universe, a man who could have ruled as a god but who instead becomes a hero.
The latest big screen outing for the man of tomorrow comes with baggage. It’s directed by Zack Snyder, who despite doing a decent job on Watchmen is still largely regarded for his loud, flashy style-over-substance work in 300 and Sucker Punch. Add to this it has to make up ground lost thanks to Brian Singer’s terrible 2006 effort Superman Returns (one of my all time most disappointing film experiences) and having to compete with the current, exceptional crop of Marvel heroes on the silver screen.
And, of course, as with any version of Superman there’s the shadow of Christopher Reeve’s work in the 1978 film and it’s sequels, where Reeve pretty much nailed the role of the Kryptonian hero.
Here it’s Henry Cavill stepping into the blue suit, and to his credit, the guy does a great job playing Kal-El, capturing the character’s innate goodness and simple farm boy decency, along with the loneliness and lack of identity he feels due to being stranded on an alien world. Cavill looks fantastic in the role, and also downplays the role to endearing effect, the character feels wonderfully human and there’s a sense of humour to the performance in places which is vital to stopping it from sucking like Returns did.
The film also benefits from taking a few changes to the traditional story.
Particularly the origin of our hero. Krypton is no idyllic utopia here, but rather a once great empire which has dwindled due to isolationism and poor decisions. One of these is to drill the planet’s core, which destabilizes it and dooms it’s people. Head scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) knows it’s too late and objected to the drilling, and also objects to the way Kryptonian society reproduces, with genetically created babies being bred to fulfill preordained roles in society.
Jor and his wife have gone against this and given birth to a son, Kal, the first natural birth on the planet for centuries.
Also objecting to the council is General Zod (Michael Shannon) who seeks to punish them and begin life anew on another planet, although he will get to eliminate the bloodlines he regards as undesirable. Jor refuses to join the attempted coup and escapes, stealing the codex which includes all of Krypton’s genetic information, to avoid Zod from seizing control of it. He then sends it and Kal off to the safety of a distant planet, where the yellow sun will gift Kal with extraordinary abilities.
Zod’s coup fails and he and his followers are imprisoned in the phantom zone, shortly before Krypton is destroyed.
On Earth, Kal is raised as Clark by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and urged to keep his abilities secret due to possibly negative reactions from the general population, as evidenced after he rescues his classmates during a bus crash as a child. As an adult Clark drifts from town to town, working where he can but having to move on when there is a risk of exposure. Working as a fisherman he saves the crew of an oil rig during a disaster and has to move on.
His next job on a scientific expedition brings him into contact with reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and they discover an alien spaceship buried in the ice. The ship turns out to be Kryptonian and a hologram of Jor-El appears after Clark enters the ship. He rescues Lois after she is injured and again moves on, taking the ship.
Lois attempts to find out who he is, while the activation of the ship has sent a signal which draws Zod and his forces to Earth, where they threaten Earth and demand that Kal hand himself in, so that he can hand over the codex and they can restart Kryptonian society.
But can Zod be trusted? Will Lois discover the truth about who Clark is? And what does a new Krypton mean for the people of Earth?
All this is sorted out as the film unfolds, mainly by having Clark, the military and his fellow Kryptonians smash up a bunch of stuff. Seriously, I know it’s a superhero flick but the level of destruction is insane. Smallville pretty much gets leveled, half of Metropolis is destroyed and millions of dollars worth of military gear goes up in smoke.
It’s all rather entertaining at first and a few of the scraps are well executed, with Snyder really handling the Kryptonian super-speed well and a scrap between Kal and Zod’s right hand woman, Faora (Antje Traue) and a hulking goon, is easily the best showdown, with the three knocking seven bells out of each other and several soldiers ill-advisedly getting involved.
The big finale sequence is visually stunning, but a bit all over the place and incoherent, with too many jumps to Perry and his staff scurrying about at street level. And the final smackdown as Kal and Zod go one-on-one is a little overlong, and there’s far too much wanton destruction. Kal is meant to be a good guy who cares about the general public but he seems to have no problem with smashing Zod into buildings and raining rubble onto the streets below.
But on balance, Snyder pulls it off. And it’s quiet moments are handled deftly, and the tone is kept fairly light for most of it, and the film is much better.
It’s a fun flick and the cast are great across the board. I started to get excited about the flick when I heard about the casting of the two father figures, and Costner and Crowe are superb. Crowe has more to do than Brando did in the old movies and Jor-El is shows idealism, grit and integrity, all of which is echoed by Kal’s adopted daddy too, and Costner is perfectly cast as it taps into his all-American nice guy persona. Costner has quiet dignity and patience to spare as he guides Clark through his problems and protects him, and is central to a moment in a film which got me quite choked up.
As the female lead Amy Adams impresses, her Lois might not have the sass or acid tongue of previous versions, but she’s no shrinking violet and she holds her own throughout, standing up for herself and actually protecting Clark as much as he protects her. She’s shown to be resourceful, moral and strong willed and the two share some nice chemistry. Unlike previous versions where she’s instantly giddy over the man in blue tights here her attraction seems to be born out of his actions and their conversations, while Clark quickly falls for her spirited personality (the fact that both look like they do probably doesn’t hurt either).
Lawrence Fishburne is under used as Perry, but brings his usual gravitas to proceedings and Diane Lane is rather good as Martha Kent, even if she looks in no way old enough to have a 33 year old son, adopted or not.
The villains are a mixed bag, with most of Zod’s crew being anonymous although the ruthless and vicious, Faore is a treat.
Stepping into Terrence Stamp’s black tights, Shannon does a good job as Zod, even if he does a bit too much of the hamming it up and shouting, but he manages to nail the sense of insane devotion to his cause and his misguided view that he is right.
All in all it’s a good job of bringing Superman to the big screen, especially with Cavill laying a strong claim for being the second best Kal-El so far.
Verdict: Lots of fun even if the ending sequence is overly long and a cacophonous mess. Cavill and Adams are on great form and there are some nice new touches to the Superman story. A win for Snyder. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.