Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Comic book movies have had such a successful run over the last number of years. The sub genre has become mainstream and is beginning to feel like a genre all its own. In 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman was unprecedented, but since then we have seen three direct sequels and a fourth unsuccessful pseudo followup in 2006. Superman is by far the most well known comic book character around the world. Even people who have never read a comic know his basic origin story. Being such a known character has made his onscreen adaptations difficult to tackle. Director Zack Snyder attempts such a task with this year’s Man of Steel.

The challenge in adapting Superman to film is making him relevant in modern times. The character was created in 1938, and has a dated look, morality code, and worldview. In an age of violent villains and brooding heroes, can the flying boy scout still impress us?Director Zack Snyder worked with producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and writer David Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy) to create a movie that works to bring the “granddaddy of superheroes” back to the world of the living. To say that Snyder and his team delivered is a vast understatement. Man of Steel gives us a heartfelt take on a story we thought we already knew, outrageous characters, and action that rivals some of the biggest and best Hollywood has to offer.

The aforementioned origin story is relatively the same as we’ve seen in past films. We are treated to the added bonus message about free choice in a society. I am not sure if this was a metaphor for some modern day political issue or not, but to me it had some weight. Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is the early focus of the movie and plays to adding a serious level of gravitas to this classic character who was originally played by Marlon Brando. Jor-El works early on to warn of the impending danger to his homeworld of Krypton. Opposite Jor-El's ease and heroism is brutal and myopic General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod’s soul purpose is to protect Krypton at all cost. Like any automaton, Zod goes too far when his “programming” conflicts with what’s happening around him. He decides to make a go at taking over Krypton.

Flash forward to Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) as an adult on Earth and we see his interactions with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively). Intercut with moments of Clark as a child, the movie does a great job of not just rehashing the story everyone knows. The relationship between Clark and the Kents is very well explored and gives you a real sense of where Superman gets his moral center. For the first time in any Superman movie real exposition is given for Clark Kent/Superman’s struggle to adapt to living with his powers. The struggle to just be normal is a thread throughout his childhood. There is even time taken to give the audience a look at how Superman literally sees the world around him. A perspective not touched on ever in previous big screen outings.

Throughout his time in secret Clark is being pursued by the famous journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is tracking his good deeds around the world. Lane has some interactions with him and she becomes obsessed with the very idea of an alien being. Eventually Superman in all his glory debuts himself to the world and Snyder does a great job of asking the question of “how would humans react to seeing a god show up on Earth?” This is yet another thing not explored in previous films. Once the world is put in danger Superman begins to make a myriad of sacrifices for the common good. From this point on a struggle ensues and we are treated to ~40 minutes of pure action. The sequences were heavy CGI-ed, but looked clean. The fight pace was insanely quick as you’d imagine. Jumping from one end of the screen to another and back again was common. Fighting through buildings and other urban landscapes was pretty par for the course after a while; this is not a complaint. The scope of the fights felt massive and lead to the the understanding of how powerful these characters were. Even smaller roles like Faora (Antje Traue), General Zod’s right hand woman was given a time to shine. I found myself grinning from ear to ear when she was onscreen battling. I cheered, smiled, and even chuckled as this was the Superman movie I’ve been waiting for for many years.

Henry Cavill’s Superman is a the classic good looking farm boy from Kansas that we all know and love. Cavill brings a nice guy innocence to the roll, but nothing really Earth shatteringly new. He is competent in the character and does no harm. His interactions with Lois Lane were on the weaker side, and was a rather decent hindrance to the overall flow of the movie. I wanted more from the two of them. Lois is fairly underwritten here, even as a damsel in distress character. A stronger definition for who she is would have helped greatly. The chemistry just wasn’t there this go round. When it came to Cavill taking on the big shoes and challenging Shannon face to face he delivers and you can't help but root for him. Cavill is my generation’s Superman, and I think we will be happy to have him. Michael Shannon shines as General Zod. Taking up about the massive mantel that Terrence Stamp left behind Shannon works his best just under the surface crazy personality style to the max. From calm General to foaming at the mouth psycho, Shannon runs the gamut.

All and all, Man of Steel is the movie I’ve been waiting for and I think modern movie goers will love it just the same. Warner Bros/DC have had some great moments with The Dark Knight Trilogy, but also had some false starts like Green Lantern. With Man of Steel it appears that they might just have got their footing back and are ready to start running full speed. Taking the route of a grounded world in which these fantastic characters live is the proper move for Warner Bros/DC and they seem to be taking it. What’s next for them is hard to say, but if they keep this up there is no end to the possibilities. The tagline for the 1978 Superman film was "You'll believe a man can fly." In 2013, you can believe again!

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