Film Review: Man of Steel
Director: Zack Snyder
Producer: Christopher Nolan
Studio: Syncopy, DC Entertainment
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane
An updated interpretation of one of the world’s most recognizable superheroes. Man of Steel follows the origins and dilemmas of Kal-El, also known as Clark Kent, as he attempts to come to terms with his heritage and confront the remnants of his people.
2013 is shaping up to be another summer of superheroes. Marvel, the studio behind pretty much everything non-Batman related recently, has already come out of the gate swinging with Iron Man 3 and has both Thor: The Dark World and The Wolverine out before the end of this year. Their eternal rivals DC hit three consecutive home runs recently with the groundbreaking Dark Knight trilogy but fell flat on their face when they attempted to expand their mythology with Green Lantern. Suffice to say, up until this point Marvel’s batting average has been leagues ahead of DC’s and the latter knows that they need to up their game now that Batman has gone on hiatus. Where better could DC have turned for enlightenment than their other and arguably more iconic character: Superman? However this is not Superman as people may have come to know him. Taking an obvious lead from producer Christopher Nolan’s previous example DC have decided to reboot the character using his alternative and frankly better sounding, for a cynical society such as our own, title of “The Man of Steel”.
Before I delve into the film and its’ plot I should mention that I know precious little of DC’s universe and therefore went into Man of Steel with a complete blank slate and not much in the way of built expectation. On that note, if I mention something which was either established in the film but I somehow missed due to a potential lack of understanding I apologize and people should feel free to enlighten me. The story begins on the distant alien planet of Krypton where scientist Jor-El (Russel Crowe) discovers that the planet is facing imminent destruction due to its unstable planetary core. Before Jor-El can argue his case to Krypton’s ruling council it is overthrown by a military leader called General Zod (Michael Shannon) (I know, I smirked at the name at first), and his band of loyal followers. In the face of a military coup and a doomed planet paralyzed from acting Jor-El and his wife Lara decide to launch their newborn son Kal-El on a spacecraft to Earth, infusing his cells with a genetic codex to preserve the Kryptonian race and bestowing him with phenomenal powers in the process. Sure enough, Krypton is destroyed shortly after Kal-El escapes and lands on Earth. The story’s time frame then jumps ahead from the point when Kal-El (Henry Cavill) lands on Earth to when he is a 33 year old man living a nomadic lifestyle, working to survive whilst trying to discover who he really is and where he came from. We see, through a series of really effective flashbacks the troubles Kal-El, named Clark after being adopted by Johnathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), when it becomes apparent that he is radically different from other human beings. This is where Man of Steel gets going in earnest, and is it a story worth following? I’d say it certainly is, which is something coming from a person who has gone on record saying that the concept of Superman is silly.
Man of Steel shines brightest when it is either showing the trials and tribulations of the younger Clark Kent as he tries to fit in and come to terms with and tries to conceal his superhuman abilities or when we see genuine character-driven scenes instead of fighting. That is not detracting from the quality of the fight-scene choreography, which is good, but we’ve already seen most of what CGI can do when superhumans are beating each other senseless. Good character-driven story though? That’s worth keeping rapt attention for. I’d even go as far to say that Henry Cavill is a better Kal-El/Clark Kent than he is as the Man of Steel (interesting to note that he is very rarely referred to as “Superman” in the story, and when he is it is done in a comical tone). The overwhelming majority of the scenes which address the thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas of Clark Kent are major home-runs and are what propel the story forward. The first half of the film focuses more-or-less soley on this aspect of the story and is easily its’ strongest suit. It would honestly not surprise me if it was Christopher Nolan and his partner-in-crime David Goyer who oversaw this part of the film as it communicates very much like something audiences have come to expect from filmakers of their caliber.
Unfortunately the film nose dives when the story is put on the back burner for the sake of extensive fighting sequences. Like I said before, the fight scenes are not bad in the film but still… more interaction between Kal-El and Zod when he makes his inevitable re-appearance would have not gone amiss. When you take a step back to really look at it you can sort of see where Zod is coming from and you sort of understand his mission. Zod and Kal-El, at their cores, are essentially after the same thing: the preservation of their races. The only difference between them is that Kal-El has come to regard humans as his people whilst Zod and his followers represent the last of Krypton. Going out on a whim here but if Kal-El and Zod had taken the time to actually discuss their viewpoints rather than slug it out with each other I really think that they could have reached a compromise. Fighting and the gratuitous destruction it brings to the city of Metropolis just gets in the way of what could well have been a fascinating character arc between these two, it could have even helped delve deeper into the identity crisis that we know Kal-El suffers from.
Man of Steel’s other saving grace come in the form of Amy Adams portrayal of Lois Lane, the character who is often depicted as a typical damsel in distress from what I have gathered. Adams brings a realistic slant on Lane’s character: a very smart and strong journalist who uses her smarts and boldness to get places and to escape perilous situations of her own accord. I won’t discuss the way that Adams flaunts those credentials because it would run the risk of spoiling some really good scenes in the film but I doubt that feminists will have many problems with the way Lane has been depicted here. Hans Zimmer provides a solid score for the film which, whilst not quite reaching the level of epic as The Dark Knight, gets the job done amicably.
“Superman” was always going to be a hard character to modernize. Superman Returns tried in 2006 to bring the character back into prominence but largely failed, probably due to another DC film Batman Begins setting the bar higher than even Superman could meet. Has director Zack Snyder, a director who has had a hit-and-miss track record to say the least, managed to succeed where Bryan Singer sadly failed? I’d say that he has. Man of Steel is not a flawless run of events for sure but the character has been brought into the world of ‘modern superheroes’. Snyder and his crew have managed to convince a cynical person such as myself into a believer who wants to see where this universe goes from here.
Then again… that might be another problem in waiting.
Final Score: 7/10
+ Very good acting. Particular praise deserves to be heaped onto Henry Cavill for his portrayal of Kal-El/Clark Kent.
+ Story is engaging. Taking the fantastical story of this character and modernizing it is no small feat.
+ Special effects meet the standard but are nothing out-of-this-world though.
+ Hans Zimmer’s score.
– Story is put on the funeral pyre towards the end of the film.
– There’s wanton destruction, then there’s this.
– Lack of interaction between Kal-El and Zod deceives the audience into believing that this is a battle between good and evil when in reality there are grey-areas all over the show.