Release Date: June 14, 2013 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriter: David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Michael Kelly, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff
Genre: Action, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language)
Official Website: ManofSteel.WarnerBros.com
Under the guidance of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder breaths new life into Superman’s legacy – implementing a darker and more realistic origin story for Earth-raised alien from Krypton. Man of Steel is an exceptionally ambitious retelling of Superman’s beginnings, combining both substance and visuals into into one complete package of super-goodness. For this reviewer, Man of Steel is the answer to the regime of super-films that’s paraded around an assumed idea – that Superman could only bear bright colors and maintain the corny persona that was instilled by the Richard Donner days of Superman. I love the old films, as well as Superman Returns, but Man of Steel was a neccesary reboot to a franchise that’s never served the image of Superman properly.
It’s an all-to-familiar origin – Jor-El and Lara send their son, Kal-El, away from Krypton moments before Krypton’s destruction. General Zod, while loyal to the preservation of Krypton and the people, is sentenced to the Phantom Zone along with his militaristic band for treachery and murder. With a few twists here and there, and changing up how the characters take part in the story, it all leads to the well known outcome – where a hero makes a stance to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. How Clark gets to that point in his life, however, is what makes this movie stand out.
Imagine yourself growing up thinking you were like every one else. Then one day you’re thrown a curve ball that negates everything you know. Your body develops abilities that defy nature (or at least nature as we know it) and makes you different amongst your peers. How does one cope with such drastic changes as a fourth grader? Luckily Clark had a set of Earth parents that help him through the changes, while teaching him to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.
Hiding, Clark Kent goes from place to place, constantly changing his identity and keeping himself a secret from the world – at least until a time where the world, and himself, were ready for the reveal. It isn’t until adulthood when Clark learns of his birthright and heritage, and actually puts on the super suit. So it should as no surprise when, despite his patience in learning to control his abilities, he’s still a little unpracticed in the art fighting. So we journey along with Clark as he tries to find his place amongst Earthlings, remaining in a state of limbo and uncertainty until the very moment where he fights to protect Earth from total annihilation. By the film’s end we see the beginnings of a hero and cultural icon of which I’m looking forward seeing unfold in sequels to come.
Of course the biggest pre-conceived complaint from fans was the attempt at giving Superman a darker origin, resembling too much of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in terms of brooding gothic sensibilities. While there’s no denying, with Nolan in the Producer’s chair, Man of Steel has a darker undertone in comparison to its cinematic predecessors, it’s still no where near on par with Batman’s sinister motif. Hope still remains as the driving theme, Snyder simply gave Superman a more respectable and serious cinematic tone. Where Man of Steel REALLY reflects Nolan’s Bat-verse is in the ambiguity and inner conflict, which completely negates high spirited and witty take on the Marvel movies. Is it possible that the DC movies are simply not served well in the same vain as the Marvel movies? Giving characters like Batman and Superman a more serious tone might just be what the doctor ordered for the DC cinematic universe. DC movies simply haven’t been treated well until Nolan and Snyder took their knife and scalpel and reassessed how to make Superhero movies. Maybe their on to something? Green Lantern could have certainly used a bit of the edgier and darker touch.
Calling upon the past films, Pa Kent lets Clark know he was sent to Earth for a reason. Jor-El send a different message, however, in the form of a very elegant holographic projection – that he should use his powers to “lead humanity” to greater things. It’s these two opposing viewpoints from his fatherly figures which creates enough tension for Clark to fight with and balance, ultimately forcing him to make a decision that’s almost out of character for the Superman we’re all familiar with. Without spoiling anything, while it pains Superman to have had to make that choice, it was a neccesary decision in the heat of the moment.
Going beyond the more substantial aspect, the visuals and action was an amazing spectacle worthy of a Superman film. The powers of Kryptonians exposed to a yellow sun packed a mega punch that might be one of the most effective portrayals of super powers on the big screen. The world of Krypton is masterfully created, with architecture that goes beyond what anyone could have imagined, yet fits perfectly within the Superman mythos. And I’ll be surprised if you don’t walk out of that theater thoroughly impressed with the Kryptonian garb. I, for one, hope to own a Kryptonian battle suit one day.
The cast was flawless. Amy Adams showed herself to be the best incarnation of Lois Lane, even better than Erica Durance. Kevin Costner proves to be a better actor in his old age as Pa Kent, as well as Diane Lane acting as a perfect mother to Clark. It was nice to see Richard Schiff play a much more positive character as Dr. Emil Hamilton, and Laurence Fishburne played a strong version of Perry White in one of his better roles as a minor character.
Michael Shannon was great as Zod, even though he sometimes felt like a kid yelling at the adults because he didn’t get his way. But maybe that was what he going for. In any case, it was a commanding performance and no one could ask for better. Henry Cavill was perfect as Superman. Much in the same way Daniel Craig was with James Bond, Cavill brought both intelligence and physic to the role of Superman. His presence and confidence amongst the military leaders and strong willed humans was exceptional, and his physical self resembled the comics so much more. (Yeah, I can be a source material snob too.)
A few things that made me giggle were the obvious product placement. Amongst all the rubble, debris, and property damage, Sears remained unaffected and standing firm. While I believe the writing of the basic plot to be exceptional, there were moments of poor dialog execution. The actors did all they could with the lines they were given, and handled them quite well in fact, but David S. Goyer has proven himself to be a better screenplay writer than that.
I do wish we could have gotten to know a few characters better, and the relationship between Superman and Lois could have been handled a little more fluidly, which makes for slight bumps along the way. And like any science fiction/action movie, plot holes bounce up left and right, and you’ll undoubtedly find yourself asking, “wait, what about this?” But these aren’t significant distractions and only detract from the overall enjoyment of the film minimally.
Ever since X-Men changed how Superhero movies were made, I’ve been hoping for a GOOD Superman movie. One that gave Superman a more respectable image amongst comic fans and non-comic fans everywhere. 75 years ago Siegel and Shuster created a hero that made us believe a man could fly, soaring to heights that the two creators could only dream of. Superman has evolved into something spectacular, and I’ve been along for the ride ever since I began reading comics in 1992. Am I a bit biased in proclaiming Man of Steel to be the best Superhero movie thus far? Certainly. But without a doubt this film has given Superman a better image to the Superman mythos. And I for one will be anxiously awaiting Snyder’s return as director for the next Superman adventure.
8 out of 10 stars