Review: “Man of Steel”

Man of Steel

What happens when two aliens fight over the future of the human race? Metropolis insurance companies lose.

Seven years after the last attempted Superman film, DC and Warner Bros. have teamed up with Batman director Christopher Nolan and “Watchmen”-helmer Zack Snyder to bring a more mature addition to the Superman legacy.

For years, Superman films have been lighter than Nolan’s recent Batman franchise. Perhaps a darker tone could benefit a series whose last “star” was Brandon Routh.

“Man of Steel” follows the rise of Superman after his childhood in Smallville, Kansas and before his days at the Daily Planet. Moving from town to town, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) searches for a place to belong. Eventually this leads him to a harsh winter climate where he comes across a ship from his home world of Krypton and the nosy reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), investigating it.

Shortly after this discovery, General Zod (Michael Shannon), an old enemy of his father’s (Russell Crowe), arrives looking for trouble. Aside from Clark, he and his followers are the last survivors of Krypton and they seek to build a new home on top of the ashes of Earth.

Back in 2006, there were three main criticisms of “Superman Returns”. First, the film was too long/boring. Second, the villain was barely noticeable. Last, but not least, there was almost no action in the entire 154-minute film. Returning to the present, “Man of Steel” is basically getting put down in reviews for answering these same problems. I guess you really can’t please everyone.

As “Superman Returns” was clearly an homage to Superman from the 1960’s and 70’s, “Man of Steel” has Zack Snyder bringing the character into the 21st century. This includes quality computer effects (something the Reeves films surely could have used), a plethora of fighting scenes and camerawork that would qualify as “kinetic”.

In some ways, the film has a distinct similarity to Nolan’s first Dark Knight entry, “Batman Begins”, but has enough of its own flair to make the comparison mild at best. This Superman is darker (but not brooding) and focuses on the theme of Clark struggling to find his identity. Though the film has wall-to-wall action, there is a lot of heart in the scenes between Cavill’s Superman and his father, Jor-El, as well as his adoptive parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner).

One of the biggest differences with this adaptation is how the Daily Planet figures into Superman’s early career. It isn’t until the end of the film that Clark assembles his goofy human persona of the news reporter. A more interesting and refreshing dynamic is found in Snyder’s portrayal of the Clark/Lois relationship, as Superman’s identity is less than impossible to determine.

For those who enjoyed Hans Zimmer’s scores for the Christopher Nolan films “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”, the composer puts together another incredible body of work here. Seeing the film in the relatively new Dolby Atmos sound design certainly made the WWWAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH’s come to life for me.

In addition to the score, the film is also elevated by the great performances from its cast. Crowe shines the brightest, but every character seems to be perfectly cast, perhaps save Amy Adams. There was a lot for Henry Cavill to live up to, however his Clark/Superman was very enjoyable to watch. I look forward to seeing more of his mask at the Daily Planet in the sequel, but he delivers what he must for this installment.

I could probably sit here and talk about the things I loved in this film for a while, so let me just cut to a couple of things I think future films could improve on. First, Snyder needs to tone down the movement of the camera. Sure, the action scenes look pretty good, but we don’t need a quick-pan-zoom-in-zoom-out in every single scene. I’m convinced the zoom button on the camera went through several replacements throughout the filming process. It’s fine to move the camera around, but don’t overdo it to where its movements are so noticeable they take the audience’s attention from the film.

My second gripe, and I’m not even close to being the only person to bring this up, is that Superman needs to be shown saving a few more civilians. There is mass devastation to American infrastructure in this film, but it barely registers with our hero that other people might be dying. There are, of course, excuses to make for the fact that he is almost never shown helping someone while wearing his costume, but it’s still something to think about.

This review has already run too long, but there’s a lot more to discuss with “Man of Steel”. Feel free to share some thoughts in the comments section so I can ramble on some more guilt-free. If you’re still reading this review, thanks for sticking with me.

As he has been for millions of people over several decades, Superman is the savior of this summer season. After a few disappointing releases (and with only a handful of summer films to go), “Man of Steel” sits on the throne of the 2013 summer blockbuster season.

Grade: A-

Later this weekend I’ll be posting a review for the Brad Pitt-starring “World War Z” so come back and check it out. Again, thanks for sticking around ’til the end of this long review. Happy viewing.

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2 thoughts on “Review: “Man of Steel”

    • Thanks. It certainly could have been. With a little more work, I think it could have been Avengers/Dark Knight level. I’ve never been a big Superman fan, but this film sucked me into the character for the first time, so I’m a big fan of it.

      I think Snyder said his first cut was 3h 10m. I hope that version sees the light of day so we can see more of the film.

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