The World’s Too Big…
I don’t like Superman. I’m telling you this so you understand the context that surrounds this review. I think Superman is an ill-formed, un-creative, overpowered sham of a superhero. His entire mythology is coated in cheese and cliches. He may be the cornerstone of DC Comics stable, but I just. Don’t. Get him. Having said that, I was very intrigued, and dare I say, excited when I saw trailers for “Man of Steel”. Under director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”, “Dawn of the Dead”), this flick seeks to breathe some life into this half-forgotten franchise that hasn’t had a quality (live-action) entry since Donner’s “Superman II”. And I have to say, job well done.
Everyone knows the origin story. Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is born. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends him away. Krypton goes bang. Kal becomes Clark. Clark becomes Superman. Zod (Michael Shannon) hunts him down. In “Man of Steel”, Clark comes to terms with knowledge of his heritage and the responsibilities his father invested in him. Soon, General Zod returns in the hopes of capturing Kal-El and reviving Krypton. Along the way, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the Daily Planet become involved. And the US Military takes a particular interest in the red-caped alien.
“To Kal-El, I say this: surrender within 24 hours, or watch this world suffer the consequences.”
Negative first. “Man of Steel” suffers from some pacing problems, and it’s mainly due to Goyer’s script. After the opening scenes on Krypton (Crowe and Shannon both shine), the next half hour just jumps from place to place with no structure or sensible direction. We go from the open sea, to a bar, and suddenly a thousand year old spaceship buried under the ice, and no explanation of why or how Clark is even traveling. Lois is just sort of shoehorned into his life, and they’re immediately enamoured. Crowe returns for the necessary exposition and then we finally get to the good stuff.
The cast is just great. Cavill is a more than competent Superman who has some of the best traits of Christopher Reeve, and thankfully nothing of Brandon Routh. Amy Adams is her usual likable self, and Michael Shannon (of “Boardwalk Empire” fame) steals the show as Zod. He’s a menacing, yet “human” villain. His motives and justifications actually make you think, and he manages to bring a genuine depth to the classic character. The film is peppered with token supporting characters who all serve their purpose without being too distracting.
“Just because you can’t control me doesn’t mean I’m your enemy.”
There’s a ton of action right from the start, and it’s impressive and engaging. Nolan could learn something from Snyder’s direction (I know how that sounds); you can actually see what’s happening. The effects are more than adequate and compliment the grand-scale action (read: destruction) really well. It really gives the movie the whole ‘gods among us’ feeling that they’re obviously going for. These super-beings live and act beyond humanity’s reach and the entire planet acts as their battleground.
“Man of Steel” has done a rare thing. It’s managed to be both a Superman movie and a good film at the same time. This is normally unheard of in recent decades, but Snyder pulls it off. It’s turned me around, and to me, that’s its greatest triumph. “Man of Steel” made me like Superman. It made me care. This is definitely the spark the franchise needed to properly come back to life. It finally gives DC a viable hero to take some of the burden off Batman (God knows he can’t do everything). It’s nostalgia even for those who weren’t around to be nostalgic. ‘Old-fashioned’ still has its place today, but it needs to be able to change and adapt to the times. “Man of Steel” accomplishes that, and finally helps Superman leap into the 21st century.