Movie Review: Alternately thrilling and frustrating, ‘Man Of Steel’ makes a case for a Superman in the 21st century.
Upon first hearing that Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were doing a Superman reboot, I wondered if they would compliment each other, or feed off each other’s excessive traits, and the movie would suffer for it.
After seeing Man of Steel, the answer is both actually.
It’s certainly ambitious; there’s only passing nods to Superman The Movie, forging a new direction. The opening sequence of the doomed Krypton is the case in point; this is a more organic, fantastical world than the crystalline spires of Donner’s movie.
And Russell Crowe’s Jor-El gives Brando a run for his money. He has the right gravitas and emotion for a man who knows his world is doomed, but that his son can live, if he can survive the trip back to Earth.
Man of Steel borrows from the Batman Begins template; Kal-El/Clark’s early days are told in non-linear flashback; Clark struggles with Earth life. A particularly strong sequence is when young Clark discovers his X-ray vision and its traumatic implications.
His Earthbound foster parents are expertly cast; Diane Lane makes a fine Ma Kent, and Kevin Costner excels as Pa Kent. I’ve always found him a bit milquetoast, but he’s perfect here; willing to do whatever it takes to prevent Clark from scrutiny from the outside world. He brings an emotional satisfying arc that I wish had been explored more, even if it meant less action towards the end.
This has been a complaint against Snyder’s work; that he’s style over substance. So Man of Steel is a turning point for the director, but he’s still readjusting and this movie shows his growing pains.
Where Snyder excels is spectacle, and Man of Steel has impressive action and flight sequences. But it can become too much of a good thing. At times the CGI is just too omnipresent; fight scenes that could have been just as (if not more) effective without a shaky blur can be wearisome, especially in the last fight scene with General Zod. It was clear that the studio notes for this movie, were “more action that Superman Returns!” And Snyder has perhaps over delivered at times.
Speaking of Zod; the film’s biggest disappointment from a performance standpoint is Michael Shannon. An actor of frightening intensity, I expected an iconic villain. But his Zod was less imposing than cranky, lacking the majestic menace of Terrence Stamp. It feels like he’s embarrassed to be in a big summer movie, and far too restrained .
As for Mr. Henry Cavill? He’s a perfectly serviceable Superman; he’s wholesome but adds a troubled loner quality which is new for the character, and an improvement. How could an orphan from another planet with such singular powers, not feel estranged from humanity? But Christopher Reeve’s performance remains superior.
Another welcome change to the narrative is Clark’s relationship to Lois Lane. If you’re doing a more realistic tale of Superman (I realize that sounds weird) then you have to give her more credibility. An expert reporter needs to realize who she’s dealing with, and the way she and Clark connect is new and novel.
The weaker aspects come when the movie is pulling too much from other films; Krypton’s back story borrows from The Matrix, and Zod’s spacecraft’s capabilities seems straight out of Abram’s Star Trek.
I’ve read many critics rail on the movie for being too serious. But this was the same bitching and moaning I heard over Nolan’s movies, which was a overstretch. Those movies had elements of wit, and Steel peppers its more somber tone with moments of lightness.
The biggest bone of contention with the movie is certainly its ending. I won’t spoil it, (click here if you dare) but one can argue that this would surely be a possible outcome if we’re doing a more plausible Superman? But it remains a divisive moment, causing all sorts of internet fanboy freak outs. I ultimately feel it fits the film, but it certainly gave me pause (as it did with Nolan, who disagreed with Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer)
One can also raise issue with the destruction of much of Metropolis, which has an unsettling 9/11 overtone. Superman can do amazing things, but his omnipotence is tested, and for the sake of his new home, perhaps he should look before he punches?
One can only wonder where the series goes from here (besides a renewed interest in a Justice League film). There was a brief flash of a ‘LexCorp’ logo on a semi-truck, but I would like a break from Luthor. Bring in comic bad guys like Doomsday, Darkseid, or Braniac and expand his cinematic universe.
Snyder has proven he listens to criticism; he altered his visual style due to complaints of his reliance on slow-mo shots (none here). I hope he now learns that some of the quietest moments in Man of Steel spoke the loudest, and it’s that balance that makes a truly great and iconic superhero movie instead of an enjoyable (if flawed) reintroduction to the character.