Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams & Michael Shannon
Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
“What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
Man Of Steel presents a new take on an old character. Tasked with bringing Superman up to date for the masses are director Zack Snyder, along with writer David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan. These three have given the big blue boy scout a slightly moody edge, taking away some of the fun and humour of the original Christopher Reeve starring Superman movies, and exchanging them for relentless action and CGI money shots. With The Dark Knight trilogy now officially finished, DC and Warner Bros. needed a new tent pole series to help kickstart their plans for the rest of their (planned) big screen superheroes. Luckily for them, Man Of Steel has already taken enough money to be able to buy a small country, and, more importantly, it is actually quite good.
We start off on Krypton, home planet of Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) a planet in peril, which has weeks, or perhaps even days left before its entire destruction. Jor-El has pleaded with the Kryptonian council to listen to him and help save the planet, but to no avail, he has therefore made a contingency plan in the form of his newborn son Kal-El, whom he will send deep into the stars in the hope of allowing his race to live on. We also soon learn of General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) plans to “help” keep the Kryptonian civilisation alive, mostly by trying to assassinate the elder council. The story moves swiftly enough, at times barely giving us time to breathe. No sooner have we gotten used to Krypton, then it is being destroyed in glorious CGI fashion. The story then attempts a Batman Begins style of telling two stories simultaneously, essentially dropping a traditional storytelling approach and having the viewer see his past and present self in varying scenes. This works well initially, but creates some pacing issues later on. Gone is the original Superman: The Movie’s style of introducing the character in various stages, from birth, to teenage boy, to mild-mannered reporter and then finally to Superman, and instead we see his various personal battles that make him the Man Of Steel. There is a little bit of a lull in between the action packed start and the destruction filled ending. This though, allows the audience time to grow familiar with the character, and those around him.
Henry Cavill portrays Superman brilliantly. He has the strength and confidence down, and also manages to imbue his character with a strong sense of humanity. Not bad for someone who is essentially a god. His two fathers, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) are the emotional anchors of the film, guiding our hero throughout his young and adult life until he becomes aware of his true destiny. Costner in particular, shines as Clark Kent’s adoptive father. His two mothers have varying degrees of impact on the audience, Ayelet Zurer is fine as Clark’s birth mother but is restricted to little screen time. Whilst Diane Lane as Martha Kent possesses the character well, with a calm strength. Laurence Fishburne is another who suffers from lack of screen time, but will perhaps be given a bit more to chew on next time round. Amy Adams’ version of Lois Lane is less “spunky” than Margot Kidder’s, but she still comes across as a strong character, even though, at times it feels like she is being used as the damsel in distress a bit too often. Michael Shannon is effective as General Zod, he is calculating and menacing, but lacks some of the irony of Terence Stamp’s portrayal of the character way back in Superman 2.
Zack Snyder’s take on Superman is visually very different to what we may have come to expect from a Superman movie. The bright colours of the previous films have been diluted somewhat for a more realistic (moody) approach. Even on Krypton, beautifully realised by the way, there seems to be a dark tone to how the planet looks. The brightest scenes tend to be depicted in Smallville, Kansas, our heroes adopted home. The editing of the film is, at times, a little hyper, but they never reach Michael Bay levels of confusion. Giving someone for Superman to actually fight in this movie was a good idea on the directors part, and the CGI destruction is some of the biggest I’ve seen in a long while, putting even Transformers: Dark Of The Moon to shame. I did like how Superman and the other Kryptonians moved during fight sequences, their power and strength are fully realised and the outcome is quite superb, at times though it does look like you are watching somebody playing a video game.
Whilst the special effects are mostly very good, the music for Man Of Steel is somewhat low-key. Gone is John Williams stirring score from the previous five movies, and is instead replaced with a subtle piece from Hans Zimmer. Meanwhile, the script is mostly run of the mill, featuring a few nice lines but also has nothing truly memorable or quotable. There are however, some memorable scenes, the destruction of Krypton, a particularly touching scene from Kevin Costner and one moment towards the end which actually left me fairly shocked.
Man Of Steel does have some problems through its 143 minute running time. As previously mentioned, there are a few pacing issues, some characters aren’t given enough time to develop properly (though the sequel will hopefully solve this) and despite being truly epic, the ending threatens to leave you feeling slightly numb with its non-stop action. Having said that, Man Of Steel is very well realised and should end any argument that starts with “I don’t like Superman because he’s boring.”
In summary: The new take on Superman is fast, fresh and bags of fun. A few pacing issues aside, Man Of Steel has finally done justice to the original superhero.