Theatrical Review: “Man of Steel”
Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Deborah Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer (screenplay), Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (story)
Edited by: David Brenner
Cinematography by: Amir Mokri
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayele Zurer, Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff
Based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
That ringing in my ears right now? It’s from seeing Man of Steel, one of the year’s biggest tentpole films, one that is already breaking the record for the biggest June first weekend box office previously set by Toy Story 3. If you came out of Superman Returns seven years ago (Has it really been that long?) feeling like you had been ripped off in the action department (justifiably), then this is the Superman movie you’ve been waiting for. It seems almost repentant for the past films’ lack of scale in regards to their depiction of Superman’s power and compensates for it with some of the most kinetic, cataclysmic action that you’ve ever seen in any superhero film, including The Avengers. You may even be a bit overwhelmed.
To be quite honest, though, I rather liked Superman Returns. It was a hell of a lot better than III and IV, which it successfully retconned into being in an alternate timeline or into nonexistence (Who really cares?), and yet it retained the sort of colorful, cartoon earnestness of the Christopher Reeve films while updating it for modern audiences. It was fun, if flawed. Warner Bros., on the other hand, wasn’t too impressed with the financial success of Bryan Singer’s relaunch, and so, here we are, at yet another superhero reboot, and one that’s seemingly riding on the coattails of their just-ended, previous reboot in The Dark Knight Trilogy.
In fact, this film borrows significantly from those films tone and even employs their director, Christopher Nolan, and their writer, David S. Goyer. Warner brought them in to lend Zack Snyder a hand in directing what is now almost certain to be the beginning of a new Superman franchise (perhaps even a Justice League series). Word of mouth was that they wanted them to turn Superman into a brooding, realistic, gritty hero in the same vein as Batman, the reason being that, well… Batman is all of those things, and he made them lots of money. This caused a lot of fear for fans – possibly more so than Sony’s similar 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man films. Was Warner really going to screw up yet another one of their own films?
Well, we already know that it’s making a bunch of money, but it’s also getting mixed responses from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, too. It’s clear that there was still a significant audience who was still pining for a return to the cat-saving, time-traveling antics of Christopher Reeve & Co., and they’re not exactly taking kindly to this new film’s decision to take the character seriously. (As if Batman were somehow a realistic concept…)
But you know what? Forget them all. This is the Superman movie that we all needed, whether or not his name is actually in the title. Zack Snyder, director of 300, Watchmen, and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead decided to take to heart Nolan’s guidance in crafting his film, treating the subject in an unapologetic, purposeful manner, but he retains the spirit and hope that Superman possesses without resorting to making him such a boy scout. That boy scout thing is overplayed and never was really believable in my eyes, anyway. This is a Superman who is godlike, who possesses not only tremendous strength, but also the spiritual drive to become the savior of his adopted home. (There’s plenty of Christ-like imagery going on here.) It’s this emphasis on the benevolent spirit of Superman that allows for Snyder to set the character apart from most other super-powered beings – Christopher Nolan even once brought up the fact that Man of Steel is the opposite of Watchmen, which Snyder had previously adapted, in that it is a reconstruction of the heroic side of a powerful being. It’s not just that he is protecting those less powerful than him, it’s that he chooses to when he could just as easily rule them with an iron fist or, as is the case of the film’s villain, General Zod, even destroy them all.
One other thing that Man of Steel does spectacularly and undeniably better than previous films is with the aforementioned grandiose action, which goes hand-in-hand with this depiction of the character. With great power comes great choreography, you know? Snyder and his crew truly understand the power inherent in these characters, and they do a spectacular job with the fight sequences and action settings. It is, at times, frenetic, but never completely incoherent. Camera work helps emphasize the impact of every super-powered beatdown, though the same handheld style can be somewhat distracting in the dialogue-driven parts.
It’s also worth noting that, though nowhere near as awful as Kate Bosworth, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane still feels nowhere near as solid as the rest of the cast. She’s still missing that Lois Lane spunk (her earliest lines in the film aren’t so much spunk as much as they are… kind of unsettling), and though she’s given far more to do here than Bosworth or Margot Kidder in III and IV did, this still doesn’t mean that she’s developed fully as a character. Her romance with Superman is nearly non-existent before coming into existence. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner also disappoint as Superman’s human parents, as well, though this isn’t helped due to an often clumsy, platitude-laden script.
Luckily, Henry Cavill is solid as this incarnation of Superman, one who has struggled to find his place in the world and is coming to terms with the power he possesses. He never feels as though he’s tortured by it so much as he is understandably confused. Much like his counterpart in Batman Begins, this is the story of Clark’s motivation to become the titular Man of Steel, and while Cavill barely has a chance to portray the familiar Clark Kent (who is mostly shown in flashbacks to his childhood and teenage years), his Superman is ethereal and captivatingly otherworldly, and I have little doubt that Cavill will be afforded the opportunity to turn up the charms, as well, in future installments.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of the villainous Zod is all sorts of hammy, but I tend to like that when the actor performing the role is as good as Michael Shannon, who avoids portraying him as a madman or pompous dictator and instead focuses on his hatred and genuine disdain for humanity and the resentment and anger he feels towards Superman. Zod here is easily the best of any of all the Superman films’ villains, a credible threat to Superman – physically and emotionally – and the world and the people that have become his own.
While Christopher Nolan’s involvement in no way elevates the film to The Dark Knight levels of quality, this has already easily become my preferred Superman film of all time – yes, even above those supposedly untouchable Christopher Reeve films that everyone seems to hold in such high esteem. The film is a little overlong and clumsy in the dialogue department, sure, but much like a song with ridiculous lyrics but a spectacularly catchy composition, Man of Steel transcends its flaws and, in my opinion, is certainly one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen this year, and it comes with the promise of being just the beginning of something great, too.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5