Movie Review: ‘Man of Steel’
What is it about Superman that gives the project a stigma of being impossible to translate into the modernized era of filmmaking? Is it the fact that he flies around with a red cape and possesses every super power in the comic-book arsenal? Thor had similar aspects and a much harder world to connect audiences to in a realistic way but that movie transitioned just fine. Is it because his “truth, justice and the American way” motto is so reminiscent of baby boomer Americana that we feel the message could be lost? Superman has always stood for peace and protection of his planet and those same themes are evident yet again in Man of Steel. Sacrifice, duty, responsibility and the religious, christ-like themes we’ve seen from time to time with “The Son of Krypton” being sent to save us are all very much involved in this retelling of Superman, and that’s where the movie exceeds.
Rather than sit us through another origin story of a character we all know, we’re treated to fleeting glimpses of his upbringing by flashbacks in the story. These crucial moments are things he learned to deal with from childhood to adulthood and help shape the choices he has to make in the present day, and because of that reiteration it works that much better as an effective form of character development. Instead of being lectured about Superman we learn those lessons with him and seeing him grow through those same lessons is what really drew me into his journey and his struggle. I can honestly say that I was surprised by the amount of emotion it evoked out of me since I wasn’t expecting it to have that much soul at the core of its story, but it did. I think a lot of that had to do with the realistic environment they built around the characters and, of course, the cast themselves.
Henry Cavill is Superman in every single way you could be that character. He just is. He’s here to stay and carries Supes with his own representation of what the character means to us rather than an homage or channeling of what Reeves previously accomplished. His Superman is an endearing optimist who’s gentle, kind and incredibly patient like Superman would be, which makes his mean streaks of rage that much more ferocious. It’s worth mentioning that his magnetic looks just draw you to the character to begin with and his almost superhuman physique makes the believability factor that much higher in this case.
Most of the supporting cast wasn’t just solid or good but borderline perfect, especially Crowe who had a (thankfully) much larger role and absolutely owned it. The entire opening of the movie is thrust onto Crowe’s shoulders and he comes through like the legendary actor he is. His interactions with Clark and Lois were some of the highlights of the movie to me and leaving the door open for his return to future sequels would be a welcomed connection between Clark and what’s left of his people. Amy Adams took her own approach to Lois Lane and made her a more relatable person who truly feels like someone who excelled in her field of work. She gets her hands a bit dirty but is thrust into the role of being saved by Superman throughout the movie, which can’t really be argued since it’s those sparks that ignite their relationship.
Fishbourne had small screen time but nailed Perry White (a role he basically played in MI3) and Shannon was his typically unsettling, mindfuckingly terrifying self. You never really knew his motives or what they’d manifest into and that uneasiness was what fueled his performance. He had these trademark outbursts of anger where he reached out onto the screen and basically shook you in your seat enough to sit up and pay attention. Also, can I just say that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent is something that needs to go in the pantheon of great superhero casting decisions? It’s like they were real life manifestations of those character models and Costner especially was the Dad you’d expect a man like Clark Kent to be raised by. His story in the movie was different from the story most fans know from the comics. I think the change was an incredible one that cemented the way this movie took certain liberties in the source material. These changes were for the best of the story Snyder was telling and, because of that, they’re grade A changes that I was totally on board with. It also needs to be noted that Zod’s right hand woman Faora was brutally twisted and just as enforcing as Shannon, which was a welcomed addition.
As a superhero movie, Man of Steel has the trademark balancing act of some of the best in the genre with a fine line between action and dramatic elements. While Superman’s journey is very personal and brought out step by step in the screenplay, you shouldn’t think that the mayhem takes a back seat since the final act of the movie is one long action sequence. It’s nice to see the smaller characters have something to contribute in the final plan to stop Zod. It brings in the wholeness of Superman and the people of the world. Having them work together sets the stage for their relationship that’s ultimately a key to the Superman character and his own acceptance as a son of two worlds. We get everything you could want from a Superman movie with a showcasing of his super power arsenal and heavy hitting boxing matches between two unstoppable foes.
The amount of destruction in this movie rivals any big-screen blockbuster I’ve ever seen and while the “generic” label tends to get thrown around with carnage like this, it never felt forced or unnecessary. Rather than having a super villain want to conquer and destroy the world for the satisfaction of doing so, we get the drive of General Zod to terraform the planet and bring his all but extinct race back from the dead. It adds another layer of the story and, of course, gives Superman internal conflicts about which side of the spectrum he should stand on and if he owes it to his ancestors and race to align with them on the issue. It’s these minor tweaking of familiar story elements that helps Man of Steel rise above recent superhero movies and stand on its own two feet.
Visually the movie is downright gorgeous at times. Though, it does suffer a bit from a lack of color throughout the movie. It’s not that I want to see the heavy popping colors of the original Superman movies, but the greys and bluish filters can make it feel a little too familiar at times. The effects are great and the destruction of Krypton was a site to behold, as was the war on Metropolis and the terraforming of Earth. There were certain moments where the CGI of the ships and articles of clothing on the members of Zod’s army felt believable to the point that I forgot there was a distance between reality and the images on screen. In that sense the greys and darker tones worked really well by building up a relationship with each digital element that made them feel organic and as if they belonged to one another.
Hans Zimmer’s score isn’t the John Williams theme but it shouldn’t be recognized as that since that theme would never fit with this retelling of the character. Zimmer brings his trademark style to the music and distances it much further from The Dark Knight and Inception then I was expecting, which was a great thing because it’s a beautifully understated score that has a heavy presence throughout the entire movie.
Man of Steel might not be as ambitious and genre-defining as Nolan’s Batman movies or as rooted in the comic-book tone that The Avengers was, but it manages to fit somewhere in between the two and firmly plant its own stamp on the genre. I found that its faults are few and far between and never take anything away from the core journey of Clark Kent and his journey to understand his purpose in life and why he belongs. Man of Steel was the birth of a superhero as well as the rebirth of Superman and I’m completely on board with whatever it brings next.