Review: MAN OF STEEL
Superman – the superhero of all superheroes. It’s said that the symbol of hope on his chest is the second most recognizable symbol in the world after the Christian cross. This is a character that is so beloved, a man was literally brought to tears at the microphone during the Q&A after seeing the first footage for Man of Steel at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. But who is Superman? Is he an alien from the far reaches of the universe? Or is he the adopted son of Kansas farmers? He is us – a manifestation of our hopes, our dreams, and our humanity brought to life through the golden-age splash pages of comic books.
Now, set in motion by acclaimed Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan, penned by David S. Goyer, and directed by Zack Snyder, Man of Steel is the best Superman adaptation to date and the film that the most revered superhero in all of comic lore deserves.
Over the years, the Last Son of Kyrpton has been subject to many different approaches on the big screen. We’ve seen the late great Christopher Reeve’s loveable but clumsy Clark, Brandon Routh’s soulful savior, but Snyder/Nolan/Goyer/Cavill have teamed up to give us the most epic, most visceral, most relatable, and most daring Superman that has ever been conceived for the silver screen.
At this point, it’s not a secret that millions of fans have been clamoring for the defining Superman film for years now – including yours truly. I can now say that Man of Steel is the Superman film that we’ve been waiting our entire lives for, and undoubtedly the proper way to kick start a huge franchise and shared DC cinematic universe.
The film’s conception is an interesting story. While trying to write The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan and David Goyer had come to a creative road block. During this break, Goyer uncovered some old Superman comic books and started to reread them – these stories inspired him to write down some ideas for Superman. When the two got together a couple of weeks later, Goyer pitched the idea to Nolan, Nolan contacted Warner Bros., and the story was set in motion.
Zack Snyder was the perfect director to take the reins on this film. While the film is obviously meant to be grounded in reality, there are many character driven and dramatic elements meant to humanize the character. Along with that are some of the best executed action sequences that you’ll ever experience. There’s no question that Snyder has an unrivaled sense of creating films with massive, sweeping scope and astonishing imagery. This is the sort of film that is a testament of some of the incredible things that can be achieved with motion pictures – only if the Lumière brothers could see how far film has come.
In many ways, Christopher Nolan has heavy influence on the film. During many scenes, you’re reminded of Batman Begins; it looks and feels like a Nolan film – especially during the film’s more intimate moments. But once the high-octane action set pieces begin, there’s no question that Zack Snyder stamps his signature style all over it. I often recognized that Man of Steel sort of serves as a halfway point between Nolan’s cerebral broodiness and Snyder’s bone-cracking, visually unique style.
When you look at Zack Snyder’s filmography, it proves that he was an interesting pick for a Superman film. In 2009’s Watchmen, Snyder performed a careful and primeval dissection of the superhero genre. With Man of Steel, he’s being asked to resurrect the most popular superhero of all time.
The film begins on Krypton, and the planet is on the verge of death. The planet’s chief scientist, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), has constructed a craft that will carry his son off the planet, and to Earth. Kal-El is the first natural birth on Krypton in over a thousand years, and Jor-El believes that his son should have the right to choose his own destiny. The opening sequence on Krypton is extremely impressive, and gives the feel of a high-budget sci-fi film more than a summer superhero blockbuster.
But in reality, that’s exactly what Man of Steel is – a sci-fi film. This approach to Superman explores something that no other adaptation ever has – the fact that Kal-El is from another planet. While the film’s opening sequences take place on Krypton, the remainder of the film isn’t a drawn out origin story. In many ways, it could be considered a first-contact story.
Upon Kal-El’s departure from the planet, the film appropriately fast forwards thirty years. We see a bearded Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) jumping around from odd job to odd job, searching for some sort of meaning. Layered throughout scenes that take place in present time are flashbacks that loosely follow the character’s origin story and show the audience how his moral center is shaped.
Many of the elements used to let the story play out seem familiar, but this adaptation gives those elements the depth that makes this story emotional and intimate. The film really hits home during its father and son dynamic pieces. Jor-El sees Kal as a savior – at one point he refers to Kal as a “god” – to the people of Earth – he believes that Kal should embrace his powers and guide humanity.
You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.
On the other end of that belief is Clark’s Earthly father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner). Jonathan believes that if the world discovers who Clark really is, nothing would ever be the same again. He also holds the belief that he should keep his powers a secret until the world is ready to embrace him. “You have to keep this side of yourself a secret.”
My father believed if the world knew who I really was, they’d reject me.
Because of these conflicting ideologies, Clark is a loner and a wanderer. His constant search of discovering his true identity and where he came from is, up until this point, his life’s purpose. In his travels, Clark plays a mysterious hero to those in need, but tries to remain anonymous.
It isn’t until Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is introduced to the film that Clark comes across an artifact hidden within the dense ice of an arctic land that he begins to make sense of his own origin. One thing that has always been an annoyance of past Superman adaptations is the handling of Lois. Snyder and Adams have put together a reimagining of the character that allows her to be a more active and aggressive force. Think about it, do you really think Lois could spend all that time with both Clark and Superman and not realize that they’re the same person, just because he has on glasses?
What makes this iteration of Lois different is that she is hot on Clark’s trail before he even knows it. Naturally, there are some moments where Lois needs saving, so the damsel in distress label is still there to some extent. But in many respects, this is the strongest and most intelligent iteration of the character to date. She follows stories of the mysterious and nomadic hero which leads her to the Kent farm, and this is the only film adaptation where Lois actively knows that Superman is Clark’s true identity.
This time around, as opposed to all three films in The Dark Knight Trilogy, David Goyer has the film’s screenplay all to himself. The writing isn’t as strong as any of the aforementioned films, but it’s strong enough to let the film’s storyline smoothly move along.
As expected, the film’s ensemble cast is top rate. Henry Cavill is the quintessential Superman – both physically and emotionally – and with the announcement that the film will already be moving forward with a sequel, Cavill will be playing the role of a lifetime for years to come. Russell Crowe, who once said that you would never find him anywhere near a superhero film, plays the role of Kal’s Kryptonian father perfectly. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect for Ma and Pa Kent, but Costner is a real standout. Costner’s fatherly wisdom is emotional and touching, and the dynamic between he and Clark is deeply moving.
In the film’s main villainous role, Michael Shannon is menacing as General Zod. Shannon doesn’t use any unique accents or flashy makeup, he’s just all business. Zod could easily be made out to be a cookie cutter comic book villain, but he’s a stone cold warrior who will stop at nothing to protect Kyrpton and his people. Faora, played by Antje Traue, is Zod’s second in command. The relatively unknown Traue is brilliant as the intimidating female Kryptonian warrior, and was one of the real standouts in the film.
But with all of this brooding and emotional depth, it wouldn’t be Superman – or a summer blockbuster – if it didn’t have some high-flying ass kicking. Once Clark dons the suit for the first time, get ready to see some of the most thrilling and awe inspiring action sequences that you’ll ever find in a movie going experience. You could say that much of the destruction in the film is a bit over the top, but on the whole, the action is breathtaking. The scale of these huge fight set pieces are more grandiose than anything I’ve ever witnessed – it’s the best action ever seen in the superhero genre.
Accompanying the film’s spectacular computer generated visuals are stunning cinematography and a remarkably beautiful score. Cinematographer Amir Mokri does an amazing job at blending both light and texture to create emotion within scenes that are already full of sentiment.
Hans Zimmer. Can someone just give this guy the Oscar already? Zimmer’s score could possibly be his best yet. Acclaimed composer John Williams created an iconic score with the earlier Superman films, but Hans Zimmer has taken that iconic Superman theme to unbelievable heights. Within the film, Zimmer is able to perfectly place his symphony that can elicit emotion from any viewer.
But as I’ve mentioned time and time again, this is the film that Superman deserves, and with how far film technology has come, this is the right time to do it. I loved Man of Steel. I loved this film with every ounce of my being. It was everything that I hoped it would be, and more. On the surface, this is a film about the most revered character in all of comic mythology. But at its core, Man of Steel is a story about fathers and sons, faith, hope, discovering our own humanity and the importance of what it really means to be human.
What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to be something greater?
When Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder took the reins of this character, many fans were weary. Those fans can rest assured; Man of Steel is everything that you wanted it to be. This Superman flick keeps the viewer engaged all the way up to its rousing, emotional, and perfectly fitting conclusion – the last two minutes of the film: literally perfect.
This is a film heavy in action, intimate in its storytelling, and powerfully emotional. Man of Steel opens the door to all sorts of possibilities and is unquestionably the must see film of 2013. Move over, Marvel, this is the Summer of Steel.
Posted on June 12, 2013, in Reviews and tagged Antje Traue, Christopher Nolan, Comics, David S. Goyer, Diane Lane, Film, Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, Man of Steel, Michael Shannon, Movies, Review, Russell Crowe, Superhero, Superheroes, Superman, Zack Snyder. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.