Finally after a year worth of teases, promos, trailers, speculation, and interviews, the highly anticipated reboot to the Superman movie franchise, Man of Steel is here. With two classic 70’s movies, a disappointing reboot attempt in the early 2000’s, and overall perception of Superman as rather low, this film had a lot to prove. So does it soar?
To borrow the words of Jor-El, the film stumbles a bit, it falls in places, but ultimately it takes its place in the sun.
If you’ve been living under a pop-culture rock for the last 75 years and don’t know the origin of Superman, the film will tell you what you need to know about both him and his people. Unlike most Superman film incarnations, a great deal of time is spent on Krypton prior to the explosion. It gives you the sense that it was an actual civilization and culture that we as an audience just barely scratched the surface of. When the planet does explode we’re left with this haunting shot of Superman’s mother, Lara, helplessly watching the destruction of her home with her final words being, “Make a better world than ours, Kal.”
When Kal-El’s ship lands on Earth it immediately flashes forward to a grown Clark Kent with major events in his childhood told in the form of flashback, much like Batman Begins. And much like Begins, we find our hero lost and without purpose in his life. Bruce allowed himself to wallow in a third world prison, while Clark wanders the country trying to keep a low profile.
It’s in this act of the story where the movie stumbles a bit. The pacing is rather uneven and scenes change rather abruptly without much resolution to them. Emotional beats are hit but its never long enough to fully enjoy them. The best example would be when Clark finds the Fortress of Solitude, Jor-El, and the uniform that will label him as Superman. Clark at this point has a scruffy beard, is dressed very modestly, and has this haunting look on his face. This would be the perfect time to show the transition from lost soul to majestic hero through a shaving scene and showing Clark donning the uniform for the first time. However, the moment he puts his hands on the costume, it immediately cuts to him freshly shaved, in full uniform and a serene look on his face with no time in-between to fully appreciate how major of a moment this is for Clark.
The film recovers from this when Zod and his crew arrive on Earth and allows director Zack Snyder to do what he does best, jaw-dropping action sequences. The most common complaint of Superman Returns was the complete lack of action. Well Man of Steel more than makes up for it. Perhaps to the point of overcompensating. The action scenes are phenomenal but at times they can be difficult to follow due to more camera focus on characters being knocked through walls, than on the punch that caused it. By the time the final showdown between Superman and Zod occurs, the film seems to have found a happy medium. I only wished it had found it sooner.
The casting of the three major characters, Superman/Clark, Jor-El, and Zod is perfect. Henry Cavill IS Superman in both look and attitude. His time spent buffing up for the role definitely shows. Cavill also does what many thought to be impossible, making Superman a relatable character. Cavill’s Superman is still the nice guy Superman is supposed to be, but he reacts the same way most people would to the situations he gets into. For example when he flies for the very first time, you can see on his face that this is the best day ever for him, just like it would be for anyone who realized they could fly one day. When he feels lost, he talks to a priest at church. When Zod threatens his mother, Cavill’s Superman doesn’t hide how much that pisses him off. You really get the sense that Clark is truly just a nice normal guy with a lot of power at heart, rather than a demi-god boyscout spouting common knowledge.
Russell Crowe makes for the best replacement of original Jor-El, Marlon Brando. Crowe’s Jor-El is wise, assertive, and at times has a dry humor about him that the more stiff Brando Jor-El lacked. Michael Shannon’s Zod is played a bit more sympathetically than Terrance Stamp’s “KNEEL BEFORE ZOD” interpretation. The film is still black and white in terms of its morality but Zod has legitimate reasons for wanting to kill off the humans and at times, especially near the end, I truly felt sorry for him.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane had a strong introduction but ultimately falls into the role of “shoe-horned love interest” that can be found in every comic book movie. She spends a good portion of the film searching for the mysterious savior that is Clark and when she does find him, they really don’t spend enough time together for me to buy into their kiss near the end. But as I said before that is a flaw in every comic-book movie.
Laurence Fishburne and almost the entire Daily Planet cast is not given enough to do to really justify their placement in the film other than to ultimately give Clark a place to work. The filmmakers could have easily saved this aspect for the sequel.
At the end there is a major deviation from Superman’s core character that people will either love or hate. Initially I didn’t like it but once the shock wore off, I could understand why the filmmakers went that route. But just like Superman finding Jor-El, this deviation is a major moment for Clark but other than a quick shot of him reacting, there’s no aftermath or payoff for the audience to fully understand what this moment means to Clark.
Ultimately, Man of Steel hits all the marks and while it doesn’t hit them perfectly, it’s a step in the right direction for Superman. I can’t wait to see more.
4.5 out of 5