Man Of Steel | 2013 | Zack Snyder | Warner Bros. Pictures | June 12, 2013
Summer blockbusters usually tend to cater to the masses. Audiences expect bright cheery things to come out of superhero movies. So what happens when a superhero movie takes on a darker, more emotional route, to tell the story of a classic hero? In the case of Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, he creates a fantastic Superman movie that is almost ahead of it’s time. Although it’s a superhero movie, it may be one of the most human superhero movies to ever grace the cinema. A more grounded look at Superman shouldn’t be surprise since Man Of Steel was produced by Christopher Nolan, who did the same thing for Batman with glorious results. He takes a stab at Man Of Steel, and creates a new vision for Clark Kent, and does so with careful grace that results in something quite spectacular.
The film opens on Krypton, the birth planet of Superman (Henry Cavill), who is born as Kal-El there. We are treated to stunning opening sequence which is used to explain why Superman’s parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) had to send him away to earth. This opening scene is expansive and a thrill to watch. It quickly made me confident that they made the right directorial pick. Zack Snyder directed Man Of Steel and is actually a perfect fit for the movie. Snyder who is known for his unique style and portrayal of action scenes, has a visual eye that was ideal for this film.
The thing that I loved about Man Of Steel that many people will likely find problematic is the narrative structure. After the opening sequence, we are thrown in Clark’s modern life. As things happen to Clark, the film uses flashbacks to show us a younger Clark Kent, and how his upbringing with his parents (Kevin Costner & Diane Lane) made him who he is today. These flashbacks were a highlight of the film because they really humanized Superman and made him someone that you really felt for. This structure while not linear, rewards the viewer with deep insight to this character that creates an understanding of this character that hasn’t been done before.
Not only is this a vision of Superman that’s never been done before, but it’s one of the darker looks at a superhero that will gladly isolate viewers looking for high octane action only. Remember, Kal-El is actually an alien who is an outcast and a loner in this world. This is something that the film hits hard, grinding in this tone to the point where you wonder why the man even bothers defending humans, as things get quite bleak for him. But this is the beauty of this film, it makes us see the conflicts that Superman has to go through both internally and externally. Once General Zod (Michael Shannon) comes into the picture, all of this is magnified and everything that his parents taught him comes into play once again.
Henry Cavill may not be the most charismatic actor, but he is actually the perfect fit for this version of Superman. He sells the tortured nature of this character while also showcasing the good looks that Clark Kent requires. Amy Adams is a fitting Lois Lane who quickly bonds with Clark maybe even earlier than fans would expect. Michael Shannon is pure evil as General Zod, but he’s such a good actor that he is able to sell the role in such a way that you will find yourself actually sympathizing for his character at times.
The real MVP’s of the film are the trio of parents of young Clark Kent. Scenes with Jonathan & Martha Kent are beautifully touching, due to the heartfelt performances from Costner and Lane, who are simply stellar. Their work is a major reason why the flashbacks work so well. Yet, it’s the performance of Russell Crowe as Kal’s birth father Jor-El that surprised me the most. He is the best he’s been in many years, with an inspiring performance that captured my heart. Every scene that he’s in lights up with his presence. Man Of Steel would be a very different movie without him.
I don’t know if there’s another superhero movie that pulls the heartstrings as Man Of Steel does. When it hits you emotionally, it hits really hard. That’s not to say that there’s any lack of action in this film. Snyder gets to lick his chops with many wild action scenes that are big and explosive as can be. They are a wondrous thing to watch, although they do go on a bit too long. Upon reflection, Man Of Steel is a rare instance where I prefer the more grounded emotional scenes over the over the top action, a testament to the work of everyone involved. Hans Zimmer ties everything together with a score that can be touching one minute and thunderous the next, moving you either way.
As I half expected, Man Of Steel seems to be dividing both critics and audiences. This is because this film doesn’t follow a predictable route and changes a lot of what we come to expect from a movie about Superman. It’s a bold move to take this route on such a beloved character that has millions upon millions relying on it. I applaud Man Of Steel for what it did for this character not only for it’s risk but because it’s executed so damn well. The influence of Nolan has ample effects on both Snyder’s vision and David Goyer’s screenplay. A well rounded cast and a more grounded approach to Superman’s tale has a winning effect that I applaud and consider one of my new favorite superhero movies.