Review: ‘Man of Steel’ Soars, Yet Whelms

Who wasn’t hesitant when news of yet another superhero reboot hit the internet in 2010, let alone for a superhero whose franchise was unsuccessfully rebooted four years prior? And who wasn’t even more hesitant when Zack Snyder, he of Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300, Watchmen, Legends of the Guardians, and Sucker Punch fame (or infamy, if you prefer), was announced as the director? Then news eventually broke that Christopher Nolan would godfather the film, Hans Zimmer would score it, and David Goyer would script it, partially alleviating any fears of overdone slo-mo and green screening. Come Flag Day 2013 and we have a bulked up Brit as the man who can leap buildings in a single bound, fly, and fry an egg with heat vision (Or is it shave with heat vision? The canon is never clear there.) in Man of Steel. So how does he (and the film) fare?

The third 'Man of Steel' poster.

Compared to the expectations put forth by the involved talent and the efforts of the Warner Brothers marketing, Man of Steel fares well, nicely mixing Nolan’s Batman trilogy realism with Snyder’s love of muscles, CGI, and long shots. It essentially reboots and retells Superman’s origin, from his birth on Krypton to his arrival in Kansas to his realization of what he must do and become with his superpowers, and it does so through nicely interspersed flashbacks, which the prior films didn’t employ.

The film begins with the best and most expansive look at Krypton we’ve ever seen in a live-action feature. General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his mutinous allies are overthrowing the old Kryptonian council in an effort to breed out undesirable qualities, even though Kryptonians have genetically engineered their young with predetermined roles for centuries. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) breaks with tradition, has a son with his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), and sends him to Earth with the genetic code of the Kryptonian race embedded in his cells, but not before warning the Kryptonian council and Zod that Krypton’s core is collapsing. Zod and his associates are banished to the Phantom Zone, Krypton’s core collapses, and the infant Kal-El arrives on Earth … and cut to 30-some-odd years later, wherein we find Kal-El, now Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), performing the odd job and doing random heroic acts of kindness, keeping his powers to himself, like Bill Bixby as the lonely David Banner, and adding a meditative air to the character that hasn’t been seen on film before. We come to learn through the aforementioned flashbacks how the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha, respectively) raised Clark, instilling the belief that Clark needs to keep his developing powers a secret, lest the government finds out and takes him away or Smallville citizens label him a freak. However, Clark grapples with whether or not to use his powers growing up, saving a busload of his grade-school peers and eventually going on his soul-searching journey of at least a decade.

Moving away from the Kents to the rest of the cast, we’re presented with a Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is as intrepid of an investigator as her previous incarnations, but she’s more competent and less of a damsel than, say, Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. The aforementioned Zod is certainly menacing, but he’s not bent on world domination, just remaking Earth in Krypton’s image, as it is his destiny to save Krypton. Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White is understanding and determined, yet he cares about his staff as if they’re an extension of his family. Richard Schiff’s Emil Hamilton is the brains of the military operation, lead by Christopher Meloni’s Colonel Hardy and Henry Lennix’s General Swanwick. Overall, the cast had some development throughout the film, but they fit their characters and roles rather well.

As for the film itself, it works best when Kent is grounded, which is for most of the film. The battle in Smallville and the battle in Metropolis are deafening and drawn out, especially the latter. Now, the deafening quality could also be contributed to Hans Zimmer’s excellent yet bombastic score, but combine that with around half an hour of Superman and Zod tossing each other around Metropolis and into space, causing insane levels of destruction, and you get filmgoers who are a slight bit bored. I’ll admit that I was looking at my watch a little and wondering “Okay, they’re fighting … what’s next?”

All in all, the film, with its unexpected yet shocking moments and tiny Easter Eggs (and despite the massive destruction), was a pleasing start to what Warner Brothers and DC plans to develop into a Justice League franchise, but even that might be a good few years off. Now if they could only go the Marvel Studios route, but in less time …

Rating: 8.3/10