Henry Cavill as Superman. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Man of Steel.
June 26, 2013
(Republished November 4, 2013)
Zack Snyder's Superman movie Man of Steel is not lacking in bombast, but its best moments are the more intimate ones, often courtesy of Supes' parental units. Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer play Jor-El and Lara, the mother and father of nascent saviour Kal-El, forced to eject their son from their home of Krypton as the dying planet crumbles around them. After crashlanding on Earth, the alien boy is renamed Clark and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) into a superstrong, superhairy, well, Superman (Henry Cavill). Each of them has to farewell their child at one point or another, knowing full well that only hardship lies ahead for him. This parental drama is Man of Steel's most potent weapon. For all of the film's issues - and they will be discussed, very soon - it resonated on a deeply emotional level. That alone helps it to stand tall above the pack.
Cavill has the plum/cursed role of Clark Kent in the latest series reboot, and if you were hoping he'd make Superman a particularly interesting and compelling character on celluloid, you will feel those hopes dashed. Besides having cheekbones that could only belong to an extra-terrestrial superbeing, he doesn't bring anything particularly new or interesting to the role. That said, screenwriter David S. Goyer doesn't exactly give him many new or interesting things to say. Far more fascinating are the supporting castmembers, including those aforementioned mums and dads, as well as the endlessly appealing Amy Adams as roving reporter Lois Lane, and the perpetually-bug-eyed Michael Shannon as Kryptonian fascist General Zod (decorated with a sweet goatee). Man of Steel has a hole where a Henry should be, and when any movie - Superman or otherwise - is lacking an engaging protagonist, it's going to be a problem.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
That problem is actually allayed by the spectacular set pieces; not usually the case in these things. I've long been a champion of Snyder - even through Watchmen and Sucker Punch, so perhaps these words should come with a pinch of salt - and he is nearly unequalled when it comes to composing and orchestrating visually sumptuous action sequences. When Superman does what he does best, such as soaring across the globe and testing the limits of his powers, or going toe to toe with Zod - who wants to rebuild Krypton on Earth, humans be damned - as Metropolis falls around him, Man of Steel is riveting. Even our protagonist stops mid-fight to admire one particularly large explosion.
It has scope and scale; actions have consequences. Some have complained that the Superman they know would not be so willing to stage a war in such a densely populated area. There have also been rumblings online - where else? - about the questionable decision he makes at the climax of the battle (no spoilers here). They're fair comments, worth discussing. What I liked about Man of Steel is that it forces our hero to confront some realities not often seen in other pyrotechnic-happy contemporaries, such as the cost - and value - of a single life. There is a moral wrangling here. Sometimes, as Pa Kent suggests, being a champion means deciding when to let a few people die for the greater good. As far as Superman is concerned, that is tantamount to killing them himself. Man of Steel does not back away from making him deal with that quandary. Though the lead performance falters elsewhere, in the heat of battle, I certainly felt that internal struggle brought to life.
Michael Shannon as General Zod.
Still, it's those earlier, smaller moments that work best. The DC comics - originated by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 - never made secret the parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ; two orphans from different worlds, forced to come to terms with the weight of saving humanity. Producer Christopher Nolan is likely responsible for embedding some of that deeper meaning in Man of Steel, just as he layered his Batman flicks with so many political and religious allusions. That also means that the tone of the movie is akin to The Last Temptation of Christ, and a little more funereal than most. Hey, it's what the kids seem to be into these days.
Goyer's script is hardly revolutionary, yet it tells this well-known tale in a slightly novel way. We spend much more time on Krypton early on, and then zig-zag back and forth between Clark's early days as a boy in Kansas and his later years as a world-weary life-saver, sparing us another interminable origin story that doesn't kick into gear until all those familiar elements are in place. I was thoroughly entertained and often intrigued by Snyder's picture, and it's certainly one of the more promising franchise-openers in recent years. There is room to improve in the inevitable sequels. That's not a slight against this movie.
Man of Steel will be available on Quickflix from November 6, 2013.