I was a little nervous when I heard that Zack Snyder's Man of Steel was going to be based around yet another origin story for Superman. Even with David S. Goyer's writing and producer Christopher Nolan's involvement, I didn't think it needed to be told again. Is there really anyone out there that has no familiarity at all with Superman's origin? Even the recent "All-Star Superman" comic was able to beautifully summarize his origin in a single page.
This might have some minor spoilers, so be warned. It's a lengthy review, so strap in...
Despite my reservations on another reboot of a well known superhero, I enjoyed the few twists and changes made to the origin told in Man of Steel. Beginning on Krypton, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) warns Krypton's leaders regarding its destruction. General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup, and Jor-El uses the opportunity to launch a ship containing Kal-El and Kryptonian data to Earth. Zod's coup fails, and he and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone. Kal-El lands on Earth, and well, you know the rest.
|Superman's origin as told in All-Star Superman|
Another departure from the Superman mythos was how Lois Lane was handled. Lois, a journalist for the Daily Planet, is following a related story when she encounters Clark. She investigates further, and is able to determine his true identity. If you've ever been bugged by the fact that an investigative journalist never figured out that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person, then I think you'll really enjoy this twist. She even actively protects his identity once she realizes the threat to him and his family. Amy Adams was an inspired choice for Lois as well. She had the right combo of smarts, maturity, toughness and ambition for the role. The movie shines every time she's on-screen.
Zod eventually catches up to Kal-El and the promise of a super-powered smackdown between multiple Kryptonians is finally realized. If you're like me and complained that Superman Returns didn't have enough action, Man of Steel makes up for that, and then some. The last 40 minutes of the movie is all action, and it's the type of spectacle you hope for in an action blockbuster. There's so much action, that it's a little exhausting to watch, but I still enjoyed every minute of it. It was a joy to see Superman fly around and punch people at super speed. The effects are fantastic, and there were only a few times where I thought the characters had too much of a CG appearance to them. They are really getting the look of this stuff down!
Man of Steel is not perfect though. I thought some of the things it does with the powers regarding atmosphere were a little odd. Also, I was kind of bugged that the other Kryptonians seemed to be as powerful as Superman. Superman has been absorbing solar energy for decades, as opposed to days for the other Kryptonians. While he does show a greater mastery of his powers, I still think he should have had a bigger advantage as far as overall strength, while the Kryptonians should have had an advantage with combat skills.
Another issue I had was that the dialog isn't particularly good. There's not a ton of dialog in the first place, but some of the lines are really clunky to the point where you'll hear something said and just go, "Huh?" It definitely could have used a little punch up, as the film is so serious from beginning to end. There's really much in the way of humor, but I also appreciated the fact that it wasn't silly. I'm surprised that David S. Goyer didn't find more of a balance in his screenplay.
As much I loved Michael Shannon as Zod, I was a little disappointed he didn't get to have a great line that can be associated with his performance. We don't even get a 'kneel' reference. On the other hand, Zod's henchman, Faora (Antje Traue) was totally badass and sexy. I wish there would have been a little more depth to her character though. It was awesome to see someone hold their own against Superman like she did.
I also thought the romance between Clark and Lois wasn't handled well. It happens way too quick without much in the way of flirtation. I get them being attracted to each other, but it doesn't seem like there's any reason for them to get together other than convenience. This is the one angle where the changes to the story didn't work as well. Rather than see their relationship develop over time in the workspace, they are just kind of thrown together and it didn't feel natural.
I enjoyed Henry Cavill as Superman. I said after seeing him in Immortals that I thought he had the right stature and commanding presence to play the Man of Steel, and I'm glad to see he proved me right. First off, credit to Cavill and his trainer. He clearly bulked up for the role, and physically speaking he's the best we've seen to date in the suit. He's not playing the Clark Kent we're used to seeing, so there's not much of a true comparison to Christopher Reeve or even Brandon Routh's performances. It's a different role as far as I'm concerned. It's like comparing Michael Keaton's Batman to Christian Bale's.
The rest of the cast is strong. I liked the choice of Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, but he's not in the film much. They try to shoehorn a moment for him toward the end in an effort to give him something to do, and that felt a little odd. I'm sure in the sequel he'll have a little more screentime if they spent more time at the Daily Planet. Christopher Meloni as Colonel Hardy was good, and I also liked Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van.
Some will complain about all of the city-wide destruction and how Clark doesn't really appear to be too concerned about saving anyone, but that didn't really bother me. While I would have liked to see him save a few people here and there, most of the time he's fighting multiple, super-powered people at once, and these fights happen at hyperspeed. Man of Steel doesn't really show Superman as having full mastery of his powers yet, so it may not have been possible for him to avoid damaging his surroundings. You don't see a lot of the Kryptonians directly threatening humans while he's around, so with the speed of the battles, his immediate surroundings might not have always been on the top of his mind. Plus, he just put on the suit, so he's still growing into the role while attempting to earn the trust of humanity. I would suspect we'll get more of that in the sequel.
Another thing I liked, and this will probably bug the Superman purists out there, was the fact that they show him conflicted. I've read the comics off and on, watched the various cartoons and movies, and sat through all ten seasons of Smallville, and the one thing that's always bugged me about Superman is how much of a humorless, sometimes emotionless, boy scout he is. I love the idea of seeing him start from a darker place and then eventually becoming that ideal. Some will argue that I or the movie doesn't understand the character of Superman. Okay, fine, go watch a different Superman cartoon or movie then. In case you're wondering, I'm old enough to remember seeing Donner's Superman in the theater, and watch Donner's cut of Superman 2 frequently. I like them all.
There's nothing post-credits, by the way, despite seeing online that there was supposed to be. This was probably leaked by the effects crew that just wanted everyone to sit through the credits so we could see their names. I didn't see it in 3D either, but since it wasn't shot in 3D you can go in knowing that's it's not going to add anything to the movie anyway.
Speaking of the visuals, this is another area where I thought the film excelled. Man of Steel is gorgeous, and I'm not just talking about how dreamy Henry Cavill is. Some shots may linger on a little too much, but I thought it was a vibrant film and creative looking. You can always tell what's going on, even during the faster paced fight scenes. I think Zack Snyder's style and aesthetic really lent itself to the film, and he even avoided his excessive use of slow motion, which I actually wouldn't have minded if he had thrown a little more of that in. I'm probably in minority of people that enjoy just about all of Snyder's films. I even like Sucker Punch on a certain level. I loved the redesigned Krypton. It looked suitably alien without being a direct copy or reference to previous films. Also, the suit looked much better on screen than in photos. The texture of the suit worked well, and I stopped noticing the lack of red trunks pretty early on.
Oh and I almost forgot to mention Hans Zimmer's score, which is hard to believe since he really outdid himself this time. The score is practically a character all on it's own. I've been listening to the full soundtrack on Spotify and I really love it.
While somewhat flawed, Man of Steel delivers on the promise of a Superman movie with more emotional depth, and the super-powered smackdown we've been waiting to see in the modern era. Zack Snyder and co gave us a Superman that's more relatable and realistic for our time. It would have benefit from a little more humor, but this is made up for by the cast and their performances. I anxiously await a sequel. Full price for me.
4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars
(Note: Was originally a four Death Star rating, but I just got back from seeing again and loved it even more, so I'm bumping it half a point.)