Posted by: themoviecheese | June 26, 2013

“Man of Steel” Review

Man of Steel

Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Antje Trau

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: David Goyer

Runtime: 143 minutes

Rating: 12A/PG-13

The first thing we hear is heavy panting. Steady on, not the kind of panting you’re thinking of. This is Lara-El giving birth to her son, Kal, aka Superman…aka the man of steel. And so the Nolan/Goyer/Snyder reboot/brainchild begins. Gone are thw sweeping galactic vistas of the Donner films. No more is the infamous score by John Williams. This is a fresh start, and it stops at nothing to remind us of that by making its very first shot that of Superman exiting his mother’s womb. Man of Steel is different – very different – to the Richard Donner/Lester films. Remember that feeling you had when you first watched Nolan’s Batman Begins and sat there thinking “Good lord, this is totally different to the Burton films”? Well, times that feeling by 10.

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We begin with an excellent sequence on Krypton that goes on for a lot longer than you may think and even almost outstays its welcome. The planet is in a political turmoil with Kal-El’s biological father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) attempting to convince the higher-ups that they should search for other habitable planets. In comes General Zod (Michael Shannon) to start a coupe and Jor is forced to send his son to a distant planet before Krypton is destroyed by its own unstable core. The story behind Krypton’s core is actually a very welcome one. The core has become unstable due to the artificial engineering of all Kryptonian beings. There hasn’t been a natural birth in centuries, hence the reason why Jor-El sends his son (born of a natural birth) away. However, despite what you may expect, this doesn’t come off as a greenpeace-y preach. Instead, this complexity is only there for the sake of meaning.

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With the Krypton stuff over, we instantly flash forward to an Adult Clark Kent/Kal-El working on a fishing boat, bef0re seeing his childhood/upbringing through a series of periodic flashbacks, ala Batman Begins. So already we are seeing similarities to Nolan’s own reboot, but this is not Nolan’s film. This is a Snyder film through and through. Within the first 30 minutes we are treated to three big screen disasters – planet, oil rig, school bus – in that order. Despite the shaky cam (every single shot in the film is handheld) and the various close-ups of plants and pencils evoking a very Terrence Malick style of film making, this is still a Zack Snyder film through and through. Featuring a very similar tone to his own Watchmen adaption, in placing characters with extraordinary abilities within a real world setting, something that the handheld cinematography compliments very well.

People always compliment Snyder on his visuals, but one thing that is always overlooked is his ability to direct his actors and get the best possible performance, and here he excels. Every single member is perfectly cast. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El is the complete embodiment of the term “bad ass”. He was born to play this role, so much so that Brando’s version (with his controversial mispronunciation of the word “krypton” – he called it “krypTERN”) is completely obliterated. His delivery of some of the most pivotal lines of dialogue (“You can give the people hope. That’s what this symbol means…hope”) are exceptional. He’s also in the movie a lot longer than you may expect. Post death (omg spoiler!), Jor-El reappears in various important scenes to either help out our main heroes or to offer exposition to the narrative. Unfortunately, as amazing as Crowe is, you are occasionally left thinking “Oh god, him again?” as he can outstay his welcome.

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On planet Earth, Kevin Costner turns in one of the most heart wrenching performances of the year as Clark’s adopted father. He has much less screen time than Crowe, but his scenes are some of the most powerful. This isn’t Uncle Ben from the Spiderverse telling his son that he has to use his powers responsibly. This is a father acknowledging that somewhere out there Clark has another father who has another plan for him. Clark was sent here for a reason and as much as Costner doesn’t like the thought of it, he knows that his son will eventually take a path of some sort, whether that be a dark path, or the path of a hero. Michael Shannon proves once again that he is a towering presence, and that he was born to dominate the world of villainous roles. His Zod is light years away from Terrence Stamp’s equally threatening turn in Superman II. Whereas Stamp played the role with equal amounts calculating coldness and campy comic, Shannon is simply a dulldozer of rage-fueled destruction. Emitting around 90% of his performance through the sheer intensity of his eyes, Shannon’s Zod could be the best comic book villain of the year. Amy Adam’s performance is admirable as Louis Lane, however the character remains severely underwritten and as a result Adams’ performance can very easily be overlooked. The budding romance between Superman and Lane just kind of happens, with very little momentum.  The biggest surprise, performance wise is definitely Antje Trau, who plays Zod’s right hand female soldier Faora. A speedy “kill first, ask questions later” foot soldier of death, Faora has quickly become the fan favorite of the film.

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That brings us to our main attraction: Henry Cavill, the main of steel himself. Cavill simply is Superman. He’s freaking massive for a start, the biggest Superman we’ve ever had. But his acting chops are also on top form. The moment you see him rescuing a falling soldier and stopping for a moment to ask “You okay?”, you know that we have the definitive Superman performance. Something as simple as that little moment defines Superman. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of it. And that brings me to our first fault with this man of steel…

I wouldn’t call Man of Steel dark as such, but I wouldn’t call it light-hearted either. It’s not even in between. It’s merely a colourless palette . This doesn’t necessarily hurt the look of the movie, those Snyder visuals still look amazing. But it severely hurts the narrative. David Goyer (Batman Begins) has crafted a screenplay that is almost completely devout of the humour and playful attitude of previous Superman incarnations (whether that be film, comic books or animation) that we have grown to love. Taking obvious inspiration from such graphic novels as Superman: Earth One and Superman: Birthright, this is a Superman that nobody has seen before, and as such it’s no wonder it hasn’t gone down well with some critics. Imagine if you saw a Batman reboot where Batman cracked Spiderman-style joke every time he punched someone? Exactly. The hardcore Superman fans like myself have seen this Superman before on print, and so therefore are used to it. The general public however, that’s different. A few extra chuckles (like the excellent exchange between Supes and Louis about the “S” symbol) could have made all the difference.

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That said, the sheer progression of Goyer’s narrative – from a Superman uberfan – is nothing short of genius. A Superman film should never be about Clark becoming Superman, that’s just not the way to go about it. It should always be a triple journey. Even in the Reeve Superman, he’s already Superman by the time he’s working at the Daily Planet. Man of Steel follows the perfect formula of (without spoiling too much) Kal-El becoming Superman and then Superman becoming Clark Kent. Clark is the persona, the fake name and the disguise (glasses, shirt and tie). So therefore, that should be the last transformation. The way Goyer, Snyder and Nolan have handled this is absolutely brilliant.

Now before I carry on, I just wanted to talk about Superman as a character and exactly why the character means a huge amount to me:

Another ace in Goyer’s script is that he brilliantly portrays just what makes Superman so different from other Superheros. People pass Superman off as boring because he’s too powerful. “Oh nothing can hurt him? That’s boring! Where’s the tension?!” What seperates Superman from all other superheros is that he’s not some whiny kid who had to have his parents killed in front of his very eyes in order to realise that murder is bad (Bruce Wayne), he’s not some pretentious billionaire prick who had to realise that his own devices were hurting people instead of helping them (Tony Stark), he’s not some narcissistic bully who quips jokes at the expense of his victims (Peter Parker), and he’s not some up-his-own-ass scientist who was sent up in a rocket and got radiated (Reed Richards). He’s just a guy from Kansas. Sure he’s got to contend with being an alien, and yes his parents blew up on the planet, but he never once lets that stuff get to him. Superman is just a guy from Kansas. Not Krypton. He’s a Kansas-born farmboy. Two of my favorite moments in Man of Steel are just before the Zod broadcast on TV – he is just stood in the kitchen after washing some dishes with a bottle of beer. This is the Superman I want to see, this everyday guy who just so happens to be the most powerful being in the cosmos. The other scene that was one of my favorites is when he returns to the Kent farm after his extended absence and he’s talking to his mother, huge smile on his face telling her that he knows where he’s from and all about Krypton and this beautiful race that he’s just found out about. If this was Spiderman, he’d be a whiny little bitch about how his real parents have been destroyed with the planet and he doesn’t know his place in the world any more and he’s got to contend with responsibility, blah blah blah. Superman doesn’t do that. He doesn’t ponder responsibility, he just goes out there and fucking does it, because he instantly knows what is the right thing to do. Goyer writes Superman as a person who doesn’t think about the right thing, he just does it, and that is my Superman. That is the Superman I wanted to see.

So back to the review, and I want to talk about one more unfortunate fault with Goyer’s script: momentum. I spoke briefly about how Clark and Louis’ relationship is never given enough momentum to be truly believable, but that also rings true for a lot more sequences. One of those sequences should have been a stand out and it is unfortunate to say that it is the suit reveal. This scene is built up very well, with Jor-El guiding Kal-El around the fortress (which is actually a ship in this movie) and eventually leading him to the suit. This portion of the scene is perfect. What follows, however, is disjointed. It cuts, and Kal simply has the suit on. I’m not saying that I want to see Kal change out of his scruffs and into his “S” suit. I just wanted a little more momentum. Instead, what we have is essentially Jor-El saying “Put this on” and Kal saying “Okay”. Thankfully, the scene that follows is mesmerizing – Superman’s first flight. Henry Cavill grins like a schoolkid as he sores into the sky in one of the few sequences that are even slightly reminiscent of the old Donner films.

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Watching the original trailers, you would have probably believed that this was going to be the arthouse version of a superhero movie, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it. Those Malick-y shots of pencils and flowers, pretentious soul-searching dialogue (“Pretend my voice is an island out in the ocean!”). BUT this is definitely not the case. Man of Steel is a big movie. It is undoubtedly the biggest blockbuster of the entire year in terms of scope and yes I am including The Hobbit Part 2 before it is even out. The last hour of Man of Steel is just insane. We are treated to an excellent fight sequence between Superman and Faora on a Smallville street, before another huge action sequence acting as a precursor to the climactic showdown between Superman and Zod. A lot of controversial things have been said about these scenes. Firstly a lot of people seem to be angry that Superman seemingly allowed a lot of destruction to take place in the city. My argument to this is as follows:- A) Superman has X-ray vision and incredibly heightened hearing and senses, meaning he knows the areas where there are no people. The scene where he moved out of the way of that huge truck and it destroyed a building behind him? He probably knew there were no people in that building. B) This happens in all superhero films. The Avengers is even more guilty of this than Man of Steel is because Captain America actually ordered his comrades to “keep the fight contained within Manhattan”. C) The destruction of most of Metropolis is likely to be used as a plot device to introduce Lex Luthor. He will appear offering to rebuild the city, therefore gaining their trust in awesome Lex-style, and will also publicly blame Superman for the mess in the process.

In Conclusion:

Acting: 9/10 – Everyone is faultless, with the only exception being Amy Adams as Louis. Not entirely her fault though as she is never really given a chance to truly shine.

Directing: 8/10 – Snyder’s visual style seeps through the reels of this film, irrespective of the realism that the shaky cam gives off. A lot of key moments needed more momentum, and you can’t help but wonder what the point of the shaky cam was.

Writing: 7/10 – Just like most of Goyer’s comic book adaptions, Man of Steel is at times genius, but there are a few instances where it is uneven, and a couple of instances where it is – as a comic book fan – infuriating.

Man of Steel is definitely the biggest film of the year in terms of ambition and scope. It’s clear that the three key players (Nolan, Goyer and Snyder) were incredibly passionate about telling a new version of the classic story. The cast is absolutely superb and really carry the film into my final rating. Goyer’s writing falters at times, but the basic narrative structure is verging on genius and – as a comic book fan – I can do nothing but commend Goyer on the way he portrayed the journey of Kal-El to Superman, and Superman to Clark Kent. With the final scene showing huge potential for many sequels, and a few little references to a future “World’s Finest” or “Justice League” movie, you will most definitely believe that a man can fly, once again.

Final Score 8/10

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