Movie Review: MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Superman For A New Generation
So the time is finally upon us. After years of waiting and anticipation, it’s that time of the summer where a pop culture icon is reinvented for a new generation. Here is my movie review of Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Let’s get right into it. MAN OF STEEL is a brilliantly well told Superman story with breathtaking visuals and stunning special effects that still keeps us grounded to the essence of the story. What is that ‘essence’? It’s about a small boy, oblivious to his origins, growing up in a world where he could easily be a God among men. This is the focus of this story, and it’s a wise choice aspect to focus on.
Making a story about an almost God-like character like Superman takes more than special effects and technology. It takes heart. Director Zack Snyder understands this and it shows in the final product. Starting off the movie, we’re introduced to a dying planet in Krypton, with new parents Lara & Jor’el wanting to spare their son the fate of their world. They decide to launch him into a planet where he will be safe, Earth. Also being the first naturally born child into a culture that’s been artificially creating children, makes this child that much more significant. Fans familiar with Superman’s origins will right away notice that his ‘Origin story’ has been significantly tweaked for MAN OF STEEL. However, these liberties suit the story that Zack Snyder & Co. wanted to tell, in the world of Superman that they’ve created.
Of all iterations of the Superman story on TV, movies and animated features, MAN OF STEEL probably gives us the most in depth and detailed look into Krypton and it’s inner workings during these first scenes of the movie. Snyder & Co. have created a visually engaging Krypton, giving us a brief retelling of it’s history, as well as an very innovative plot point through its inner political workings as well.
Russell Crowe as Jor’el is fan-freakin’-tastic. He gives the role much needed gravitas, as the concerned father on the verge of losing his son and planet, without the frailty that may come in such a situation. He makes Jor’el regal, while still making him a bad-ass. Only Zack Snyder could cast Crowe in the role of Superman’s father, and make him literally kick some ass. It’s great to see the former ‘Gladiator’ back in action.
MAN OF STEEL does a great job of showing us a Clark Kent who’s on a journey to discover his true lineage, the origin behind his powers and where he comes from. Unlike other Superman movies, MAN OF SEEL gives us an established Clark, who uses his powers for good, saving others, without the infamous costume. It’s not until an invasion on Earth from a rebel group of Kryptonians demanding his surrender, that he dons the legendary garb and reveals his presence to the world.
The story of this movie is incredibly simple and straightforward, maybe even to its detriment. After the exposition is established, of which there is a mouthful, the story unfolds in a very straightforward manner. Though entertaining and immensely action packed, I wish there were more layers and complexity to the sequence of events. The ending, while predictable, does have a shocking twist, the consequences of which aren’t fully explored much in the movie.
Despite the amazingly brilliant concepts featured and reinvented with MAN OF STEEL, there are a lot of wasted opportunities. The very dialogue-heavy exposition renders most of the screen time that Cavill shares with the other, more veteran cast, completely pointless as being one way interactions. The pacing is incredibly fast, with almost no time to rest between scenes. It might actually even be too fast. There are intensely emotional sequences that the audience doesn’t fully get to process, because we’re rushing into the next sequence of events right away. A few more seconds during those scenes might have made for better dramatic impact.
Coming to the man himself, Henry Cavill, despite being Superman in every sense for the word, is not given many opportunities to display his established acting chops. Most of the movie sees him reacting to monologues of other characters. Even near the end, we don’t get much insight into how Superman thinks, except for a few lines here and there. There are glimpses into Cavill’s charm as Clark, his control as Superman, not to mention his brute strength and aggression during the action scenes. But over all, I wish Cavill was given more to do from in terms of dramatic acting, rather than physical action.
Amy Adams works wonderfully as a smart Lois Lane. The writers took note not to cartoonize the character, as the smart ass, one liner spouting stereotypical ‘tough bitch’. They take this even further by modifying yet another key element of the Lois & Clark dynamic, which I won’t reveal for Spoiler’s sake. I will say however, that it’s great to see the character being given some respect by the Writers.
Kevin Costner is amazing as the cautious Jonathan Kent, always looking out for his son, shaping his morals and values along the way. Diane Lane seemed to try to hard at being the elderly Ma Kent. Laurence Fishburne was wasted as Perry White. Michael Shannon completely reinvented the role of Zod and made it his own, being the second actor who stole the show after Russell Crowe.
Zack Snyder must have realized the uphill battle he had with MAN OF SEEL, since he completely changes his style of directing, toning himself down from the visually stylized shots and keeping them more real and subtle. No blaring rock music. No sol-mo. We do still get quick zooms and some lens flares. Snyder instead gives us Point-Of-View shots from behind Superman as he jets across the globe. While cool to watch, it also allows us to be there, with the character, instead of watching him from afar. The action sequences were amazingly well done, showing us a form of realistic and fantastical super human fighting in a way never seen before; up close and personal. MAN OF STEEL featured an inexperienced Superman who’s never been in a fight before, and it showed. Superman’s gradual evolution during the brute force fist fights, was another unique concept in this movie, in comparison to the polished Superman we’re used to seeing in other mediums.
At the end of the day, MAN OF STEEL was the best possible way to adapt Superman for a new generation, and tell his story without the baggage of the previous incarnations. However, MAN OF STEEL as a standalone movie itself is probably not as great a movie as it could’ve been. There are many issues with story, pacing, editing and characterization could have been a lot better done. But even with these issues, it’s an easy plot to follow, a very touching look into how and why the most recognizable Super hero of any generation, is the way he is. Snyder succeeds at making MAN OF STEEL a human story told in a poignant way. With exploding buildings and decimated cities, of course.