A far darker take on the world’s most famous superhero, Man of Steel finds Superman more a symbol of the times than the inspirational centerpiece of the comic book sect. Call this version the Superman we deserve even if it’s not what we need. Blame every snarky Internet commentator who scoffs at Superman for being too perfect and inaccessible, but still wants the character to remain pure and untainted.
Faced with an admittedly impossible task of making Superman both more modern with less perfect Boy Scout traits and unafraid to slug it out when need be, Director Zack Snyder’s Superman is one of us even when most diehard fans would still prefer to look up to their first hero.
Not everything works perfectly here, but Snyder establishes a solid framework from which to build a better shared DC Cinematic Universe. Snyder proves the right man for the job with a visionary approach that’s not afraid to take daring chances that defies expectations of what audiences should expect in a Superman movie.
Populated with flying beasts, warships and armor-clad citizens, Krypton has a decidedly alien look. Despite its advanced society, the planet faces a familiar issue — the inhabitants have depleted its natural resources and Krypton’s destruction is imminent. Lead scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables) has a risky proposition to ensure the planet’s future, but a coup staged by military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon), forces his hand.
Despite the initial pleas of his wife Lara, (Ayelet Zurer), Jor-El sends their son, Kal-El, to Earth along with the key to restoring their home world. Zod’s coup is halted, but now before he pledges to track down Kal-El and the key.
Thirty-three Earth years later, an adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is wandering America trying to determine his place in the world that he worries would fear him if they knew of his full power.
You can see the influence of producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) as the story grounds Superman and makes him a good guy, but not such a perfect Boy Scout that he isn’t relatable.
Screenwriter David S. Goyer uses a similar story-telling structure as he did with Batman Begins. Clark hasn’t yet adopted his super heroic alter-ego, but he’s midway on the journey and through a series of flashbacks, we’re shown what’s brought him to this point as he heads to his future.
Clark recalls the lessons learned from his Earth parents — Jonathan and Martha (an excellent Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and his never-yielding desire to help others.
His actions have attracted the attention of Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who’s convinced her mystery man is the biggest story she’ll ever discover even if her boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne, Predators), wonders what happened to his ace reporter that only dealt in hard facts.
It’s a more challenging setup, but Goyer keeps it simple enough for the audience to clearly follow Clark’s road to Superman while reinforcing the importance of both Jor-El and Jonathan in helping him become the ultimate force for good.
Cavill definitely looks the part of Superman as he put in an incredible amount of work to look like the Man of Steel. He’s also got a strong screen presence and smartly didn’t just try to imitate Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance so he can establish his own interpretation of the character. Adams also finds a different approach and is able to make Lois a risk-taking reporter without becoming the typical love interest in distress.
Snyder does pay homage to the past somewhat through saluting Smallville, the decade-long TV show that looked at a pre-costume Superman, by casting several cast members in cameo roles.
But if you’re worried Man of Steel is just a meticulously arranged origin film with little happening, I assure you, there’s no need for any concern.
Snyder builds up to an action-packed final act almost as soon as Zod discovers Kal-El and Krypton’s salvation is on Earth. Antje Traue’s Faora-Ul has a throw down with Superman that would be a great final battle in a lot of films. Shannon makes for a chilling antagonist and one so hell-bent on accomplishing his mission that when Zod finally clashes with Superman you’ll be at the edge of your seat thinking “oh, now it’s on!”
Snyder puts together a finale more cataclysmic than Iron Man 3, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Marvel’s The Avengers combined in terms of wholesale destruction and massive property damage. It’s hard to believe another film could come close to matching that amount cinematic chaos and it certainly feels a bit out of character for Superman to be so oblivious to his actions.
The fight finally comes across like something that only Superman can possibly overcome. Thankfully, Snyder shoots the action in a clear manner that brings the fights right in your lap in 3D and he creatively finds different ways to show Superman’s powers in action.
There are just some slight elements that aren’t so super. Cinematographer Amir Mokri (Transformers: DOM) utilizes a slightly washed out yellowed color scheme that’s almost too dark and bleaker than a movie about Superman should look.
Unless it’s against a bright backdrop, Superman’s costume looks too dull onscreen and the lack of red (outer) trunks is sorely missed as they provide some shift in colors from the blue bodysuit he wears here. Goyer also seemed to jump the gun with the Clark/Lois relationship as well as the movie works fine without the romantic angle.
Wisely, Snyder and Goyer resist the urge to shoehorn Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor into the film with just a passing reference to potentially hint at his appearance in a sequel — a formula previously used to perfection in The Dark Knight.
I’m not sure what Warner Bros.’ plans are for a Justice League movie, but that franchise won’t have a better jumping off point than Man of Steel, the summer blockbuster you’ve been waiting for all year.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Picture Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures