Man of Steel
All signs pointed to “Man of Steel” dominating the summer 2013 box office. So is the final product worthy of the title of “Movie of the Summer”?
Director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) amps up the action this time around, pitting Kal-El (Henry Cavill) against General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian warrior who tried to overthrow the Kryptonian government as the planet was on the verge of destruction.
The story of Superman’s birth is a well-worn yarn, so I won’t rehash it, only to say Snyder’s version of Krypton looks like a darker, browner “Avatar” and there are a few deviations from the original story — some good, some less so.
“Man of Steel” is, once again, an origin story but told mostly through flashback to young Clark Kent’s upbringing. A bullied child, he has a bit of a temper, but has learned to keep it in check even as he reins in his heightened senses.
Zod, meanwhile, freed from the Phantom Zone by his home planet’s destruction, pursues the Son of Jor-El (Supes’ proud papa, played by Russell Crowe) to find a trinket he hopes to use to re-create Krypton on Earth. This would, of course, mean the end of humanity.
Snyder makes a few interesting narrative choices, changing up a few plot points here and there but largely sticking to the classic Superman story.
The action, once it begins, is enormous, almost to the extent that it becomes difficult to follow. Fists of CG fury fly across the screen, but it’s sometimes hard to know whose fists are connecting or what’s happening. There’s a moment where Superman and Zod apparently communicate through telepathy, but what is going on is muddy. There’s a line about “they did something to my mind” later on, but the tech behind it is unclear.
In fact, that’s a pretty large sticking point in the film overall. There are lots of alien gadgets, spaceships, and the like, but rarely does it feel organic or real. Even Krypton’s layout seems designed to be grandiose rather than functional, with palaces situated on top of mountains, only accessible via spaceship. I chalk up some of that to limitations on the source material; for the rest, I blame the filmmakers.
At this point I should mention that I’m struggling with how much of the plot I should reveal. I’ll say there aren’t a whole lot of surprises, but I take issue with a few of Superman’s actions; early on, he steals clothing from someone and later takes even more drastic, decidedly un-Superman-like steps. This is the sort of thing that the fantastic animated “Justice League” series explored several years back, but here they treat it as a throwaway, a momentary decision that is quickly forgotten.
As far as the cast goes, Cavill makes for a magnificent Superman. Character choices aside, he definitely looks the part, often strongly resembling Christopher Reeve; at one point, I wondered if they didn’t use a touch of subtle CG work to make him look like the Greatest Superman Ever, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t). But make no mistake: Cavill makes the character his own.
Shannon is a more than passable Zod, not chewing scenery the way Terence Stamp once did (we certainly never hear him say “Kneel before Zod”), but his motivations are clearer than ever, and the best touch about Snyder’s Krypton, that people are born via genetic engineering rather than live births, is a cracking good trait that creates conflict between Zod and Superman.
The human crew, led by Amy Adams as Lois Lane, get the short end of the stick to a degree, more setting up sequels than anything. Again, Snyder makes an interesting choice to skirt around the lunacy that is Clark Kent’s disguise that I found refreshing.
Overall, “Man of Steel” suffers from both its large scope and its inability to be a smaller, more intimate film. It does plenty well, though, and features some of the best onscreen Superman battles you’ll ever see. I recommend seeing it, but please, please, please skip the 3D. They’ll only stop these crummy post-conversions if you stop going to them.
One last thing (and minor spoilers here): While there are no big crossovers with other DC characters (despite reports that everyone from Batman to the Flash would appear in the movie), there are a couple of logo-based Easter eggs to look out for late in the film. After the giddiness of “The Avengers,” it kind of pales in comparison, but “Man of Steel” is building its own superhero empire, though, no, it can’t hold a candle to Marvel’s movie slate.