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Movie ReviewsRating: 3.5 of 5 yaps

Man of Steel

man-of-steel-insideAll 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”?

Kinda.

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.

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5 Responses to “Man of Steel”

  1. Zoe Chapman says:

    Yes! It was better than "Superman Returns". Snyder’s version was more for adults I thought despite being a 12a. SR seemed more of a family film what with the heavier focus on the Lois Lane romance and saturated primary colour scheme it had going. It also felt shallow and had little of the substance MoS possessed. Cavill was stunning as Superman, portraying him as tortured and trying to find his way to the stalwart morality of Superman’s persona that he’s well known for – that’s how it should be surely. He’s not naive, still devestated from not saving his dad from a killer tornado and the continual bullyng at school. I liked Russell Crowe as Jor-El and the beginning of the film really filled out what happened at the end of Krypton nicely (with Matrix babies no less). Plus giving greater context to Zod’s maniacal motivation for mass genecide. Agree with born2dsign and his point about childlike wonder; just watch and marvel at the Krypton planet, once a great nation as Jor-El explains to Cal. Also, anyone else notice the scarily heavy product placement of the Nokia mobile phone? Quite taken aback at the blatancy of it, a conversation for another day…

  2. born2dsign says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Man of Steel. Lots of fun, though, agreed, not perfect. The review above just reminds me of how jaded we’ve become in our movie-going. The reviewer comments on the portrayal of Krypton being not very functional. Really? That sort of thought would have never crossed my mind. Even if we do look at it that way…it’s alien, right? How can we judge what is functional for an alien race. I mean, the spinning, floating structures of Asgard in Marvel’s Thor didn’t look functional either – but they were still very cool. The point (I think) was to dazzle. I think we’ve lost our ability to watch movies with a childlike wonder. I saw MOS with my 10-year old son, and probably loved it more for the company and his perspective. All that said, I did have some issues with the out-of-character actions of Supes (stealing clothes, drinking beer at one point, his "act" toward the end). All those beats just felt wrong. My only other beef with the film was that you never really get the sense that Superman is in any sort of jeopardy or danger. When you have a nearly invincible hero that’s bound to happen, but it made the destruction caused by the final battle to almost seem irresponsible. Collateral damage was never acceptable to Superman but the loss of human life that must have resulted from the final smackdown had to astronomical. All in all though, I found it great escapist fun.

  3. jackripple says:

    I’ve always been a "super" fan of Superman and can’t wait to see this. The trailer has been really keeping me on the edge of my seat – I hope to see this film sometime soon!!

  4. Joe Shearer says:

    I personally am a fan of "Superman Returns" overall, though it’s less than perfect itself.

    This film is a somewhat reactionary reboot of SR in that it amps up the hero/villain battles. There’s LOTS of fisticuffs and property damage is probably on par with "The Avengers" if not surpassing it.

    I suppose yeah I’d say I like MoS better than SR, but I will say SR is underrated and the plan for sequels to that film would have had similar plot points to this one. Cavill has more presence as Superman, whereas Brandon Routh played him as more of a passive observer of humanity. My favorite Routh Superman moments were when he was getting the crap kicked out of him by Luthor’s thugs. His Superman didn’t understand violence and that some people would enjoy being violent. That’s how he was so easily fooled by things; he doesn’t understand evil at all, so he can’t anticipate it. Cavill’s Superman is less naive.

  5. Mo Hammond says:

    I guess 3.5 isn’t that bad, considering that Snyder’s last movie was "Sucker Punch." I was wondering if this one was better than the 2006′s "Superman Returns." Thoughts?

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