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Man Of Steel – film review

July 4, 2013


You’ll believe a man can fly – again.

Reviewed on Thursday 27th June 2013

henry cavill - man of steel

Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by David S. Goyer. Story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan. Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lawrence Fishburne. Running time: 143 mins.

A young man endowed with super powers must learn to embrace his alien heritage when the Earth is threatened by one of his kind.

Richard Donner’s Superman has always been cited as the definitive superhero movie – against which all subsequent caped crusader movies are compared and Man Of Steel is a worthy successor. Eschewing the campy buffoonery of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, while side-stepping the dreary ‘who’s kid is it?’ melodramatics of Singer’s version, this new film instead explores the existential dilema faced by Kal-El – as if the events depicted were real.

The stylish direction by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) – is as assured as ever, although he does at times stray dangerously close here to Michael Bay territory     with a potentially annoying ADHD visual aesthetic. Employing desaturated color, predominantly hand-held shots and rack zooms; these techniques are clearly intended to lend a level of documentary realism to the proceedings – which they       do most of the time – although they can also be quite distracting. Despite this,           it is heartening to see an accomplished visual stylist like Snyder beginning to demonstrate an assured ability in capturing the smaller, emotional beats with admirable restraint. And hey, I’m man enough to admit it – I found myself           tearing up at several key moments.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Man Of Steel, which sets it apart from all previous comic book origin stories – is the fact that the first hour unfolds in what is essentially a non-linear fashion. After an extended prologue set on Krypton, we first meet Clark as a grown man on Earth drifting from one place to another, while well-placed flashbacks – revealing glimpses into his backstory – are interwoven throughout. So clevery placed are these flashbacks within the narrative framework,     in fact, that they never once feel intrusive or unwarranted. They do well in enhancing the depth of Kal-El’s character, without affecting the plot’s pacy momentum.

As the producers of 1978’s Superman The Movie discovered; the casting of Kal-El is critical to the success or failure of the film as a whole and there is no denying that Christopher Reeve made the role his own. Brandon Routh certainly looked the part in Bryan Singer’s 2007 pseudo sequel/homage, but lacked the acting chops to make Clark Kent an endearing character – as Reeve had done so memorably before him.     Of course the turgidly melodramatic script he was obliged to work with didn’t help     any either. Relative newcomer Henry Cavill (who first gained prominence in Tarsem Singh’s Immortals) is so right in the role of Clark Kent/Kal-El that it is difficult to imagine anyone else (aside from Christopher Reeve) filling out Superman’s costume. He conveys just the right mix of noble poise, innocence and existential angst – the latter of which distinguishes this incarnation of Superman from all those which have come before. And at the film’s end, when a female army captain blushingly declares Superman to be hot, it was very clear from the giggles in the audience that every female at the screening I attended were in absolute agreement.

Unlike the misguided casting of Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, Amy Adams is wholly believable here as intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (“I get writer’s block if I don’t wear a flack jacket”). And there is nice chemistry between she and Henry Cavill. The rest of the cast are fine, with Michael Shannon as Zod being a worthy successor to Terence Stamp in the original. Russell Crowe is solid (as Jor-El), as is Diane Lane as Martha Kent. And it’s great to see Kevin Costner back on the big screen, here essaying Clark’s adoptive father and moral compass Jonathan Kent.

Much has been made of the film’s perceived darkness of tone. And while there is no doubting the film lacks the levity of Donner’s version, I would hesitate to use the term ‘dark’ to describe it. Perhaps the words: solemn and earnest might be better suited. As much of the humor found in Donner’s version occurs during the Daily Planet scenes between Lois and Clark and Perry White – when one considers that Clark only becomes ‘Clark Kent – mild-mannered reporter’ at the very end of this new film – then it should come as no surprise that Man Of Steel is less humorous in comparison. Actually, now that I think of it, the first act of Donner’s film was indeed criticised for being just as serious back in the day, with Act II being more light-hearted, before turning serious again heading into the finale. As Man Of Steel is the first in a proposed trilogy of films, then perhaps the tone of each installment will mirror the tone of each corresponding act in Donner’s version. Perhaps with Clark interacting with Lois at the Daily Planet, and the opportunity for romance, the second movie will be     a lot lighter in tone than the first

While the visual effects are for the most part seamless and spectacular, the wholesale destruction of Metropolis via Zod’s gigantic terraforming machine – while on a much larger scale than say G.I. Joe Retaliation and Star Trek Into Darkness – really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. But having said this – the final mid-air showdown between Zod and Kal-El over Metropolis is breathtakingly well-staged and does feature some of the largest swathes of collateral damage seen in quite a while. Bizarrely, these scenes are highly reminiscent of similar scenes in the Will Smith-starring revisionist superhero flick Hancock – in which the hero creates far more havoc and all-round damage while attempting to save the day – than not. While the flying sequences in Man Of Steel are extremely well done – it would have been nice to have eased up on the shaky-cam just a tad – so we could revel in the wonder of them a little more.

There is no denying the depiction of Krypton in Snyder’s film is impressively realized, however, the overall design is really just a pastiche of imagery from other films – most notably Dune, Avatar and The Chronicles Of Riddick. In comparison with Donner’s film, this new version of Kal-El’s homeworld truly lacks the cohesive vision of John Barry’s still impressive production design.

Lacking the heroic fanfare of John Williams’ celebrated themes, the music score by Hans Zimmer is effective but unremarkable.

While some may view Man Of Steel as a Christ parable and others a straight comic book movie, what this film really is, at its most profound, is the story of a devout pacifist, raised to keep his anger in check – who is then forced to unleash his rage in order to save the entire human race from extinction at the hands of an opposing and equally powerful force. This is the internal struggle facing Kal-El – as, ever since he was a child, he has been taught to hold back his anger when provoked, for fear of lashing out with all his might and inadvertantly maiming – or worse – killing someone. This is the character’s central dilema which makes the final outcome ultimately all     the more powerful and emotionally affecting. The portrayal of Clark’s super abilities, by the way, as a childhood curse (or even perhaps a form of autism) – is an inspired idea which is cleverly realized by Snyder and his FX team. This may all sound overly serious and angsty for a comic book movie – but it really isn’t. It’s more about creating a believable foundation from which to relaunch a franchise with substance. And for this, Snyder, Nolan and Goyer must surely be commended.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed in V-Max at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, June 27th 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. Another sound review, Greg. I agree with a lot of what you say, having also enjoyed the flashback structure of the first half and, in particular the full-on Krypton opener. Playing up Kal-El’s alien origins was smart, as was the introduction of all that grit. But I think there’s an inherent problem in making Superman realistic. His powers are simply unbelievable (the token explanations of ‘the gravity’s different on Earth etc’ just don’t add up), so as soon as you throw the magic out of the window, the credibility goes with it. Nor did I buy Kal-El’s motivation in wanting to save the Earth and, well, become Superman. The script took him partway there but left too much blurred or unresolved.

    I actually thought the shaky-cam was the best way to go with the flying scenes (though it was overused elsewhere). A prone man in flight actually looks a bit daft, and the wobble helped sell the shots. The flying was much more effective when he was in ‘angel’ mode, drifting slowly in an upright position.

  2. gregory moss permalink

    Cheers Graham. Yeah, I guess the issue of suspension of disbelief is problematic with Superman from the very outset – and it’s really up to the individual to either buy it or not. It isn’t the flying I have an issue with – but the heat vision. As to whether the flying scenes benefit from shaky-cam, I’m still not sold on the idea. But then perhaps, with me, it’s nostalgia at play – as I do remember (as a 13-year-old) – thinking those shots of Christopher Reeve chasing a missile over the lakes in Utah were completely awesome (and this despite the less-than-spectacular compositing). For me – it was definitely Christopher Reeve who sold those sequences and made them work as well as they did under the circumstances. 🙂

  3. Good review. 🙂 I really wish I’d liked this more than I did!

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey – that’s cool! I did like it a lot more than Iron Man 3 though – a lot more cohesive. 🙂

  4. Terrible film. It was pretty poor anyway but then nose-dived into a final 45-minute cgi cartoon with all the dramatic involvement of a cornflake advert. When I think of the talent and sheer amount of money involved it makes me want to despair.

    • gregory moss permalink

      It could have been worse – it could have been The Green Lantern. 🙂

      • Very true- no matter how bad a film is these days, there always seems to be something even worse lurking around the corner!

      • gregory moss permalink

        Absolutely! But by the same token – I always go into a movie hoping for the best – even though word of mouth might be awful.

  5. Xenolicker permalink

    Iron Man, Man of Steel… makes you kinda wonder what’s next. Titanium Man…? Personally i’m just tired of yet another Superman or Spiderman reboot. There are plenty of other superheroes who’d make a fine movie. I mean, how numb can you get as a filmmaker?

    • gregory moss permalink

      I’d like to develop a comic book hero called Manman – a guy with no superpowers or clever gadgets or abilities of any kind – just a man – and see how that goes down …

      • Xenolicker permalink

        I guess it will begin down and it’ll stay down… And you must at least give him the ability to come back to life because he will die very quickly on his superhero adventures. And personally i’d always go for a female superhero. I don’t understand the fascination American men have with seeing other men in tights…

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