[Movie Review] Super ‘Man of Steel’ Soars To New Heights
Superman is back in theaters and better than ever, as the fantastic Man of Steel ushers in not only the dawning of a new cinematic universe for DC’s esteemed roster of comic book characters to inhabit, but the launch of a new era of action movies.
So how do you rebuild 75-year-old Superman, one of the most iconic fictional characters ever created in American pop culture?
First, you start with executive producer Christopher Nolan, the visionary director that already successfully rebooted Batman, and Nolan’s writer partner in the blockbuster Dark Knight trilogy David S.Goyer, to come up with a more grounded approach the Last Son of Krypton, an often lonely outcast who is all too aware that he is an alien on a strange world for reasons unclear to him.
Clark Kent’s questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?” and “Why am I here?” echo our own questions that we as humans are instinctively born with, and suddenly the orphan Kal-El from the dead planet Krypton is more relatable to audiences than ever.
Next, you get director Zack Snyder, who had his breakthrough by redefining zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake and then became a household name when proved rated R comic book adaptations could work with 300 and Watchmen, to bring his emotionally textured visuals to this story of the alien boy raised with homegrown love in Smallville, Kansas by Jonathan and Martha Kent, taught to hide his otherworldly gifts in order to protect himself.
Snyder lets you know early on that you are in for something new, as the opening scene on Krypton is immediately unlike any superhero movie you have ever seen, including the equally other-worldly Thor. To say that the action scenes set a new bar for the genre is an understatement, as Man of Steel is measured on a whole new scale. It is a game changer.
Then you surround your young hero with an all-star lineup of world class actors, starting with the grand Russell Crowe (Gladiator, Robin Hood) as Kal-El’s biological father Jor-El and the great Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) as his adoptive father on Earth, Jonathan Kent. These cinematic Robin Hoods of different decades both bring necessary gravity to their brief but important speeches to the son they share.
Man of Steel is a story of two dads as much as it is a story of two worlds and coming to terms with living in (and with) both. Crowe and Costner each get to teach what being a hero means, and we – like Clark – believe them, because they are heroes already in the eyes of moviegoers who know them from the heroic roles they have played, just as they are heroes in the wide blue eyes of a son looking at his father.
Diane Lane (Nights in Rodanthe) is wonderful as Martha Kent, gently helping young Clark out of a traumatic experience or unabashedly expressing her fears that “they might take you away” after Clark learns the truth about where he comes from. Her pain at loosing her only son to the world and simultaneous joy at watching him finally find his place in it are both beautifully on display throughout Lane’s heartfelt performance.
As intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Muppets) is never too cute in her obvious attraction to the handsome stranger with the dark hair, chiseled muscles, and those piercing blue eyes, but she rightfully doesn’t hide her interest either, and their light flirting only teases what must be simmering under the surface of these two driven characters.
This Lois Lane is far more ready for an adventure than previous big screen versions, as she willingly follows Clark into unknown danger zones and even gets to team up with Jor-El to do some super work of her own.
Of course, in order to bring the ultimate hero back in the biggest way possible, you have to give him a villain truly worthy of Earth-shaking battles with billions of lives at stake, and we have him in the military-engineered General Zod, played with a scary combination of danger and underlying sympathy by the unflinching Michael Shannon (The Runaways).
For all his delicious evilness, I actually found myself feeling sorry for Zod near the end of the film, as I think Superman feels too, because the general is ultimately exactly what he was created to be and was never conditioned to be anything more. The film’s overall message of choosing to do good instead of evil (or nothing at all) was never an option for Zod.
Did I forget something? Oh right, that would be British actor Henry Cavill (Immortals), who won the coveted title role in Man of Steel after more than a decade of struggling to find any work at all and somehow manages to successfully carry the epic film on his massive shoulders, seemingly rescuing not only a studio desperate for a new franchise, but also the hopes and dreams of fans that a comic book movie can be fun, emotional, and intense all at once.
Cavill plays Kal-El/Clark as a quiet searcher, listening and learning, acting to help others often, but usually only when left with no other choice than to ignore bad things happening, which is one thing this Superman just cannot do.
I expected Man of Steel to be a lot more “talky”, but in fact I would say it is far more action-packed than any of the Dark Knight or even Transformers films, all of which also clock in around two and a half hours long. One reason for this is that, despite it being an “origin story”, you never really have to wait for Superman to start doing Superman-type things, like saving people in danger. Also, the story is not exactly told in chronological order, which is a wise choice in this case, because it allows Snyder to jump around to the parts of the origin tale that push this film’s story along. And boy, does it move along!
The pace of Man of Steel is itself faster than a speeding bullet, keeping an unparalleled momentum going strong right up until the final frame, at which point I was still hungry for more. That momentum is only amplified by the intensity of Snyder’s often shaky, quick-zoom style and furious editing, all propelled by a great score.
Probably my favorite scene is when Superman at one point enters a small church and asks advise from the priest there. I won’t spoil any more by painting the precise visual Snyder presents us with here, but this is again unlike anything you have previously seen in a “comic book movie”.
The emotional undertones of the film are never overbearing but always powerfully present thanks to the talented ensemble cast that together lifts Cavill’s man with the red cape to new heights, challenging you to relax in the fact that the hero is not going to let you down this time.
While the new Superman effectively reminds audiences that the power to do good for others is inside all of us, Man of Steel flies highest in reminding us just how super movies can be.
Official Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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Man of Steel (rated PG13) is now playing at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills.