Man of Steel
Superman has had a long hard road on the big screen. After being subjected to some of the lamest moments in superhero movies ever, we’ve finally arrived at the first modern interpretation of the character that isn’t being influenced by 30-year-old films. Man of Steel, the brainchild of David Goyer, Christopher Nolan, and especially Zack Snyder, will likely go forward as one of the most unique approaches to a superhuman character and I think will change how superhero origins are handled on film.
Taking the already well-known story of Superman, Snyder and Goyer have brought an approach to the 75-year-old character that feels fresh and manages to stay true to what we all know about the mythology. Changes to the origin feel organic and make the remainder of its plot flow naturally, instead of relying on coincidental plot moments like previous Superman films. Man of Steel takes the ideas from the Richard Donner Superman movies and updates the story to leave little room for debate about plot holes and the like.
Henry Cavill, an actor that few were familiar with prior to his casting, really knocks it out of the park here. Fitting into the shoes of Clark Kent is no easy task as Christopher Reeve firmly put a stamp on the role that has been emulated and canonized ever since. What is so different about this version is that he’s still realizing his potential, he’s not trying to split himself into the two personalities of Superman and Clark Kent, he’s just Superman. This offers Cavill as an actor the opportunity to go to places no other live-action incarnation has gone. Cavill’s only parallel in the film in terms of performance and presence is Michael Shannon’s Zod, who is clearly superior to Terence Stamp (yeah, I said it). Instead of being a caricature of evil, Shannon presents Zod with empathy and crafts a performance that is one of the most memorable villains of the past few years. You might even find yourself in a moral dilemma about who you think was doing the right thing.
The most interesting thing about Man of Steel is its non-linear story. While the opening does set up the remainder of the film and refresh all of us on the Krypton situation, it doesn’t play out like a remake of Superman: The Movie. Instead we jump back and forth between adult Clark and young Clark and we get to see Superman’s anguish through a visual context unlike any of the other films. His loneliness and isolation feel more real here than past incarnations, because you can see his internal struggle as it plays off of the moments that have defined him in his life. These visual indicators work due to clever editing, top notch special effects, and the superb performances of Kevin Costner, Cooper Timberline (9-year-old Clark), Dylan Sprayberry (13-year-old Clark), and Henry Cavill. These four actors’ roles in the film really cement many of the more serious moments, which in turn cause the natural progression of the character to steer towards Snyder’s intended goal.
What is disappointing about Man of Steel is how little significance some of the other characters really feel to the film as a whole. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, while portrayed really well, doesn’t get as much to do as I would have liked, with some moments feeling forced. This isn’t a knock on her performance, she rocks, but instead the storytelling. There are times when what we know about Lois as a character really shine out, and others where the script takes her to places that feel lazy.
Lois isn’t the only character that doesn’t feel 100% natural to the story. Many others throughout the film feel like set pieces that are there to either move the plot forward or simply because they “have to be there” for fan service. Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White, for example, gets just enough screen time to be interesting and provide some comedic relief, but not enough to be wholly relevant to the plot. The same can be said for the rest of the Daily Planet staff, many of the military roles, and most of the other Kryptonian criminals. Beyond Zod, few of them really stand out. Antje Traue’s Faora manages some good moments, but on the whole doesn’t get to do much beyond offer an evil glare.
Past grievances with director Zack Snyder’s films have pointed to his “reliance” on slow motion, which have no place in the discussion of Man of Steel. Once this movie starts going, it doesn’t let up. Man of Steel‘s tempo remains fast for the duration of the movie, like a roller coaster that won’t end, and I mean that in the best way possible. Its fight sequences never feel repetitive, but instead build off of each other so as to offer something new with each one. Snyder’s direction on previous films have clearly been training him for this as he can let these moments play out for the audience without having to slow them down – they can all be appreciated at the rapid rate they’re shown.
Man of Steel is great. It takes stories that we all thought we knew and looks at them through a different prism, creating a solid superhero story that stands apart from all of the others. Though the acting is solid all around, many of the characters don’t naturally fit in, but when the film offers amazing fights and comic book levels of destruction, most fans won’t mind that at all.
Rating: 8 / 10