Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams
You may like this if you liked: Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005), Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006), The Amazing Spider – Man (Marc Webb, 2012)
I think we all know the story, but here is a quick overview. As the planet Krypton is on the verge of destruction Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his newborn son to earth. That son grows up as Clark Kent with his two adopted human parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) trying to keep these super human powers that he has but does not understand a secret. As a grown man Clark (Cavill) lives the life of a lonely traveller while continuing to keep his powers a secret. However when confronted with enemies from Krypton (Shannon and his cronies) Clark must discover his true identity and purpose, as well as convince humans that he can be their saviour and their source of hope.
As I am sure like everyone else, I was very apprehensive when seeing this was directed by Zack Snyder but then relieved when I saw Nolan was in charge. Then again I was apprehensive as Superman is not Batman and I did not want this to be essentially Superman Begins. I know there have been negative or at least less favourable reviews of Man of Steel but for me the more serious tone works. A shot for shot remake of the Christopher Reeve films, red underpants and all, would be pretty pointless. It is pretty much the same story we already know, but contains the universal and very human themes at the centre of the narrative that were essential if it was going to produce a protagonist to care about. Despite his superhuman abilities his story is essentially very human. He desires to find meaning and purpose in his life, and utilise the skills he is given, producing a very powerful and involving story.
Man of Steel contains a non-chronological narrative structure, just like Batman Begins but for me this enhanced the poignancy and power of the scenes of the younger Clark. Each scene flashing back to his younger years proves relevant to what is in his mind in the present day. This adds emotional impact and relevance to the conversations between Clark and his human father. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane provide the emotional core and every scene between Clark and Jonathan packs a real emotional punch and adds substance to the inner conflict and frustration Clark must feel. Dealing with school bullies and deciding whether to save the lives of his fellow school children, but risk blowing his cover showing the inner turmoil. Of course with two fathers he is cheating a little bit. Crowe provides the necessary gravitas (complete with his Maximus voice) but the scenes of Jor-El constantly lecturing Clark can start to feel a little repetitive as I think it is fair to say we all get it.
Of course it is not all pondering and self discovery, with plenty of action set pieces there to break up the soul searching. The final third is all out action and thank god not a Zack Snyder super slow-mo in sight! The action is handled well and does truly pack a punch really emphasising the extreme power citizens of Krypton can enhance in the earth’s atmosphere. There are oil tankers flying, and basically an entire city being written off. However the action does start to feel a little repetitive and at times feels like a combination of the final fight between Neo vs. Agent Smith meets Transformers.
The Krypton set prologue is also fast and frantic with plenty of tension, though admittedly Krypton does look a little like Cybertron with a few more swirls. This is where we are also introduced to the films antagonist, General Zod. Micheal Shannon gives a reliably intense performance, and just like in Star Trek we are presented with a sympathetic villain. There is a legitimate reason for his actions and he believes he is doing the right thing which adds genuine depth to his character. Which is good as the actual plot is one that has been used in the likes of Dr. Who and Transformers. However I felt it worked, it is just a shame Snyder gets carried away with the overlong action (again).
Of course action aside, this is a character driven story at heart and overall a really compelling take on the character of Clark Kent as he discovers himself. The tone is of course serious, the cinematography very grey/blue and the suit more a piece of armour, but it does look good! Cavill himself may lack that special something of Christoper Reeve but for me was excellent. He of course plays it very straight (in tone with the entire mood of the film) but evokes all the virtues and ideologies that Superman stands for and provides a protagonist to care about. The Lois and Clark relationship is dealt with in a completely way, but if there should be a sequel it is hinted that things may be more familiar next time. Amy Adams herself is a shining light but given surprisingly little time. Again, it is hinted she will play a bigger role next time. The mood of the film is predominantly serious with very little humour, however to just throw some slapstick or cheap laughs in for the sake of it would have been terrible. The tone is consistent and for me worked as at the film’s heart is a serious subject.
Man of Steel is both a thrilling and genuinely involving attempt to recreate an iconic character. It is different in tone to other versions, but making up for it in class and genuine character development. Slightly repetitive overlong action and tedious Russell Crowe lecturing aside, this may be the start of another excellent superhero franchise with both action and genuine substance.