Man of Steel Review

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Look! In the cinema! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a phenomenal superhero reboot film in the guise of Man of Steel. Yes, Superman is back on the big screen since his last outing with Superman Returns, and things are decidedly more epic this time around.

Fresh off the Dark Knight trilogy, director Christopher Nolan has taken a producing role, and with Batman scribe David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder in tow, the filmmakers have brought the world Man of Steel, a Superman movie in the new dawn on DC Comics movies.

The film revisits the origins of Superman, initially throwing us into the world of Krypton on the brink of destruction, where Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), has taken it upon himself to try and preserve the line of Kryptonians – their race – by sending his son, Kal-El (whom in turn will become Clark Kent/Superman) to Earth. While Jor-El tries to do so, the sinister General Zod (Michael Shannon) has other ideas, ultimately attempting a coup on Krypton that leads to the death of Jor-El and the imprisonment of Zod and his army in the Phantom Zone.

Man of Steel (Amy Adams and Henry Cavill)After setting the bedrock for the film, Man of Steel then goes on to focus on Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), who is on a quest to discover who he is and why he’s different from everyone else. In one of the best moves narratively, Man of Steel doesn’t go in chronological order from the destruction of Krypton to Clark landing on Earth and growing up into an adult. Instead, the film jumps straight to the present day, where Clark Kent is on the brink of discovering who he is while saving those in peril around him. 

At apt times that are almost telegraphed, the film decides to show non-chronological flashbacks to illustrate all the different sides and struggles of Clark, from discovering his powers thanks to the difference between his Kryptonian biology and the way the Earth is, to being a drifter that just tries to do good while also lying low to avoid attention.

The first third of the film is a strong character piece, where we are given so much more depth in one film about Superman’s origins and the man behind the S than we ever have before. It’s a rousing, moving tale that sets up everything that is to come in the film.

However…Man of Steel is not without its faults. For one thing, it suffers from the problem of not being the first movie of this kind. A lot of the dialogue is predictable, and a lot of the story isn’t particularly remarkable. The film is full of cliché and there is just some pure stupid writing. There’s this air of the film being like something you’ve seen before, and not just because it’s a reboot of the Superman franchise. It’s a rather noticeable archetypal story. The Clark Kent side of the story is superfluous and bloated, but as soon as you get to Superman… you’ll believe a man can fly.

It’s a testament to director Zack Snyder. The style over substance director is fantastic at adaptations and Man of Steel is a triumph. It’s curious that he doesn’t rely so much on his trademark love for slow-motion with this film, but boy has he helped create an interpretation of Superman. Just the sheer way powers are used, the way flight is portrayed and the combat (the action is brutal at times); Man of Steel offers Superman in the way he should always be shown in cinema.

From the very first flight to the climatic battles, the entire Superman section of the film is phenomenal. It’s a wonderful way to portray the action, and with Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, Man of Steel is a masterpiece of the superhero genre. 

Sure, those with a basic grasp on Superman lore might scratch their head in places, namely with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her connection with Clark Kent in this adaptation, but those details are just small change to the blockbuster spectacle.

Man of Steel (Michael Shannon and Antje Traue)Zod (Shannon) is a brilliant villain, and Faora (Antje Traue) is a spectacular second in command. She might even be more memorable than Zod to some, with more than a few awesome moments. There is also the slight threat of Zod being a little too ridiculous to be taken seriously at times, but maybe that’s the charm. 

Which is a thing tragically lacking in Man of Steel. In the efforts of being a harsher, grounded reboot, much like the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel lacks heart and humour. Superman has always been lighter to his counterpart in Batman, but that doesn’t really shine through. You see a lot of the Boy Scout in Cavill’s Superman, but everything is so tragic and serious, one could at least be thrown the odd comic relief or pace-changing scene. 

Cavill’s Superman is a strong Superman though. Whether intentional or not, big screen Superman movies with or without Christopher Reeve always seem to channel that Reeve performance to some degree, which is far from a bad thing. Cavill also does well to play Clark Kent the drifter as well as Clark Kent of the Daily Planet, all the more suggesting that he is the right man for the job.

Zack Snyder has done a fantastic job bringing his style to the Superman franchise. Everything about the action and the spectacle is spot on. Never have I seen such climatic battles on a scale that are impressive technically than I have with this movie. Man of Steel is definitely the new poster child for the superhero genre of films.

That being said, there are still problems with it, many of which are not its fault. It’s just the timing. There have been so many superhero movies already in existence that it doesn’t feel that fresh. It’s a standard narrative that doesn’t do anything new or interesting, but maybe plays a little too safe. Sure, the Superman formula has been shaken up a little, but at the same time, it’s a film that’s a little too long for what it is (a lot of the filler feels like filler). There are silly screenwriting tropes implemented that tell you exactly what’s going to happen next before you’ve seen it, and the film itself isn’t exactly Memento.

Man of Steel is a safe, technically impressive movie. It’s a fresh reboot that’s grounded and brutal, while also being relatively friendly. It’s padded with a lot of content it doesn’t need, but as soon as you get Superman on screen, the criticisms are out of the window. It is Superman, plain and simple.

And not a single bald-headed nemesis with a penchant for land-grabbing in sight.

Man of Steel is out now in cinemas. It stars Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon, and is directed by Zack Snyder from a screenplay by David S. Goyer.

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1 Comment

  1. NKovari says:

    What about Zod’s other minion? The big bearded guy?

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