MAN OF STEEL
***1/2 (out of 5)
June 14, 2013
Henry Cavill as CLARK KENT/KAL-EL
Amy Adams as LOIS LANE
Michael Shannon as GENERAL ZOD
Diane Lane as MARTHA KENT
Russell Crowe as JOR-EL
Antje Traue as FAORA-UL
Harry Lennix as GENERAL SWANWICK
Richard Schiff as DR. EMIL HAMILTON
Christopher Meloni as COLONEL NATHAN HARDY
Kevin Costner as JONATHAN KENT
Ayelet Zurer as LARA LOR-VAN
Laurence Fishburne as PERRY WHITE
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m not one to geek out too much at movies, especially comic book films. For the most part, I’m forgiving of director egos trampling over tried-and-true mythology from the pulp magazines, especially for the Marvel characters which I never read with any regularity as a child.
But when it comes to Superman and Batman, I can be hyper-critical. It’s because I grew up with them, reading the books religiously as a child of the 70s and 80s. I saw the movies and marveled how the animated series always seemed to get things right when the feature films continually twisted and bent (and sometimes flat-out shattered) story and character elements from the comic books.
So any movie featuring Superman or Batman is something I watch with a critical eye, and a healthy knowledge that even the magazines themselves revamped the characters and histories from time to time.
It is for these reasons that I approach any DC hero movie with trepidation. However, considering there hasn’t been a theatrical reboot of Superman since the late 70s, I gave “Man of Steel” the benefit of the doubt.
This new movie is a modern take on the comic book legend. I’m reluctant to use the words that are often tossed around with this -–like “gritty,” “realistic” or “dark.” It’s not that “Man of Steel” doesn’t have these elements, but rather the Man of Steel doesn’t. The movie’s grittier than the 1978 film “Superman: The Movie,” and sure it’s darker than the on-screen mess that was “Superman Returns.” Not sure if I buy the “realistic” argument any more than I would for Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. (After all, I find it hard to characterize any movie in which a person heals from a spinal injury with a rope tied to a dirty prison ceiling “realistic,” but there you go.)
“Man of Steel” goes back to the beginning of the story, with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) on Krypton preparing to send his only son to Earth to avoid the planet’s destruction. The bulk of the film’s plot follows Kal-El (Henry Cavill) trying to rationalize his place in the world as a hero and savior to the people. The movie takes a more dangerous turn with an external conflict when the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his crew emerge from the Phantom Zone, ready to invade Earth.
In general, I’m not a fan of origin stories because they often retread familiar ground. After all, who the hell doesn’t know who Superman is in this day and age? Still, I forgave director Zack Snyder going back to the well with “Man of Steel” and Supes’ origins simply because it hadn’t been done on the big screen in decades (even though we had ten years of “Smallville” that dragged that shit out throughout the past decade).
There were certain parts of “Man of Steel” I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the presentation of Krypton was fantastic and visionary. Russell Crowe did a fine job as Jor-El, getting a large dose of screen time without it coming across as masturbatory the way Marlon Brando’s scenes were in “Superman: The Movie.”
The action in the film is fantastic, and Snyder was the perfect choice to show fully-realized super-battles which were not technologically possible without modern digital effects. Sure, there’s a lot of crash-zooms and epic explosion moments, but at least Snyder laid off the slo-mo a bit.
Additionally, the cast did a fine job – from Henry Cavill making the character his own rather than being an imitation of Christopher Reeve, to Amy Adams as the spunky Lois Lane who plays the damsel in distress when needed but also provides an intellectual foil for Superman.
However, “Man of Steel” is not without its flaws. With a running time of 143 minutes, the film runs too long at points and drags, particularly in the middle. The pacing gets awkward as Snyder tries to cram too much backstory in the film using flashbacks that feel like Michael Bay and Terrence Malick’s editing systems got piss-drunk one night and had a love child.
However, the biggest problem is the movie just gets too big at the end. The threat is so massive and so global, I question where the series could go from here. Unlike the Marvel juggernaut, which showed Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America fighting smaller threats to lead up to potential global destruction in “The Avengers,” “Man of Steel” turns the guitar amps past eleven and doesn’t let up.
In this sense, “Man of Steel” is the “Batman Begins” of Superman movies, carrying all the positive and negative connotations that come along with it.
I hope the bigness of a sequel can be dialed back, as was done with “The Dark Knight” which was a bigger movie with a more intimate threat. Otherwise, we’re gonna need a threat to the entire galaxy to top things. Then there’s the big old “Justice League” movie looming on the horizon, and how can the villain in that top General Zod’s plan from this film?
But that’s the future, and that’s a problem that I don’t have to deal with right now.
In the end, “Man of Steel” is good, but not great. As a one-off Superman story, I can get behind it. As the restart of a franchise, I’m still a bit skeptical. But it’s a good start.