Man of Steel Director: Zack Snyder Screenwriter: David S. Goyer Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe Warner Bros. Pictures Rated PG-13 | 143 Minutes Release Date: June 14, 2013
Directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen) and written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy), Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill as Clark Kent a.k.a Superman a.k.a Kal-El, a Kryptonian sent to Earth by his parents as an infant to survive the destruction of his homeworld.
Raised with the values of his adoptive parents, Jonathan (Kevin Coster) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent of Smallville, Kansas, Clark is alienated because of his unique gifts and struggles to find his own place in life. When the planet is attacked by hostile Kryptonians led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), Kal-El must embrace his destiny and be a symbol of hope for Earth and its people.
Snyder’s science-fiction drama begins on Krypton, where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is aiding his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) in giving birth. Their son, Kal-El, is the first natural childbirth in centuries – an illegal, secret act of creation on a planet where children are engineered to serve specific roles in Kryptonian society. As the dying planet inches toward a cataclysmic extinction-level event, Jor-El and his wife place baby Kal-El in a spacecraft bearing the seal of the House of El (the “S” that becomes Superman’s iconic emblem) and send him to Earth, an ancient outpost Kryptonians visited tens of thousands of years ago.
Like Batman Begins, which opens with a wayward (bearded) Bruce Wayne searching for his purpose in life, Man of Steel uses flashbacks to show us defining moments in Clark Kent’s youth while 33-year-old (bearded) Kal-El travels the world, doing super-deeds like rescuing derrick workers from an oil rig fire. In search of answers about his alien origins, Kal-El joins an Antarctic expedition where he meets investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who’s there to do a story on a mysterious object that’s been found deep in the ice.
The object is Kal-El’s Fortress of Solitude, an ancient Kryptonian scout ship. Equipped with a kind of Kryptonian flash drive, Kal-El uploads Jor-El’s consciousness into the ship’s computer and receives the answers to his questions, along with a nifty red-and-blue Superman suit.
Cue General Zod and his army of Kryptonian bad-asses who pick up on the awakened spacecraft’s signal and head toward our solar system. Zod takes over Earth’s airwaves, demanding that Kal-El be handed over to them. From there on it’s a lot of computer-generated mayhem; gratuitous, excessive symphonies of destruction reminiscent of Michael Bay’s Transformers. Zod and Superman engage in Kryptonian pinball, body-slamming each other through skyscrapers, leveling half of Metropolis with their feats of strength.
Snyder’s film, which is executive produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy), takes itself too seriously and while Henry Cavill is a great Superman, he lacks the self-amusement that made Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne so memorable in Batman Begins. The film is jam-packed with thrilling sci-fi sequences, but there just isn’t much fun to be had. That being said, I would much rather have a Superman film that is dark and contemplative in its approach than another silly, schlocky embarrassment like DC’s Green Lantern, but Man of Steel is still a little too stiff in the cape.
There are moments of levity; a couple clever lines delivered from Snyder’s all-star ensemble, but Man of Steel’s pensive tone could benefit from a dash of the kind of lighthearted fun that made Marvel’s Iron Man so successful. Another issue is the abundance of blatant product placement throughout the film. Superman and Zod find themselves fighting in front of conveniently-located advertisements for 7-Eleven, Sears, U-Haul, and the International House of Pancakes. Who knew Smallville, Kansas was filled with so many promotional sponsorship opportunities!?
Then there’s the cinematography by Amir Mokri, who previously lensed Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Action sequences are fast-moving and exhilarating (as they should be), but often disorienting, trading visual intelligibility for shaky-cam sensory overload. Snyder has abandoned his signature use of gorgeous slow-motion imagery and sumptuous, saturated colors (think 300, Watchmen) for a more muted, chaotic brand of superhero cinema.
Despite its flaws, Man of Steel is an interesting science-fiction story that offers a fresh take on the Superman mythos. I’ve never been a huge Superman fan – I just couldn’t relate to the Big Blue Boy Scout’s invulnerability and unwavering goodness. Snyder’s film, while far from perfect, manages to present a version of the character I can invest in, with a story that pulls from [gasp!] the actual source material.
Man of Steel‘s influences include Geoff Johns’ Superman: Secret Origin, Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright, and Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, with a touch of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman: For All Seasons, just for good measure. Several lines of dialogue from the film, including Jor-El’s speech below, are taken almost entirely from Morrison’s comic:
You’ll give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.
As for the cast, square-jawed Henry Cavill gives the cryptic Kryptonian much-needed introspection and depth while Michael Shannon takes great pleasure in being the off-kilter megalomaniac who presents an actual threat to the Man of Steel. Amy Adams is a fine Lois Lane, but there just isn’t much for her to do in this film, though she can wield a Kryptonian blaster like a champ. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe are great as the superhero equivalent of “My Two Dads,” but their performances feel wasted on a film that can’t slow down to appreciate them.
Still, Man of Steel provides enough rock’em sock’em action and computer-generated spectacle to overcome its occasional blunders. Yes, it’s a somber affair that defies gravity and logic, but for those who have been waiting patiently for Superman to live up to his name, Snyder’s film delivers earth-shaking thrills on an epic scale.