“Out there, amongst the stars, he will be free.”
I’ll try and keep this review spoiler free and, honestly, there really isn’t that much to spoil. Everyone knows the blueprint of a Superman story, and Man of Steel is sometimes predictable in that regard but if you really don’t want spoilers, turn away now.
Man of Steel is a strange film to review because, after watching it, a couple of individual elements make me want to hate it. The fact that the film is nearly completely humourless (I say nearly completely humourless as there are one or two jokes in there, but Man of Steel is far removed from the days of The Adventures of Lois and Clarke). Secondly, another thing that should irk me is the fact that the film goes down the worn out ‘Nolan’ aesthetic of everything being a bit grey and washed out, because that communicates that the film is more mature and dark according to the Christopher Nolan school of film making. But the thing that annoys me most of all is that this all works. I was ready to be ‘that guy’, the one who hated the popular film (although it looks like half of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes beat me to it…) but I enjoyed the film too damn much. The elements that worked, really worked and those that didn’t weren’t too distracting. Sure it had problems, problems which I’ll go into more detail about but, for the most part, it was a success.
Like I said, the film tries to emulate the style of Christopher Nolan’s films with the dark, humourless tone, a tone which I rolled my eyes at when I heard about it. But in this fantasy world of aliens and lasers and space ships the more grounded approach to the material was mostly refreshing. I read somewhere that Chris Nolan helped with the script, written by superhero stalwart David S. Goyer, and then left the film in the hands of capable directer Zack Snyder. I’m glad of that. While I do love the Dark Knight trilogy, too much Nolan could be a bad thing. In the same regard, so could too much Zack Snyder. But, luckily, he restrains himself somewhat in Man of Steel making what I believe to be his best and most beautifully shot film to date. This isn’t like Snyder’s other comic book movies, Watchmen and 300; he hasn’t just adapted a comic book straight to the screen frame by frame, but rather he’s crafted an original Superman story. Of course the film feels like you’ve heard it all before because you have. Everyone knows about Superman’s origins but Snyder and Goyer make more it original than I was expecting and I was still taken aback by certain moments, even though I knew they were coming.
The performances in the film is another one of its high points. Russell Crowe is great as Jor-El, and even gets a few action scenes to himself, one of my personal highlights of the film. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are great as the Kent parents, even if Lane isn’t in the film all too much. Costner is perfect for the role of Jonathan Kent but he isn’t in the film enough to beat my favourite Johnathan Kent; John Schneider from Smallville. Amy Adams is good as Lois Lane. While she isn’t much more than a love interest or damsel in distress, she does play the part well. Laurence Fishburne makes a good Perry White, even if it feels he is only in the film to name check The Daily Planet. But on the the main stars; Henry Cavill is awesome as Supes’ but less so as Clarke Kent. He doesn’t have much to do as Clarke Kent, and most of the struggles of being an alien and dealing with his powers is done in the flashbacks to his childhood. But luckily, he plays the part of Kal-El brilliantly. He looks the part, and more importantly acts the part. He also perfectly communicates the human side of Superman better than I’ve seen in other films and shows, Smallville being the only other place I think this was done well. But, the real stand out performance in Man of Steel is General Zod himself; Michael Shannon. His performance as Zod blows even Terence Stamps out of the water and he becomes one of the best parts of the film. Not only that, but you can actually sympathise with him, he isn’t always the cold, calm Zod from Superman II or Smallville. He thinks he’s right, and that’s what makes him a great antagonist for the Man of Steel.
Another strong point the movie has is that it has awesome action. Yes, most of it is CGI, and I am one of those people who much prefer live action stunt work seen if films like Skyfall. But this is Superman we’re talking about, CGI has to be used, and in Man of Steel it’s used well. Brilliantly even. Trains get thrown, buildings collapse, alien ships fly through the air. Explosions galore. While the film does have slower moments, it is very action heavy, with the last 45 minutes or so being non stop explosions and carnage. Luckily, I’m still a kid at heart so I f***ing I loved it. It was some of the best choreographed action I’ve seen in a while, and puts other action heavy films such as The Transformers series to shame. This is SFX done right. But that’s not to say the non action scenes aren’t good, they are. And even in these scenes the visuals are awesome. One shot in particular of Superman disappearing into a mountain of skulls, was extremely memorable. The only thing that occasionally brings these quiet scenes down is the script. Its far from bad, but its nothing special either. There’s just not much in there apart from exposition and a few awesome lines from Zod and Jonathan Kent. This is defiantly a film that is better in the visual departments and even the character department. That’s something the film does well, making the most out of the Superman character, humanising him. In one scene he might be flying his enemies through silo’s in the fields of Kansas, but he’s doing it to protect his planet, and more importantly he’s protecting his mother.
Now onto the problems. While, like I said earlier, the problems don’t detract too much from the overall film and they shouldn’t stop you going to watch the film, they are still there. Again, the film is perhaps too straight faced, there was room to squeeze a couple of jokes in, even Batman’s funnier than this. Also the action scenes do have a tendency to do that thing that a lot of films from the 2000’s tended to do; being full of 9/11 imagery. As Variety writes; “(Snyder) channels the specific terror and chaos of 9/11; you see it in those brief scenes of small planes hitting skyscrapers, and in the lingering shots of ash-covered Metropolitans being pulled, traumatized but hopeful, from the rubble.” My problem with it is that Superman isn’t part of our world, and stuff like 9/11 or the war on terror (I’m looking at you Batman trilogy) shouldn’t even come into it. It wasn’t even original when Cloverfield did it in 2007. There are other ways to get an emotional response from an audience, emulating 9/11 is getting old real fast, to the point where instead of getting a reaction it’s simply getting annoying and sometimes feels kinda disrespectful. Now, after saying that, it feels even more disrespectful to say that this 9/11-esque imagery looks awesome. Talking about the action, while it isn’t a problem for big kids such as myself, the film is quite action heavy, and the film isn’t paced as well as it could be. The first half is full of flash backs to Clarke’s childhood but the second half is all action, and could have been broken up with another flashback. But like I said, I’m a big kid and a big film fan so I enjoyed all of this film, but it could be tiring for some.
The Bottom Line: An awesome superhero film and action film. This is the sort of Superman film we deserve and hopefully it will explore more area’s in the sequel. While it isn’t as good as Iron Man 3, it scores points for doing something more original with Superman and finally making him a better, more human character.
Reviewed By Tom