For the past 33 years, an alien visitor has successfully concealed himself among Earth’s human population. His government name is Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), the adopted son of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent. His birth name is Kal, son of El. He’s the sole survivor of the planet Krypton, destroyed centuries ago by an overheated core. Gifted with abilities far beyond those of mortal men, Kal travels the country as a drifter, helping those in need while keeping his abilities secret. However, a coming crisis forces him into the limelight. Fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) now means to claim the earth as his own. In order to stop him, Hal must transition from mysterious good Samaritan to otherworldly savior. But will mankind embrace him?
Man of Steel is an attempt to reboot the Superman franchise, coming seven years after the amost irreparable damage inflicted by Bryan Singer’s woefully misguided Superman Returns. Zack Snyder takes the reins while The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan serves as producer and is given a story credit. David S. Goyer brings his considerable writing talents to the table. Nolan and Goyer performed a similar and hugely successful resuscitation of the Batman franchise. Superman is a much different character than the Caped Crusader. Nevertheless, Nolan and Goyer apply a similar aesthetic to the one they employed before. The results are surprising, if a bit unusual.
Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy reveled in darkness. Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh collectively stood in for the fictional city of Gotham (With the aid of some very subtle CGI). Man of Steel goes for that same level of grit, though with a much duller color palette. The effect, while not poorly done by any means, is more drab than realistic, and doesn’t quite fit the thematic elements of the film.
Snyder was given a wide breadth with the action set pieces. They frolic onscreen with the abandon of a hyperactive and destructive child. Superman is truly unchained, and his powers know no bounds. He and Zod engage in a wantonly destructive battle that rages from the streets to the stars above. It’s a bit much at times, and Amir Mokri is in dire need of a sedative judging by his camerawork. That being said, these sequences are true showstoppers.
Superman Returns wasn’t so much a sequel to Superman II as it was a remake of the original film. Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer attempt no such thing with Man of Steel. However, they pay proper tribute to Donner’s vision by way of numerous callbacks both of his Superman films. They also manage to up the ante in ways Donner could only have dreamed of in the late 1970’s.
Nolan is obviously no stranger to political commentary. As such, Man of Steel makes allusions to 9/11, Cold War paranoia, and the dangers of eugenics. It also plays up the Christian messianic metaphor nearly to the level of self-parody. Nolan also applies the kind of nonlinear structure that he’s been using since Memento and The Following. The results are somewhat less successful here than they were in Batman Begins,however, the film maintains its structural integrity.
Henry Cavill is very much a Superman for the modern age. He’s less an “overgrown boy scout” than a dedicated and loving enforcer. He’s essentially a bodyguard for humankind. As General Zod, Michael Shannon matches Cavill’s intensity. but, he never ascends to the iconic status of Terrance Stamp’s iteration of Zod, whose vocal inflections and line deliveries are now synonymous with the character. Lois Lane feels totally extraneous, and should probably have been saved for the sequel.
Man of Steel isn’t a perfect Superman film by any means, but its sheer intensity and determination are endearing. It desperately wants to succeed where its immediate predecessor failed and succeeds by a full stride, if not a country mile. The creative team will surely improve their blueprint for the second go around. For now, Man of Steel will suffice. I doubt that anyone will feel as though they didn’t get their money’s worth.
3.75 Out of 5
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