Here the short of it, for anyone looking to make a decision based on what’s being written here (spoiler free part):
Man of Steel is a great film, though has it’s flaws. The film is a coming of age story of an individual who knows what he’s capable of, but in fearing the world’s reaction to his existence, keeps it at bay until he can discover who and what he is. Where Marvel celebrates the removal of the Masked Hero (with Iron Man), DC looks towards giving the audience a reason why Superman has to be Clark Kent, which I thought worked very well. Carried by some fantastic casting, the film manages to raise the stakes for Superman (and the damage level of anywhere there’s a fight – I’m talking Dragonball Z levels of damage) in a way that up until now really wasn’t depicted well. Rather than taking the lazy route of Superman Returns (which just took Superman II’s ending and ran with it, saying that III and IV just didn’t happen), Man of Steel tries to re-invent things a little, which works on some levels, but not on all.
The faults of the film lie in the same problems that plagued the entire Dark Knight Trilogy. There’s a scene or two that ends without “closing the loop” and work within a bubble of action – a catastrophe occurs for one or two people, but before you can wonder how everyone else in the area fared, you’re left to believe “Well, let’s just assume they’re all okay and everything was fixed.” It’s the same as the Joker throwing Rachel Dawes out of a window and leaving the audience to believe that the Joker’s crew just left the way they came with no fuss or muss. The film also suffers from the physical fight issues of “Batman Begins”. It all moves so fast that in some cases, you’re left with this shaky-cam feel. It almost warrants a second viewing just to try to see the punches / kicks you may have missed the first time around. And the last act has a lot of that. This is the thing that may hurt the film with older movie goers. Imagine having something you’ve grown up with for who knows how long displayed at a speed so fast, it moves like a video game? That could be jarring.
And for those of you want to read more (it may get just a little – very little – on the spoilery side here):
I’ll start with this. I’m not a huge fan of Superman overall. Although I’ve seen all of the previous film (many of them at the movies), I’ve always thought of Superman as a seriously overpowered character. With the pieces of his own planet being the only thing that could hurt him, what were the chances anyone could find that stuff? For this, I found the Marvel characters more interesting and relatable. How many stories can you really write about the Hulk, or Namor / Aquaman for that matter? That’s where I put Superman in the scheme of things.
That said, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel did manage to invoke an emotion in me that I’ve never felt for the character in all these years – Sadness. It was like watching a Bond film and actually worry about Bond, imagine that. You figure this guy has all these powers, he can frickin fly, dammit. He has heat vision, x-ray vision and freezing breath. One could choose, with all that power to just dominate humanity. It’s Clark’s parents – all of them – that give him the power of choice. To decide as he grows to become who he wants to be and how to use those abilities. That has to be pretty difficult. One scene hit home for me, involving Clark learning an ability. It’s short, but reflects the isolation of someone who is considered very different from those around him.
I loved Man of Steel. It’s does have its issues, but for me it’s such a step in a better direction for the Superman franchise. That isn’t to say that the films before it were terrible or horrid (save for Quest of Peace, which was utter crap), but Man of Steel brings so much more action and love for the character overall. Where Superman Returns was more of a drama with slices of action, perhaps Man of Steel is best consider a reversal.
When it comes to the story – penned by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, and with Goyer doing the screenplay – I liked where it went. It didn’t try to recreate anything from the first two movies, nor did it sway so far away from it that you wondered what it was all for (Amazing Spider Man, with its thousands of radioactive spiders that could make any scientist Spider-Man with a well timed bite). The origin parts are delivered piecemeal though flashbacks, which allowed the whole story to flow pretty evenly. It’s when the movie gets into the third act – the “Hero has to face said Event” sequence that Goyer loves so much that it starts turning right back into the Batman Begins train sequence. At least the level of the event is big enough so that only Superman could really deal with it, but personally, I’ll admit that I wanted a bit more for what was done.
Casting wise, I don’t think they could have done much better than this. Henry Cavill, who I remember from 2002’s The Count of Monte Cristo and Showtime’s The Tudors, is damn near perfect as the Man of Steel, though he has so much seriousness to him that you wanted to say…”Hey, Hakuna Matata, dude. It’ll all work out. Just lighten up a little.” There’s very little playing around here. Then again, given the way the character was written this time around, he doens’t have all that much to laugh about, I suppose.
Amy Adams really isn’t the Lois Lane I expected. She’s not written in the style of the intrepid reporter that has to get herself in trouble, but still manages to find herself facing problems in the pursuit of a good story. She wasn’t bad at all, really, but one smart thing the story does is forces her to have to be in the mix of this in less of a spectator role and more of a participant. That I enjoyed.
I gave Michael Shannon a lot of flak for his performance in last year’s Premium Rush, but I owe him an apology. All that craziness in that film is just gone here, his General Zod is subdued and even. I also enjoyed that they gave him something more to work with other than “Dominate the creatures of this planet because we hate the son of Jor-El”. His Villain has a fully plausible reason for what he’s doing, so much so that you could almost empathize with it. He’s not very different from Magneto against the X-Men in that fashion, and I felt it added quite a deal to this story. Don’t get me wrong. Terrence Stamp was great, and his “Kneel Before Zod” was always cool, but the premise in Superman II was a little odd. I figure they’d get bored with us kneeling after a while and just leave the planet once discovering our love for reality tv (Pawn Stars for me).
Someone pointed out online that both of Kal-El’s parents were Robin Hood. Both Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner do indeed play Clark’s fathers and both are used better in this than in previous versions. Each character has a view in what Clark can be become, and both individuals seem to be right, but between the two I thought Costner fared better. One thing about Crowe, he’s given quite a bit to do in this film, which surprised me. I did really didn’t expect to see much of him in this.
Diane Lane is a sweet Martha Kent. While I love Lane in her movies, I don’t know. I kind of feel anyone could have played that. She performs the role well, though. Laurence Fishburne makes for a good Perry White, channelling his character from Hannibal, as does Christopher Meloni as a Military General. I really want to see more from Meloni, actually. The scene stealer, by far (and future Hottie of the Day, if I can find enough pictures of her) is Pandorum’s Antje Traue as Zod’s henchwoman, Faora. Every scene she’s in makes her to be that Darth Maul / Hellboy kind of supporting baddie, providing as much of a challenge to Superman as Zod. And for the time she has on screen, Ayelet Zurer sells it totally as Lara, siding with her husband to send their child away for a chance at a better life. That can’t be an easy decision for anyone or anything, but I could at least feel she was bothered by it.
Personally, I didn’t want another origin tale. The way I view it, some of these characters are so burned into our minds that we really don’t need to know the back story. However, Man of Steel does provide an origin tale that seems to make sense with the way things are today. We don’t trust what we don’t understand and unless we can catalog and easily reference it to something comparable, we usually consider it something bad. As this story tells it, Superman may or may not have the luxury to openly say “Hey, I’m Kal-El, from Krypton, let me walk among you.” as easily as Tony Stark could proclaim he was Iron Man.
As for the DC Cinematic Universe, if this is the first film that’s going to lay the groundwork, it’s a nice start. It doesn’t leave any breadcrumbs for audience expectation for a Justice League movie, but if DC is smart, they’ll get whatever the next movie they want to do started right after this. That’s the hope, anyway.
With a new direction in tone also comes a new score. Hans Zimmer knocks the soundtrack out of the ballpark with this one. Bringing together nearly 12 drum legends for percussion (including Sheila E. And Jason Bonham), Zimmer creates a theme for the hero that will undoubtedly be reused in sports venues for years to come. It’s uplifting in places and creepy in others. Some themes borrow a little bit from his own Angels & Demons, but this is something Zimmer is known for. Having listened to the score for most of the week, I’m already humming it off and on.
And what about the kids? The kids should be fine seeing this. There’s a childbirth sequence in the very beginning that may require some explaining to the littlest of viewers, and there’s violence all over the place, but all it’s worth, there’s not a whole lot of blood and very little gore. Nothing anyone who plays Call of Duty on the regular couldn’t handle.
Oh, one more thing. The 3D is good here, particularly in the flight sequences, but you’re not really missing anything if you happen to catch it in 2D. Note that there isn’t anything after the credits with this film.