Man of Steel

Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by Zack Snyder; Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane

Jun 14, 2013 Web Exclusive
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Let's cut to the chase. Is Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), a good film? Yes. Does Henry Cavill fit the part of Superman? Yes. Is Man of Steel better than the Bryan Singer-directed Superman Returns from 2006? Yes. Is it on par with the Richard Donner-directed Superman starring Christopher Reeve?  Not so much. Why? Here's the litmus test: the day after you see Man of Steel, pinpoint its most memorable scenes and consider whether you'll still remember them fondly 10 years from now. In the moment, however, as Man of Steel is unfolding on screen, it mostly satisfies high expectations. It's visceral, eye-popping, and ephemerally moving while largely upholding the traditions and ethos of the Superman pedigree.

The film comes burdened with a unique predicament: its box office will be expected to best Singer's effort to reboot the franchise, and its quality too will be measured against Superman Returns as well as the 1978 film with Reeve, as the origin stories chronicled in Man of Steel and Superman cover much of the same territory: Superman, born Kal-El on the dying planet of Krypton, is sent by his father, Jor-El, to Earth, where he'll not only survive but have powers far greater than any human;  on Earth, he is named Clark by his adoptive parents, the Kents, who raise him in a Kansas farm town.  Given that most viewers going into Man of Steel know these details, it's an effective wrinkle to see much of Clark's backstory transpire in nonlinear fashion. The tactic might undermine mounting sentiment, but it keeps us from guessing what will come next. When we meet Clark Kent, he's an adult drifter, and for a period it seems as if the film will skip his rearing. Also, anyone expecting Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to meet at The Daily Planet will be surprised. In effect, we learn Clark's story the way that Lois does, in fragments, as she tries to piece it together by following a trail of clues.

Screenwriter David S. Goyer, who collaborated with Christopher Nolan on the Dark Knight films, wrote the screenplay for Man of Steel from a story idea conceived by him with Nolan. Much of the dialogue is forgettable—there are missed opportunities for humor, and nothing in the way of,"He is, in my 40 years in this business, the fastest typist I've ever seen"—but crucially, the conflicts that Man of Steel's characters face resonate, particularly in the case of Superman's nemesis, General Zod (Michael Shannon), whose destructive ways are not driven by evil but a mission to revive the Kryptonian race.    

Man of Steel has a long running time of 143 minutes, but it moves fast, decidedly faster than Singer's film, and too fast for veteran actors Russell Crowe (as Jor-El) and Kevin Coster (as Clark's Earth dad, Jonathan), who seem to be rushing through their lines by rote. At the expense their intimate scenes, we get long stretches of havoc and destruction in the action sequences. Though those scenes are often thrilling and distinguish Man of Steel from its predecessors, do they distinguish themselves from other summer movies? There's one striking POV shot of a toppling building that's chilling and will conjure 9/11, but it's also similar to what we saw in Nolan's Inception. The battles on Krypton at the beginning of the film seem directly out of the maligned Star Wars prequels. And Cavill's hulking Superman also seems reminiscent of Arnold's Terminator at times. With Man of Steel owing so much to other movies, what will films in the future take from it?

Idealism is prevalent through Man of Steelthe film's characters are presented with numerous moral choicesbut it's also a harsh and unromantic film. Superman isn't saving cats from trees and winning over the public with good deeds, he's winning over the U.S. military. The child Clark Kent is riddled with anxiety. Cavill embodies the solemn sides of Clark Kent and Superman well, but he isn't given the opportunity to do much else. One of the biggest distractions with Singer's film was the idea that Clark Kent's glasses were still enough to fool everyone from thinking that he was Superman. You'd think today's screenwriters would be more savvy. Goyer and Nolan have worked around that, thankfully, but in doing so, they've also deprived the film of some levity and Cavill of showing range. He and Adams don't have much time to forge chemistry either because the action gets in the way.

That doesn't seem to matter so much when you're there in the theater being dazzled by the spectacle, but it might years down the road when you try to think about what you especially liked about Man of Steel. For Superman Returns, Singer used the classic John Williams score from the 1978 film. Part of the reasoning was that the 2006 film was a sequel to the 1978 and 1980 films. But how could anyone come up with a better Superman theme than that anyway? Snyder's film goes without the Williams music and uses a score by Hans Zimmer, which incorporates electric guitar and a drum orchestra. The main theme, which is melodically simple and somewhat evocative of Randy Newman's theme for The Natural, works for the most partfar better than the bombastically played one-note orchestrations for Inceptionbut ultimately is no match for the Williams theme.

In the 1980s, Chris Elliot would parody Bob Hope's frequent unannounced walks-ons on The Tonight Show by surprising Letterman's Late-Night audience with walk-ons in character as Marlon Brando. On The Tonight Show, the band would strike up Hope's theme, "Thanks for the Memory," as he entered the stage. For Elliot as Brando, Paul Shaffer would play Williams' Superman theme, a winking jab at Brando's super lucrative but brief role in the comic book film as Jor-El. As exciting as Man of Steel is, there doesn't seem to be anything about it that will transcend Superman legend to enter the public consciousness in the same way. Although, that remains to be seen.

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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John M
June 14th 2013

Christopher Reeves is still the Standard Bearer of who Superman IS.  I would rate this rendition of Superman as a 5, basically an average action flick.  I was unimpressed by the 3D effects.
The final showdown with Zod was uncalled for.  Superman is NOT a murderer.  With this scene, the movie does a tremendous disservice to the legend and legacy of the Superman franchise. The idea that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, would allow such a perversion is appalling to the iconic character we have known and loved for 75 years.