When they announced that they were going to make Man of Steel, the expectations for a second attempt at a redux were high. Superman Returns was a critical flop and still gets dragged through the mud (although I didn’t mind it) so director Zack Snyder had the pressure of directing something that was better. He didn’t have to do much. All he had to do was reach into his bag of cinematic tricks and decorate the screen with a decent story and his trademark Photoshop filter visuals. The result was a cinematic spectacle that takes a treasured superhero icon and grounds it into the Earth with humanity just as much as it let’s it bullet through the sky at exponential mach speed.
Next to Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel was at the top of my list of expected greatness of the summer blockbusters — this was solely based on the watered down Terrence Malick-esque trailers and the emphasis of Kal-el’s origin story. There was a small part of me that thought Snyder was going to Snyder-fy it, but based on the end result, you can tell that producer Christopher Nolan pulled the reins on Zacky. That being said, the movie delivered the goods.
The movie works as a quasi-prequel. In the beginning we see the planet of Krypton in peril. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) are trying to save their newborn baby, Kal-El, from their doomed planet — which is being raped and pillaged by a power hungry General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his Kryptonian gangsters. Before the planet explodes Deathstar style, Jor-El and Lara manage to launch their son to Earth. Shortly after, Zod *SPOILER ALERT* jacks up Jor-El. As punishment for being such a bad boy, the Krypton council of important people launch him and his homies out into exile. Shortly after, Krypton just explodes. Kal-El ends up on Earth to be raised on a farm as a human with his human parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, while Zod and his band of misfits eventually escape their pod of exile to head to Earth to go find Kal-El because it turns out that his Krypton daddy packed the key to re-building Krypton’s existence when they launched him to Earth.
During a discussion of the movie, I was surprised to find out that not many of my fellow movie writers enjoyed it. Naturally, I thought that people would share my opinion because I AM ALWAYS RIGHT…but because I am not a total asshole, I decided to listen to what people had to say.
One movie writer said the movie was too sad and emo. She said that Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) had no chemistry with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and essentially just a pretty face for the movie. I marinated for a moment on this criticism and understood what she meant.
The movie is very emo. As Clark Kent gets older, he realizes more and more that he is different — and not in a “hair growing in weird places” kind of way. He is different in a “I am super strong for some odd reason” kind of way. He’s rescuing kids from busses and saving men from burning oil rigs. The result is him becoming a reluctant hero. Mirroring this “I don’t want to be different” theme from X-Men is something, that to my knowledge, we have never seen in a Superman movie or TV show. He has always embraced his power and never tried to run away from it. Throughout the movie he wanders about the country with his chiseled abs and scruffy beard. He’s mopey. And for once we feel sorry for him. One moment in the movie that not only tugs at your heartstrings but rips them out and strums a sad song on it. It’s during a flashback when his father finally outs him out of the alien closet. Then, the young Clark looks up at Papa Kent and says, “Can’t I just keep pretending to be your son?” To which Papa Kent responds, “You are my son.” Even as I type this, it’s taking everything in my power not to feel that emotion people like to call “empathy.” Thus, he carries this burden with him all his life because it is so difficult to be a really attractive dude with superpowers.
Cavill is the perfect choice to play the man with the “S” on his chest. Not because he’s easy on the eyes, but because there’s an element of naiveté to him. Besides some TV and movies, he’s green to the scene. He has the right amount of hair and has a twinkle in his vacant eyes to be the perfect alien on Earth. As for his chemistry with Amy Adams — they did what they could with that. There wasn’t really that much strength in that romance because they were too busy trying to make Lois less of an annoying Girl Friday of Superman movies past and more of a Christiane Amanpour. They succeeded, but it’s too bad that the Lois and Clark in Man of Steel developed a romance as a responsibility rather than something the audience can invest in.
The thing that was in favor of Cavill was the cast that surrounded him. They made him look really good — especially Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. They couldn’t have casted a better Mr. and Mrs. Kent. If I were white and lived on a farm, I would want them to be my parents. Russell Crowe makes a desirable impression as his “father beyond the grave” and it mixes in the appropriate Hamlet appeal. And then there’s Michael Shannon at his screamiest. Shannon’s Zod was detestable, evil, and he certainly left some teeth marks in that role. There was no need for him to say “Kneel before Zod!” because he’d make you do it by just glaring at you. Cavill does end accomplishing a certain level of charm that Christopher Reeve injected into the character in the past Superman movies — it’s not replicated — but it’s there.
After all the dust settled from the apocalyptic-worthy destruction of Metropolis in a hefty (and a tad bit too long) fight scene in the end, one thing is for certain about Man of Steel: it gave soul to the franchise. It also slathered it with a heavy coat of CG effects…and for a summer blockbuster, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Man of Steel opens in theaters today.