Zack Snyder‘s (Watchmen & 300) long-anticipated dark and gritty Superman reboot has finally arrived, with the help of producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy). The dust has settled and the results are in. Is Man of Steel as epic as the initial teaser has led us to believe or as emotionally satisfying as the later trailers? Kind of. Snyder visually crafts his strongest-looking film yet, while the writing fizzles out as another middling effort from David S. Goyer. Man of Steel isn’t as great as one might expect, but it’s still very good.
Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is a drifter simply looking for answers. Where does he come from and why was he sent to Earth? What’s his greater purpose in life and what impact does he hold against the rest of the world?
Kent slowly finds what he’s been seeking for his entire life when a man from his home planet by the name of General Zod (Michael Shannon) invades Earth and threatens to destroy everyone and everything if they don’t comply. Kent’s only real Earth friend, aside from his “mother” (Diane Lane) and “father” (Kevin Costner), is Lois Lane (Amy Adams) — a reporter searching for a mysterious ghost of a man that has been traveling the world and trying his best to stay out of sight.
Superman is perhaps one of the most popular comic book characters of all-time and also quite possibly one of the most boring. I’ve never cared for Superman, because of his basically unlimited amount of powers. He and Captain America have always struck me as boring characters, because they barely have any flaws and almost always come off as the coolest cats in the room. It’s a dumb reason to hate on them, but I’ve just never found myself engaged with anything Superman.
Yet Man of Steel is almost always fascinating. Director Zack Snyder goes all-in when it comes to establishing the alien world of Krypton and the characters that inhabit it. His visual storytelling has always been impressive, but never this good. Man of Steel might be marketing itself as the Christopher Nolan gritty version of Superman, but this is definitely Snyder’s film.
It’s loaded with explosive creativity that comes oozing off of the screen. Krypton is fully fleshed out and detailed, with expansive set pieces that seem to go on forever, while Earth is just as large in scope when it comes to Superman and Zod tearing the shit out of Metropolis.
Snyder’s ability to increase the scale to epic proportions is worthy of praise, even if writer David S. Goyer gives him absolutely nothing to work with.
The film’s general plot line is fine, balancing between present and past by way of flashbacks. This is the birth of Superman and also the discovery of a purpose. Clark Kent is simply a lost soul that feels all alone in such a massive universe. Snyder wisely spends a bulk of the film’s first half slowly unveiling the character of Clark Kent, played with such positive demeanor by Henry Cavill.
I didn’t think Cavill had it in him to play the legendary character, yet he makes it work. Kent may be God like, but he’s still just a man looking for his purpose. Snyder best captures this with many shots of simple understanding and sympathy for the character, while Cavill hits it home with ability to keep Kent above water at all times. Too often do these reboots drift into the negative zones, focusing on doubt and uncertainty, yet Snyder and Cavill embrace it with a refreshing amount of positivity. It’s great watching Superman find his way in the world and it’s even better watching him make mistakes and learn from them without dragging the film down into an unnecessary block of self-pity.
But then Goyer’s writing comes in and mess everything up. Dialogue is literally read off of a script as Kent first learns of his true father Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe. Crowe is magnetic as the last noble fathers of Krypton, but he’s given nothing but forced monologues to spit out.
He fares better than Amy Adams, but he still suffers from the lines that are being forced upon him.
The only two actors that really pop off the pages are Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon. Costner is the film’s much-needed emotional core, often being revisited to inject any given scene with an extra layer of human emotion. Costner’s brief scenes in the film are highly important and essentially the film’s key to moderate success on a storytelling level. He drives Kent to be the man that he becomes and without someone as talented as Costner the role probably would have been sidelined.
Shannon demands your attention as the film’s baddie Zod. He’s a force of hatred and power and he amplifies Zod’s hunger for power by being both a loud and fearful leader and a physical obstacle that even Superman has troubles going toe-to-toe with. I love that Shannon finds that balance of being a menacing and yet caring villain. Zod is a bad person without a doubt, but his reasoning is certainly justifiable if looked at through his own twisted lens.
Man of Steel would be nothing without its action and Snyder understands that completely. The fighting here is absolutely epic in scope. It’s large and fluid and unlike anything before it. Snyder has without a doubt made the biggest comic book movie yet — one that literally sends characters through buildings after a punch to the face. I’ve never seen such well-choreographed destruction unfold on the screen before.
Snyder has always had a stronger eye for visuals over storytelling and Man of Steel is just further proof that he’s one of the best visual filmmakers of all-time. The shot with the boy wearing the cape will send chills up your spine, because Snyder knows exactly how to elicit a specific emotion with a specific shot or frame. Man of Steel is mostly a gorgeous-looking film that is never afraid to be bold and big and explore different worlds and creatures, while still staying true to producer Christopher Nolan‘s gritty and real aesthetics.
Another big home run for Man of Steel is music composer Hans Zimmer‘s score. His tracks are energetic and frightening and very different from his work with Nolan on The Dark Knight trilogy. His style remains the same, yet Man of Steel sounds like a completely revamped approach to the traditional scoring of such a big-budget blockbuster, especially for one about one of America’s most loved characters.
Man of Steel is a troubling film to discuss, because it’s both good and bad. The flimsy writing holds it back from being comparable to something like Watchmen, yet the action is groundbreaking next-level stuff that tops everything Snyder has done before, while also kicking the shit out of anything Nolan tried accomplishing with his Dark Knight trilogy. Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner and Henry Cavill give the strongest performances, while Amy Adams and Russell Crowe struggle bringing their characters to life due to writer David S. Goyer‘s awful character work. The relationship between Kent and Lane almost never works, yet Snyder covers all that up with high-quality action that actually carries a bit of emotional weight.
There’s going to be more Superman in the near future, whether WB green lights Man of Steel 2 first or Justice League and knowing that has me excited, because the flaws found here are easily correctable. Snyder has made the Superman film that I think most have been waiting forever for. It just so happens to be one that suffers from a weak story. Man of Steel is still pretty fucking awesome, because of the action and because of Snyder’s ability to capture it with such style, beauty and a strong understanding of how to make sequences that are so much more than flashy lights and explosions. Man of Steel has visual depth and that makes it an exciting summer film that you won’t want to miss.
Man of Steel – 8/10