Superman returns to the screen at last as Man of Steel releases in theaters today! But do the combined visions of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and David Goyer make it soar or fall? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Zach Snyder Written By: David S. Goyer; Based on the DC Comics Runtime: 143 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Clark Kent/Superman - Henry Cavill Lois Lane - Amy Adams General Zod - Michael Shannon Jonathan Kent - Kevin Kostner Martha Kent - Diane Lane Perry White - Laurence Fishburne Jor-El - Russell Crowe Faora - Antje Traue Lara Lor-Van - Ayelet Zurer General Swanwick - Harry J. Lennix Colonel Hardy - Christopher Meloni Dr. Emil Hamilton - Richard Schiff Steve Lombard - Michael Kelly Jenny - Rebecca Buller
Superman finally makes a triumphant return to the screen in Man of Steel, with a new vision courtesy of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, the pair that previously revived the Batman franchise for Warner Bros., who look to have similar success here. Along for the ride is another visionary in the form of Zack Snyder who brought to film such celebrated graphic novels as 300 and Watchmen.
Right off the bat the film establishes a sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book element that was unfortunately played way down for previous cinematic iterations of Superman, especially Bryan Singerís disappointing Superman Returns. The prologue witnesses Jor-El (Russell Crowe) making his Hail Mary play as his dying world, Krypton, is about to be torn asunder. Krypton has become a fascist society, where only artificial births are allowed. Jor-El and his wife, Lara (Zurer), imbue their naturally born son with the DNA code of Krypton (basically this movieís McGuffin . . . or Cosmic Cube). The nefarious General Zod (Shannon) attempts a coup of the Kryptonian government and goes to stop the infant Kal-El from leaving Krypton before it goes boom. Jor-El saves his son at the cost of his own life. Zod is arrested and sentenced to the Phantom Zone along with his followers.
The ship carrying Kal-El crash lands in Smallville, Kansas, and I think you generally know the rest. This is a new origin story for Superman though, so Snyder and Goyer do take certain liberties. The young Kal-El was adopted by native parents Jonathan (Kostner) and Martha Kent (Lane) and name him Clark. Clark grows up as an outcast, different from his peers because of the abilities granted to him by Earthís sun. The story is most effective in visually exemplifying in trying to allow us to see the world through the eyes of Clark Kent/Superman. How might a young Clark Kent, not fully in control of his powers see the rest of the world? It nearly drives him mad. Clark () as an adult spends his time as a drifter, keeping a low profile, helping people when he can with his gifts and trying to discover his purpose. Eventually heís able to unlock a Kryptonian relic on Earth, a special key and computer AI of Jor-El fills in the rest of the expository blanks and bequeaths him the iconic suit. Itís just in the nick of time too because Zod and his followers have escaped the Phantom Zone and arrived on Earth, and they will stop at nothing to gain Supermanís Kryptonian secrets.
Snyderís visual style and flare is extremely kinetic and powerful for this movie. At times, itís a little overwhelming. Youíve never quite seen a comic book superhero movie shot in such a visceral fashion. At times though, you have a feeling of wanting to grab the camera and just hold it still. There are numerous quick cuts in the action sequences. Other times, the techniques work quite well in reflecting the power the Kryptonians hold and can unleash.
The drawbacks come in the form of Goyerís at times haphazard script. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is able to pretty much conveniently be everywhere at every time. Logic is sacrificed a little far too often throughout the story. The Kryptonian government are given ample time to evacuate. They have time to incarcerate Zod and sentence him to imprisonment . . . but not to leave Krypton. Jor-Elís computer AI at one point suggests he and Lara accepted their deaths as some form of penance for the fascist society Krypton had become which doesnít really make sense. Little care is given to conceal the background and identity of Superman, so much so that maintaining the pretense almost becomes pointless.
Once the action gets going, it is nonstop. When Snyder shoots the Kryptonians going to battle, itís literally like titans shaking the earth to its core. Humans are nothing more than benign bystanders despite constant military intervention. While impressive to watch, itís concerning that there appeared to be a complete and utter disregard for innocent bystanders and collateral damage, even on Supermanís part. Buildings collapse and topple over. Thousands are likely killed in the damage, and Superman does not really take care to intervene until when absolutely convenient. At least in The Avengers, some care was shown on the part of the heroes to limit collateral damage, assisting and saving civilians, as well as giving orders to local authorities in how to help.
The movie also finds its strength through the performances of Superman's selfless, noble, and kind parents both of Kryptonian and Earthly origin. Through flashbacks we see the mark of left on Clark through his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent. It's probably the one role we've always wanted to see Kostner play, much like Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. Amy Adams is a much better, more appropriate Lois Lane than Kate Bosworth. There are many longtime characters from the comics who are represented here, even Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) makes an appearance. Though don't expect Hamilton's appearance to lay the groundwork for S.T.A.R. Labs and future DC Comics movies (besides one visual cameo reference). The story is strictly centered on Clark Kent's transformation into Superman.
The movie also commits a major grievance regarding the character of Superman. Itís easily a bold choice. One might even call it understandable. But itís still a direction and a choice I cannot approve of or abide. It will likely spur incessant debate among moviegoers, nerds, and fans alike. Without giving too much away, itís an act that goes well beyond some of the criticisms of Superman Returns.
That being said, Man of Steel is a fun superhero, action ride. It will likely conflict fans on many levels, but it is a Superman story for the world we live in today. Supermanís journey as a character is much stronger here as a person struggling to find his place in the world, and it's one that Cavill plays very well. We actually get to see a vulnerable and weaker side of Clark Kent that is really well done.
The 411: Flaws aside, this is a solid action-adventure movie. Seeing a more sci-fi/fantasy oriented vision of Krypton was great. There are no islands made of crystals this time. Instead, Superman has an actual threat to face. Some of the rather extreme and odd choices keep it short of being perfect or as effective as The Avengers, especially an act that there is no going back from that some fans might deem unforgivable. But I for one look forward to the debate and storm that will ensue.