I honestly don’t know where to begin with my review of “Man of Steel.” There is so much buzz and expectation for this film that it’s hard to pin down a suitable talking point to start off with. Critics have been lukewarm to the newest Superman affair while they practically praised “Superman Returns” even though it was a one hundred fifty minute bore fest where not a damn thing happened. But I feel that talking about how other people feel about movies might undermine my own review. It’s just that the discussion around MoS, mostly dominated by people who didn’t like it, can be really infuriating. Especially when you consider how genuinely awesome it is.
What I probably liked the most about “Man of Steel” was its pacing. It covers a great deal, but does so at a breakneck speed and almost never wastes our time or assumes that we’re stupid. The movie is able to cover emotional and abstract concepts without dunking us in a hefty amount of muck. The script is able to move from plot point to plot point without being confusing or boring. Superman’s origins are shown to us mostly in flashbacks when the information is actually relevant. I felt that method allowed the movie to grow the character of Superman at a better pace instead of just cramming everything into the first half hour. My only drawback to the pacing is that it skips over some things that I felt might have been important. For example there is no scene that shows Clark actually leaving home to start his journey to discover himself. Sure we get the emotional motivation of why, but the point where he actually makes the decision is noticeably absent.
And to be completely honest with my review, I thought director Zack Snyder might screw the pooch here. I thought “300” and “Watchmen” were decent adaptations, but public reaction to them was overblown. And after the German porn level mess that was “Sucker Punch,” my faith in the final product began to wane. But deep down, I knew that if Snyder got a good script, he would make a good movie. Much like what happened with the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. And that is exactly what occurred here. David Goyer has taken his experience with the Batman movies and crafted a script with depth, emotion, and brains. The script isn’t genius level smart, but it actually knows what it is doing. But, to sight one problem, Superman does come to the rescue at the last second one too many times. But to be fair, that’s kind of what Superman does.
The script can only take you so far though, but thankfully the strong cast and directing pick up the rest of the slack. The cast is downright brilliant with almost everyone fitting into their roles perfectly. Henry Cavill, despite having the disability of being British, does a great job as Superman with the ability to convey emotion without much dialogue and performs admirably in the action sequences. Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe all have a strong understanding of their characters and don’t fall into any clichéd archetypes. The only real problem I had with the cast was Antje Traue as Zod’s Sub-Commander Faora. There is nothing really wrong with her performance as an actress, but her character is extremely underdeveloped and has the worst lines of the movie. But I’ll give her a pass because she is really hot in a German dominatrix who likes to cosplay as Evil-Lyn kind of way. However no mention of the cast can go without talking about Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod. It is hands down the most impressive thing I’ve seen in comic book movies since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Shannon is compelling, frightening, and engaging with his motivations without being overly sympathetic. It’s like watching Captain Ahab on steroids. A great deal of skill went into Zod’s character because Superman is only as good as the villain he fights. And in this case, it makes Superman pretty damn awesome.
And for the directing all I can really say is that Zack Snyder impresses. He thankfully avoids many of the clichéd matrixesque techniques we’ve seen in his past works in favor of methods more contemporary. My only real problem with his directing is that, aside from the shaky cam home video approach to some of the scenes, Snyder seemed to play it safe. After years of criticism, and the groan kick he took after “Sucker Punch,” Snyder didn’t seem to have the daring to experiment. Granted experiments can fail, and maybe he considered this movie to be too important to his career to play it fast and loose. But despite that, “Man of Steel” is still a beautiful movie to behold. With brilliant character and setting design, this film ended up visually stunning and a treat to look at. The action sequences used a little too much CGI for my tastes, but I suppose given the subject matter it couldn’t have been helped. Plus the military’s attack on the Kryptonian ship felt a little ID4ish, except it didn’t have chunks of retard flying everywhere. And speaking of the military, I liked how they took a proactive role in the movie instead of just sitting back to let Superman handle everything. It’s just one of those smart decisions that grounds the movie and keeps us from feeling we’re watching some kind of zany parallel world. The movie also has little touches to detail that shows that Snyder really does have a flare for the art. Seeing LexCorp in the background during the final fight with Zod was nice, and several other smart touches enhanced my viewing of the film. There are a few shots that were sacrificed in the name of crap 3D, but it’s barely noticeably. Just do what I did and spend the time rolling your eyes.
There are those who might be tempted to compare this film to the Richard Donner classic and its utterly inferior sequels. But to those people, I say pay someone five bucks to hit you with a bullwhip. The 1978 “Superman” was a great film in its own right, but that was thirty-five years ago. It’s just unfair to compare the two. If you’re going to compare comic book movies, I would suggest you compare it to “The Avengers.” And it is in this comparison that will probably decide if you like “Man of Steel” or not. Avengers was a very fun movie, but ultimately not a very good one. The musical score was horrible, there was only one good camera shot in the entire movie (the shot after where Hulk transforms at the final battle and the camera circles around the Avengers), and the script didn’t even have twenty percent of the amount of wit and characterization I expected from Mr. Joss Whedon. Still, the movie was a lot of fun and had much going for it despite its gaping flaws. On the other hand, “Man of Steel” is grim, lacks humor most of the way through, and can get very dark at times. If you thought Avengers was the end all and be all of comic book movies, then Steel might be too much of a punch to the gut for you. But don’t get me wrong, this movie is still Superman. We still get all the powers, the world changing decisions he is forced to make, and even a few Jesus metaphors. It’s just darker, closer to the ground, and harder on your senses for those who like their movies all soft and warm. And people who are only familiar with movie Superman and not comic book Superman might take issue with it as well, but personally I felt this new direction was bold. “Man of Steel” does have a few problems with it, but nothing that can’t be overlooked except maybe by the most joyless of people. Those flaws do keep the movie from reaching true greatness, but this might be as close as we’re going to get to a superb modern Superman movie. At least until they put Superman up against Darkseid. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that one.
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