Man of Steel

Cast:
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Michael Shannon as General Zod
Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Antje Traue as Faora
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
Christopher Meloni as Colonel Hardy
Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van
Tahmoh Penikett as Henry Ackerdson
Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton
Harry Lennix as General Swanwick
Rebecca Buller as Jenny Olsen
Michael Kelly as Steve Lombard

Directed by Zack Snyder

Summary:
“Man of Steel” is a solid reboot of the Superman films. While it is a tad serious and has some pacing issues, the fantastic cast and mind-blowing action will impress both comic book fans and general audiences alike.

Story:
“Man of Steel” is based on the 75-year-old DC Comic “Superman.” This film is a reboot of the series.

On the alien world of Krypton, Jor-El realizes that his people have damaged their world beyond repair and the planet is doomed to destruction. Unable to convince the Kryptonian leadership of the impending disaster, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van take radical measures to preserve their race. They illegally have a son through natural childbirth and plan to send him to safety on Earth. Their son, named Kal-El, offers the chance of a fresh start for the Kryptonian race and a symbol of hope for the human race.

But not every Kryptonian is willing to accept the destruction of the planet due to poor leadership. General Zod and his loyal followers stage a violent coup that puts him in direct conflict with Jor-El. Realizing that Kal-El’s ship holds the key to him seizing power on Krypton, he unsuccessfully tries to stop it. Zod’s coup is stopped and the rebels are quickly imprisoned. As he and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone, Zod swears he will hunt down Kal-El wherever he is.

Meanwhile, Kal-El arrives on Earth and is found by Martha and Jonathan Kent. They adopt him as their son, but they realize the major implication of their joyous discovery – we are not alone in the universe. Fearing what would happen if humanity discovered their son is an alien, Jonathan and Martha do everything in their power to raise him normally while hiding the fact that he’s different. But Kal, now grown up and named Clark Kent, must struggle with the question of whether he should hide his powers or boldly stand as the symbol of hope he was meant to be.

“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.

What Worked:
I’m a lifelong Superman fan. I grew up on the 1978 “Superman: The Movie” and it set the bar for comic book movies for me. I had Superman Underoos. I jumped off of my house with a red cape. And while I’m a Marvel Zombie when reading comics, there’s a permanent place reserved in my heart for Superman. So I wanted a great Superman movie as much as anyone. While I thought 2006′s “Superman Returns” had a lot of strong points, I also thought there was room for improvement. So did Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” improve upon its predecessor? I’d have to say for the most part yes. This film manages to take the strengths of each of the filmmakers to produce an impressive final product. You have the strong action scenes of Zack Snyder, the comic book sensibilities of writer David Goyer, and the reality-based approach of Christopher Nolan. They all come together to make a crowd-pleasing film.

What’s cool is that everyone will find something to relate to in this story. Christians will find biblical themes to take from it. The LGBT community is going to find themes they identify with. Some people will see it as a military film. Others will see it as an alien story. Fathers will identify with Jonathan and Jor-El, while mothers will identify with Martha and Lara. The whole script is crafted so that there’s something for everyone, and that makes a great movie-going experience.

“Man of Steel” has something for lifelong Superman fans as well as adults and children who know absolutely nothing about the character. For example, this depiction of Krypton is like something straight out of “Star Wars.”The alien technology and costumes are intriguing. The Kryptonian animals and landscapes are impressive. And the whole society and hierarchy is engaging. I could have watched an entire movie set only on Krypton with Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Michael Shannon as General Zod. Comic fans will be impressed with the new take on Superman’s alien homeworld while new fans will be immediately pulled into the story. There are other ways Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer break new ground. We’ve seen Clark Kent meet Lois Lane in many, many different ways in film, TV, cartoons, and comics, but never like this. Their first meeting is shocking, riveting, and unexpected. Even if you know Superman inside and out, you’re going to be somewhat taken aback. Another way they’ve broken new ground is by making a big part of this story an ‘alien first contact’ story. Superman doesn’t suddenly appear to the cheering of crowds. He’s seen as the first wave of an alien invasion, and that scares everyone. It’s different but plays well with the reality-based theme of Nolan’s Batman films. While the film does break new ground, there are still a lot of familiar nods to previous versions of Superman. When Superman learns to fly, he does it by enormous leaps like in the earliest incarnations of the character. There is a subtle line from “Superman II” thrown in at one point. There are other familiar nods for those ‘in the know,’ so keep an eye out for them.

While it’s nice to engage comic fanboys and general audiences alike, the thing people are going to love most about “Man of Steel” is the action. This film delivers it on a scale that makes “The Avengers” look like a pillow fight. The fights between Superman and General Zod’s forces is stunningly brutal as people are punched for miles, driven through buildings, and have their heads smashed into craters in the pavement. As a kid when I saw “Superman II,” I thought the fight between Christopher Reeve and Terence Stamp was as epic as they came. When I revisited it later, I realized it wasn’t quite as amazing as I remembered. However, the fights in “Man of Steel” are what I thought I was remembering as a kid, then amped up to 11. There is a major battle in Smallville that is jaw dropping (which actually includes Superman and Faora having an incredible smackdown in an IHOP, believe it or not) and then things are ratcheted up even further in the battle of Metropolis. They’re so impressive that the action scenes will erase any other problems you have with “Man of Steel.”

A big question on many people’s minds is whether or not Henry Cavill is any good. You can be rest assured that Superman is in good hands with Cavill. He does a great job in the role, American accent and all. First off, he looks great. With the chiseled jaw, manly looks, and god-like physique, he makes the Super-suit look great. You don’t even miss the red underpants (I also think this is the first Superman that has some chest hair peeking out of the neckline of the suit.) Performance-wise, he’s good, too. While this Superman has some angst, it’s appropriate angst. He’s trying to figure out his role in the world. He’s unsure if he’ll be accepted. He’s had nobody else to confide in, so when Lois Lane comes along you buy into why he’d gravitate towards her. So while he’s angsty, it’s appropriate for where the character is in his life (Though I will say I hope he’s past that in a “Man of Steel 2.”) Overall, a big thumbs up for Henry Cavill as Superman.

The other standout is Michael Shannon as General Zod. Every moment he’s on the screen, the energy in the film is significantly increased. He has this great Roman emperor look about him. He’s also less of a caricature than Terence Stamp’s version was. This Zod has a legitimate reason to overthrow the Kryptonian leaders. His ‘big plan’ is an understandable motivation for his character to attack Earth. And while you have no problem wanting to see Superman beat him, you also sympathize with Zod somewhat. That makes him a much better villain overall. And his battles with Superman are on a titanic scale. Their final fight sets the bar high for action movies this summer.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Russell Crowe sets the tone for the entire film early as Jor-El. As I mentioned, I could have watched an entire film with just him on Krypton. Kevin Costner also is excellent as Jonathan Kent. He has some of the amazing father-son moments that give the story much of its heart. The same goes for Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Amy Adams is pretty good as Lois Lane. She’s more in the Margot Kidder realm of feisty, foul-mouthed reporter than some of the other versions. Antje Traue doesn’t have many lines as Faora, but she is visually striking. Her battles with Superman are quite impressive. Laurence Fishburne doesn’t do all that much as Perry White, but we might get to see more of him in a sequel. There are a lot of favorites from TV shows among the cast, too, and they all get moments to shine. You’ll see Christopher Meloni from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani from “Battlestar Galactica,” and Harry Lennix from “Dollhouse.”

While there is no post-credits scene like in the Marvel movies, there are Easter Eggs sprinkled here and there throughout the film. As seen in the trailers, “LexCorp” is seen plastered here and there. I was told there are others surprises, but I have to admit that I completely missed them if they were there at all. They must be so subtle that it will take multiple viewings to catch them all.

One final note – in the big finale, Superman does something that’s going to be a major source of debate among fans and moviegoers alike. I heard people walking out of the theater talking about it and my two young sons were also discussing it in the car on the way home. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone else debate it when it is widely released. While I won’t spoil it here, I’m looking forward to seeing “Man of Steel” generate some healthy discussion in a way that many movies fail to do.

What Didn’t Work:
While I thoroughly enjoyed “Man of Steel,” I did feel it had some problems. First of all, it is nearly humorless. There is one joke when Superman learns to fly, but otherwise the film is almost entirely serious. You can count the lighter moments on one hand. That makes it lack some of the heart of “Superman: The Movie” or even “The Avengers.” There were several moments in the film where a joke could have easily been included, but they played everything entirely straight. It ultimately made the film feel like it was missing something.

The pacing is also slightly off. The first act on Krypton is fast-paced, engaging, and overall excellent. The second act where an adult Clark Kent wanders the Earth trying to find his place in the world is rather slow and melancholy. That was a major criticism of “Superman Returns,” so it’s strange to see it repeated here to the degree that it is. But what’s odd is that despite the fact that the pacing is slow, it feels like the film glosses over his origin through a bunch of quick flashbacks. It’s this strange case where it feels really slow yet rushed at the same time. Things don’t pick back up again until General Zod appears on Earth ready to pick a fight. Only then does the film ratchet back up for the final hour, and it’s all action until the credits roll.

There were some other problems with the story as well. While the fact that the world might panic at the revelation of alien life is played up as it should be, it’s over-played. Jonathan Kent tells Clark that he maybe should have let a bus load of his teenage peers drown in order to avoid creating a panic in the world. Perry White refuses to run a story in the Daily Planet about an alien living among humanity because it might cause panic. That doesn’t sound like a modern newspaper editor. It’s all just way over-played. And when the existence of alien life is actually finally revealed… mankind actually takes it pretty well all things considered. Another major misstep is that Superman himself never gets a real introduction to the world. The first time he ‘comes out,’ it’s only after General Zod has arrived on Earth and called for his surrender. He really needed a first moment to be reveal his existence and be a hero, much like Lois Lane being saved in the helicopter in the first Superman movie. After having a “Here I am. Now what?” moment, the rest of the story should have played out. But with an already 2 hour 30 minute running time, that would have been difficult to shoehorn in.

I went into this movie having avoided as many spoilers as possible. While I actually visited the set while they were filming it, I didn’t really learn all that much about the plot. I only watched the trailers and commercials. And, unfortunately, I felt like 90% of this movie was spoiled. Almost every moment in the film can be seen in the commercials and trailers with few exceptions. The end result is that you can piece together most of the movie before every walking into the theater. I felt somewhat let down after having been so conscientious about avoiding details.

While the Hans Zimmer score is OK, it doesn’t hold a candle to the John Williams score. Williams’ score gave the movie heart, a soaring heroic feeling, and it was something you walked out of the theater humming. It added a lot of emotion to the story and took it to another level. Zimmer’s score is really background noise in comparison. I think Zimmer is really one of the better composers working today, but I lament the passing of classic scores that actually had a theme. I think most directors today treat their scores as an afterthought rather than a storytelling tool.

Unlike a lot of people, I enjoy seeing films in 3D. If I have a choice of 2D or 3D, I’ll take the 3D option. But I actually screened “Man of Steel” in 2D and I’m glad I did. 3D doesn’t work very well when the director uses a ‘shaky cam’ and Zack Snyder does that a lot. Jor-El is seen talking to the Kryptonian leaders and the camera is shaking. Jonathan Kent is quietly talking to his young son sitting on a pickup truck and the camera is shaking. Combine that shaking with 3D and I think you would have a visual mess. Now that I’ve seen it in 2D, I do plan to revisit it in 3D, but I think you may want to plan accordingly depending on your preferences.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, this is an action-packed, crowd-pleasing reboot to the Superman franchise. This is the “Batman Begins” of Superman. While it’s not a perfect film, it’s more than capable of giving Superman the revitalization it needs and is a successful step up from “Superman Returns.” You will walk out of the theater immediately wanting to see “Man of Steel 2.”

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