It has been seven and one half decades since Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1 in June 1938. Since then, we have seen many revisions, especially in his big screen carnations, of this most popular and resilient of super heroes. The latest reimagining of this iconic figure comes to life, again, with the “Man of Steel.”
Fans of the longtime Superman franchise have been impatiently waiting for their favorite super hero to come to the big screen once again. The wait is over but will the die hard fans like what they are about to see? I am thinking not. Producer Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder attempt to jump start the Man of Steel with copious and dazzling special effects and not much else.
They give us far more back story of the man from Krypton, his birth, his parents, Kryptonian politics and planetary disaster. Young Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline as 9-year old Clark and Dylan Sprayberry as 13-year old C.K.) is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) when the boy’s escape ship lands on their farm. Hiding his secret powers, he must wait for the right moment to reveal his true self to the public.
That moment happens when Superman (Henry Cavill) must protect the Earth from the vengeful Kryptonian overlord, General Zod (Michael Shannon), and his minion who threaten to destroy the planet if the humans do not turn over Superman to his control. The film is about the many battles between the Man of Steel and General Zod and his super-powered henchmen. Watching people impervious to pain and injury beat the snot out of each other, decimating Metropolis city, tumbling it down on its inhabitants, wears thin. For a guy who is for “truth, justice and the American way” and dedicated to protecting Earth and its inhabitants, not a lot of care is actually taken by Superman to protect his adopted people.
There has been a great deal of brouhaha over the casting the latest Man of Steel (Henry Cavill). The actor has the requisite handsome face and brawny build but he is left to look confused and out of place. I do not know when General Zod came on the scene in Superman’s history but the filmmakers bring him to the fore immediately. Michael Sheen is only a two-dimensional version of the destructive general. The role was played far better by Terence Stamp in the 1980 incarnation, “Superman II,” which is far better than anything we have with “Man of Steel.”
The constant combat becomes the same old thing very quickly with Superman punching Zod (or vice versa) through a building, smashing concrete into razor sharp projectiles hurling in all directions. That cannot be a good thing for the citizens of Metropolis. After almost two a half hours of F/X cacophony, the filmmakers tease us with the possibility of taking us to the Superman story we had hoped for with “Man of Steel.” I know I feel cheated. I wonder what the real fans will think. I give it C.
With Krypton on the verge of implosion, General Zod (Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter," "The Iceman") attempts an overthrow of the ruling committee whose energy mining has devastated the planet's core. Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) has another plan, he and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, "Munich") having just given the first natural birth in centuries, and although he dies at Zod's hands, he succeeds in sending his son Kal-El and the codex which will ensure the survival of their species to Earth where the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), Kansas farmers, will raise the boy, keeping his secret as a "Man of Steel."
With a story credit going to producer Christopher Nolan and his Batman trilogy's screenwriter David S. Goyer on board, it's clear that this Superman reboot is aiming for the dark side. But director Zack Snyder ("300," "Sucker Punch") gets mired down in origin story-itis, dwelling on the science fiction aspects that have less to do with the Superman than his planet's story. It's telling that the film's most emotional and heroic scene belongs to Kevin Costner.
We touch base with Clark Kent as a young boy (Cooper Timberline, later Dylan Sprayberry, both well matched to Cavill) trying to come to grips with the over stimulation caused by Earth's atmosphere in school, his odd behavior marking him an outcast. When his school bus plunges over a bridge, young Clark (Henry Cavill, "Red Riding Hood," "Immortals") cannot resist the urge to save everyone and witnesses draw unwanted attention. The adult Clark drifts from job to job trying to maintain his human facade, but when a large object is discovered underground, encased in 20,000 year old ice, he's spied by reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). His actions on board the Kryptonian ship also attract the notice of Zod, who, along with his followers, come to Earth demanding he be turned over.
And so, at its core, "Man of Steel" is about the melding of Kal-El and Clark Kent, a man granted super human powers on his adopted home struggling to find balance. Look and you'll find Christ allegories. Snyder, however, seems more interested in rampant destruction - by the time the film's coda comes around you'll be left wondering just how The Daily Planet building was still standing. Smallville's center becomes a battlefield where planes and trains are used in hand to hand combat. The film's look is a mishmash, Snyder's penchant for desaturation evident and annoying. Director of photography Amir Mokri ("Fast & Furious," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon") certainly makes Cavill look good, but there's so much artificiality flying around the screen, it's distracting, glowing blue lights on ships calling more attention to themselves than highlighting the craft as intended. There is one great effect where Krypton's history is animated behind the actors like a great evolving silvered Diego Rivera mural, but it also appears metal pin art was big on the planet, their communication stations supplied by Brookstone. Be forewarned that the film was not shot in 3D, but converted, an unnecessary addition.
One character comments that Superman is hot, and Cavill certainly looks the part. He gives the role a conflicted dignity. Shannon is a ruthless Zod, but Crowe, whose 'spirit' keeps popping up, is an uninteresting foe, perhaps confusing Krypton for Vulcan. Costner is the film's moral compass and, supported by the maternal Lane, the film's greatest asset. Also notable is Christopher Meloni ("42") as Colonel Hardy, the man who decides Superman is not an enemy. Harry Lennix ("Titus") is on hand for an Obama drone jab.
"Man of Steel" booms with portent but is weak in character development. It's just good enough to warrant the inevitable, hopefully better followup.
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