I’m More Than a Man in a Silly Red Sheet
A Film Review of Man of Steel
By: Lawrence Napoli
The DC/Warner Bros. alliance begins its rise to challenge Marvel’s Avengers Initiative with Man of Steel, and it certainly was a heck of a way to start. This movie is big; like Michael Bay on steroids, crack and crystal meth, BIG! It also looked really expensive to make with the expected cornucopia of CG effects constantly lighting up the screen. All of the different POV perspectives on these shots as well as the aerial angles kept the audience amazed and engaged. It also paid homage to the quaint origin story made famous in the Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner films in a way that communicates the drama and exposition without letting it run on for too long. It also established Henry Cavill as the face of the Superman/Justice League franchise moving forward because the man has serious acting chops, is in peak physical condition and can be as impactful with his dialogue as he is with his fists.
I am no particular fan of Zack Snyder mostly due to his efforts in Sucker Punch and Watchmen, but it’s all good because even he couldn’t screw up a story penned by the likes of David S. Goyer (Da Vinci’s Demons) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy). As fantastic as Superman’s abilities are and as epic a scale as this film presents, there remains a conscious effort in the script to keep the story grounded in reality. This was certainly one of the concerns when Man of Steel was first rumored to involve the man who created the definitive depiction of a realistic Batman onscreen. The concept of Batman isn’t as much of a stretch because with enough tech, training and resources, anyone can be Batman (which also happens to be that character’s appeal). NOT just anyone can be Superman, so how can an alien make a realistic connection with audiences that know full well that he is not human? You do it by highlighting character relationships, and in the case of Man of Steel, three keys unlock a character we can relate with. Superman’s relationship with his father, Jor-El, brings out his morality. His relationship with his human parents, the Kents, brings out his humility. And of course, his relationship with Lois brings out his determination and inspiration.
There's enough Lois & Clark, but there could have been more.
Those story elements were meant to converge on the question of whether a being with such powers should ever present him or herself to humanity, and just about every practical reason to remain anonymous is addressed from several perspectives, not just those within Superman’s camp. Unfortunately, the story also had to include a significant action element in the form of a bunch of pissed off Kryptonians with an axe to grind with the House of El, so Superman doesn’t exactly have a say in the matter. It’s a real shame, too, because extending a preemptive olive branch could have expanded the few scenes Superman shares with various American, government officials which gives the audience some laughs and food for thought as a plain speaking super being lays it all out for an organization that personifies the concept of control. Fighting Kryptonians also cuts into Superman’s relationship with Lois a bit as I feel the romance that clearly gets established right away, was a bit rushed – but I guess all the ladies swoon for the man with the big “S” for “Swag.”
Swag. That's right.
Clearly, the filmmakers wanted just about every basic element about this updated version of Superman to be firmly planted in the ground as quickly as possible before moving forward with any sequels or expanded fiction. Part of me appreciates this strategy for being extremely efficient by conveying Clark’s youth via flashbacks, while another part of me feels the drama from those missing moments take a back seat to explosions. It’s not an easy task to address an origin film in this way, but Goyer and Nolan make enough of the right decisions to error on the side of balance between the drama and action. Overall, the story is entertaining and intriguing without any significant lapses in continuity while managing to deliver a whole lot more of Kal-El’s Kryptonian heritage and the events that preceded his home planet’s demise.
Don't worry son. The origin tale will be quick and painless.
Do you know what $225 million tells me? It tells me that a movie with that kind of budget had better deliver some phenomenal visual eye candy via effects and CG, or else I’m demanding my money back. Thankfully, Man of Steel delivers the best onscreen effects and action sequences to date in the summer of 2013, and they all begin with the depiction of Superman’s powers. Not all of his iconic abilities are on display (as he’s clearly still learning to “test his limits”), but the ones he does show like flight, super strength, invulnerability and heat vision are very impressive. As excellent as they all look, the use of sound, from muffled grunts to the vibrations on the ground and in the air, enhances the guttural effort Kal-El exerts to do the amazing things he does. Kryptonian combat has a significant presence in the very beginning and end of Man of Steel which delivers fairly standard issue laser blasts, space ships and otherworldly technology at work. These all looked fine, but presented nothing you haven’t seen before in the likes of Avatar, T2 or (here’s an obscure reference) The 6th Day. I could say the very same thing for the destruction of Metropolis at some point, which features some pretty scary buildings collapsing all over the place that were inspired from movies like Green Lantern and just about every other disaster film (ahem, pun intended right there).
Uh, you guys know I'm on YOUR side, right?
I wasn’t as sold on the entire cast’s performance as our EIC outlined in his Man of Steel reflection. Actors like Diane Lane as Ma Kent and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White are there strictly for star power as their moments to shine are limited, and they don’t do too much with them when they are front and center. I was particularly unimpressed with Lane as she seems to overact the crotchety old lady persona a bit to sell her advanced age which the make-up department didn’t exactly hit a home run on either. Kevin Costner is almost in the same boat for this criticism, but his contributions were worth it thanks to the poignant moment that explains his character’s tragic passing. The best supporting character, by far, was Jor-El played by Russell Crowe who officially begins his comeback from Les Misérables right now. I respect that he got into a bit better shape for this film, but his impeccable line delivery, presence and ability to gaze through the camera’s eye resonates with the audience.
I don't wanna hear nothing about no Javert!
I never liked most of Superman’s rogue’s gallery nor the fact that we were going to revisit General Zod in this reboot once again. The first moment Michael Shannon spoke a single line of dialogue was an instant wash for his performance in my book because I could never get past the awkwardness of his voice. I don’t know if he was purposely trying to grate his rear molars as he spoke, but he seemed like an over-angry, over-powered, spoiled little jerk who couldn’t lead fish to water. The real villain that stole the show for me was Antje Traue as Faora-Ul who is fairly attractive in as plain as Hollywood gets, and her diminutive stature wouldn’t seem to pose much of a threat to Superman, right? Wrong! Not only does she kick some serious ass, but she delivers the perfect villain’s voice, stare down, threat and general demeanor. Why these crazy Kryptonians aren’t following her is completely beyond me.
Explain it to everyone how I'm a superior villain to Zod.
Of course, a Superman origin story ultimately boils down to him and Lois, and although I like the casting of Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in these roles, I haven’t quite bought into their onscreen chemistry which I am completely aware that they didn’t exactly have many opportunities to fully explore here. Cavill is (unfortunately) another perfectly cast, British born actor for this role thanks mostly to his exquisite physical condition and piercing blue eyes. He approaches his character with respect and dignity, so it matters not if he delivers dramatic lines in a spandex body suit. His performance as Superman isn’t going for adorable charisma like Christopher Reeve. He’s going for a simple man that has great ambitions for the future with even greater powers to accomplish them with. Adams could take a page out of Cavill’s book and loose a little “adorableness” to revisit the assertiveness she displayed in The Fighter in order to deliver a slightly less girly, Lois Lane. I like my Lois the way I like my coffee: BOLD!
I was going for "bold," but now I need dental implants.
I have no doubt that Man of Steel will probably be the best blockbuster, action adventure film you will see all summer long, so now’s the time to break out those loose dollars you were hiding in the cookie jar. This is a movie worth seeing on the big screen, but not necessarily on an IMAX screen as (once again) the 3D effect is nice, but it could be distracting to some and doesn’t deliver a game-changing experience. This movie sets up DC and Warner Bros. quite nicely to move their own franchise forward in a realistic-enough world that rivals The Avengers. The thing is, I don’t believe they could find a dedicated enough actor who has everything Cavill brings to the table and more (in the form of experience) to project the character of Batman on equal footing as the blue boy scout than Christian Bale himself. Seeing Man of Steel actually reaffirmed my belief in Justice League working as a film adaptation, but only with that particular Dark Knight. It’s just too bad that we didn’t get any post-credit teaser at the end of Man of Steel which my natural paranoia interprets as those who control the franchise not having a clear vision for their own future.