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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Man of Steel’ (2013): Review

New Man of Steel Poster

Directed by: Zack Snyder || Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan || Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe

Music by: Hans Zimmer || Cinematography: Amir Mokri || Editing by: David Brenner || Country: United States, United Kingdom || Language: English

Running Time: 143 minutes

The original superhero has seen his fair share of big-screen action, what with the original motion picture series being released to significant commercial success throughout the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Recently though, aside from a brief appearance in 2006 with Superman Returns, the world’s most recognizable superhero hasn’t seen much action as far as feature-film releases go, with most of the comic book-attention being divided between Christopher Nolan’s reborn Batman franchise (2005, 2008, 2012) and the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (2008-present). It seems that, until now, the original American icon that is the one and only Superman, has been overlooked for reasons unknown.

man of steel montage

Clark must journey from the boy with a conscious (above) to the Man of Steel (below).

That was the case until Man of Steel was announced a couple years ago, with the main news of interest being the Dark Knight team of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer would produce and write the script, respectively, while Zack Snyder, of 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009) fame, would direct. From the crew’s credentials alone, there seemed to be an obvious attempt to make DC Comic’s Superman more like the Dark Knight trilogy, with a noted emphasis on grounded combat and darker emotional undertones. It made sense not only commercially, but from a theoretical standpoint as well. Both Superman and Batman are the most famous properties of DC and share the same fictional universe in the comics. Both characters’ extensive lore include a broad range of portrayals and narrative tones.

The only thing that puzzled me was how a Superman-movie would function in a grounded, realistic universe similar to the Dark Knight films. The simple fact that Superman can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, is faster than a locomotive, and can leap buildings in a single bound, would seem to clash with the toned-down, relatable world of Nolan’s Batman. This was the main question in my mind as I awaited Superman’s return to the silver-screen. Ultimately, the dilemma was how could Nolan’s style come to grips with the unique world of Superman? How could one pull it off in a way that was grounded, modern, and most tricky of all, realistic (at least by comic book-movie standards)?

In the end, the team of Snyder, Nolan, and Goyer came to grips with how to make Superman succeed in a modern-day environment that echoed The Dark Knight, but the end product is far from flawless. Man of Steel (MoS) is at its best when its story remains a personal, intimate one. While the special FX are cool, the whole experience sinks or swims on the character of Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill). It doesn’t compare well to Nolan’s origin-story in Batman Begins (2005), which felt incredibly personal from it’s protagonist’s humble beginnings to triumphant superhero creation. That’s not to say that MoS doesn’t also feel emotional, it just doesn’t match the raw feelings of Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman. 

Where it does match Batman Begins is in its overall structure. Like the Batman-reboot, MoS starts with its protagonist as a young adult, following his slow transformation into the hero we know he will become, with a heavy emphasis on out-of-order flashbacks to establish the character’s childhood backstory, motivations, and family history. This framework functions alright, but it isn’t as fluid as Nolan’s implementation. Clark Kent is likable enough, but he’s not the outwardly relatable, tortured soul that was Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. Cavill feels too reserved and soft-spoken to convey much of a colorful personality.

faoura el man of steel smallville fight

Screenshots don’t do the Smallville-battle justice. This shit is Dragon Ball Z-action done right.

Much the same can be said for the rest of the cast. It’s a mixed bag as far as casting and characterizations go. Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, and Diane Lane are solid as love-interest Lois Lane, Clark’s biological father Jor-El, and antagonist General Zod, respectively. However, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne have limited screen-time and are hampered by hokey, inconsistent dialogue, as are the remaining supporting castmembers.

As for the action, it’s quite good. Snyder’s trademark visuals come through in a big way, both in the action set-pieces and in the scenes where Superman learns to master his flying abilities. The opening battles on Krypton and Superman’s duel with Faora-El (a stoic yet memorable Antje Traue) in Smallville are both standout sequences, and take advantage of the Kryptonites’ bizarre powers against an Earth-friendly physics universe. The battles consist of a unique mix of grounded close-quarters-combat with almost Dragonball Z-esque anime-violence. It’s safe to say that I haven’t seen anything like it in a movie before, and for the most part, this superhero violence works very well.

Unfortunately, things get out of hand in the action-packed finale. The more realistic physics give way to cartoony set-pieces involving alien tentacles chasing Superman through the air and endless montages of urban destruction. What’s most disappointing is the final confrontation between Superman and General Zod, which devolves into a Mew vs. Mewtwo-style of combat, with ballerina twirls and “super-punches” aplenty.

It’s unfair to keep comparing this film to Begins, but the way MoS is constructed echoes the deeper, more effective character growth of that Nolan-directed movie. This movie’s characters and story feel like Begins, but not as strongly developed. Man of Steel‘s action is a step above its fledgling Batman counterpart with director Zack Snyder at the helm, yet its characterizations and your emotional investment in the narrative lag behind Bruce Wayne’s origin-story by a considerable degree. The comparison between these two superhero reboots explains why Begins was much better received than MoS.

man-of-steel-henry-cavill-diane-lane

Supermen need Supermoms. 😀 Diane Lane as Martha Kent is a pretty damned good one.

With all that said, Man of Steel powers through with its intimate, if reserved focus on Clark Kent the man (not necessarily the superhero), as well as its high-profile, FX-enhanced violence. The movie being built such that its action and visuals bolster its characters, rather than the other way around, is a strong sign of a successful blockbuster. It’s a narrative that has significant limitations with its cartoony violence, overuse of CGI, and most importantly, a disorganized narrative structure that limits its characters’ potential, but altogether, it’s a story that soars far more than it sinks. At the very least, it’s refreshing to watch a Superman-film where Kal-El does more than lift heavy objects, with all due respect to the late, great Christopher Reeve. For better or worse, this is the appropriate Man of Steel for the modern age, Generation X-nostalgia be damned.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONSupported by strong flashback sequences, interesting action scenes, and a good cast, Man of Steel succeeds in telling a memorable origin-story of Clark Kent becoming Superman. Snyder’s visuals compliment the oddball violence, and make for an overall fun action experience.

However… the finale is a cartoony, jumbled mess. Much of the dialogue is hokey and repetitive, with too many people referring to Clark as a Messiah too many times before he actually becomes one. The flashbacks should have been structured in order.

—> RECOMMENDED*: I’m square in the middle of MoS-fans who adore this film and MoS-haters who loath it. The film is neither a digital FX-heavy mess, nor the second coming of Jesus Christ. It’s somewhere in between.

? So now that Superman has finally arrived to the superhero-movie party, will the intended shared fictional universe of DC pan out?

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Discussion

19 thoughts on “‘Man of Steel’ (2013): Review

  1. I know what the critics has said. They complained about too much action, superman being too serious, lack of romance, etc. Since Zack Snyder directed this movie, I don’t think he cared about the critics. Don’t get me wrong, he DOES care about the fans’ opinion. Seems like he really wanted to really satisfy the fans. I see why critics complained about too much action. For me it’s just his way to satisfy the viewers. This is the kind of movie that is just really satisfying. When the movie ended, I got that ‘satisfying’ feeling instead of the ‘wanting more’ feeling. It’s like it was really enough.

    Even Snyder’s best movies (before this) which were 300 & Watchmen didn’t have more ratings than 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think the fans should have anticipated the bad reviews. His style is actually what critics hate. The over the top action and CGI is actually his trademark. So, even from the beginning, I think this is actually the kind of movie the producers wanted. About the lack of romance, I really do think it’s saved for the sequel. The sequel will definitely explore more about the relationship between Clark and Lois. This film focused on 2 aspects: the origin (krypon,struggle finding his place) & the action (Zod and his army). Don’t expect humor or romance.

    The visuals were spectacular! What’s best about this movie is its action scenes. The action were just relentless. I think the fans would not be disappointed at all. Yes, I know there is only a very few humor this movie but that actually doesn’t even matter. The battle between Superman & Zod will definitely ‘wow’ everyone but the critics. I mean who cares about the critics opinion? A superhero movie MUST NOT be judged by the critics opinion, what’s more important is the audience’s opinion about the movie and especially the fans’. I think the movie really delivered. Most people will definitely like this movie. I am really sure that many fanboys will consider this as the best comic book of all time. This is a MUST SEE for people who like action movie. The action were better than last year’s The Avengers.

    The sequel really have a great potential. Considering the minimum amount of romance in this movie (since they just knew each other, and superman was also more focused on Zod), the next movie could explore more of that. One of the things missing from the movie was also the presence of Clark Kent at the daily planet. It’s one of the trade marks. But, I believe the sequel will show more scenes in the Daily Planet which is interesting to see.

    As a conclusion, I think Man of Steel is so far the best action movie this year. This movie really is a Snyder movie. But it also has a quite lot of nolan-esque feel to it especially in the around first 45 minutes.

    If this was compared to Iron man 3, if Iron man 3 was a 7, this movie is a 8.6.

    More information about the movie you can also find it here
    http://movieinfodb.com/en/movie/49521/Man+of+Steel-2013

    Posted by Carcotas | December 14, 2013, 5:41 pm
    • Oh sorry, man, I totally forgot about responding to your comment from so long ago. I definitely can sympathize with your enjoyment of the film to a certain degree, but I also believe that the artistic merit of the movie as a whole was somewhat limited due to the so-so characters. In other areas, like the visuals for instance, you are correct at pointing out how spectacular they are.

      What do you think about the concept of the next movie being Batman AND Superman. Do you think it could work?

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | February 5, 2014, 9:58 pm

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