Let me first say that I've always believed that Superman as a whole is somewhat dull. Supes is bogged down by the fact that he ignited the Golden Age of Comics. He's an almighty being with few, if any, flaws, and that makes him boring to me.
There have been many attempts over the years to "humanize" him and give him flaws on the printed page (all to varying degrees of success) and even an attempt on the big screen with "Superman Returns," whenever he was given a son born out of wedlock to Lois Lane.
He's the perfect hero for youngsters, as his super powers make him a wonderful being to dream about and pretend to be while playing. When puberty or another harsh reality of life hits and things become complicated, children turn to darker heroes such as Batman, Daredevil, etc.
Now for my review.
The film opens with the token destruction of Krypton, albeit with a slight twist in the relationship of the main antagonist, General Zod, and Jor-El. Kal-El is sent to Earth with hope for the future entrusted to him by his father and mother. Zod and his comrades are imprisoned, but not before they promise to find Kal-El. Once they find him, their intentions are fairly obvious.
From there, we witness the development of Superman in real time and flashbacks. I enjoyed this aspect of the film, as we got to see Kal-El experience and deal with things like heat vision, x-ray vision, super hearing, and super strength for the first time. We also get to see him struggle with the urge to use his powers when certain situations call for them.
Eventually fate catches up with Kal-El, and Zod and his pleasant pals find Superman on Earth. Zod is on a mission to start a new Krypton and will stop at nothing to make this mission come to fruition. The only thing standing in his way is the boy who fell from the sky in Kansas and an all-out slugfest ensues.
***POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING***
The results, despite being very loud and destructive, are fairly by-the-book. At no time in the film did I have any doubt that Superman would stop Zod. While the battles were taking place, all I could think about were the jumbled, blurry battles of the "Transformers" films. I knew that action was taking place, but I really couldn't see it. The 3-D factor didn't help the situation either. In fact, if you are reading this review while "Man of Steel" is still in theaters, save your money and do not watch it in 3-D. It adds nothing to the film.
As many have already alluded to, Superman does quite a few un-Supermanly things. While I understand the argument that some use for a few of his actions in the film (He was still developing his powers and/or had not realized how much danger those powers would put himself or others in), I also know that from the beginning, even within this film, Kal-El was ingrained with the ideals of protecting humanity at all costs and doing what is right. I don't even mind the fact that in this film he kills someone. What bothers me is the fact that he endangers the lives of innocents, which is something Superman ALWAYS tries to avoid.
***END POTENTIAL SPOILERS***
"Man of Steel" attempts to make Superman grittier, and for that, I do applaud writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Nolan did a brilliant job with his take on Batman on the big screen, making a grim character even darker. Goyer has had his ups and downs over the years. In my opinion he either knocks a story out of the park ("Blade" and "Blade II") or fails miserably ("Blade: Trinity" and "Jumper"). Somehow he and Nolan managed to make Superman grittier but still dull at the same time with "Man of Steel."
Of course, having Zack Snyder guide the entire project is hit and miss as well. I have really enjoyed some of Snyder's work ("Watchmen") but often find myself shaking my head at his projects like "300" and "Sucker Punch." He relies very, very heavily on a stylized look for his films. This worked brilliantly for "Watchmen," but the story suffered in "300" and "Sucker Punch."
Ironically, Snyder seems to have held back a bit on the style this go 'round, losing a lot of the polish his films usually come with, and amped up the action to near-Michael Bay levels. This, in my opinion, hurt "Man of Steel" more than it helped. For those of you who skipped the "spoiler" section, know that 3-D adds nothing to the film.
I also believe that Snyder's guidance of the actors lead to a few wooden performances. Henry Cavill is okay as Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El, but there are moments in the film where he seems to be attempting to channel Christopher Reeve (something I believe Brandon Routh managed to do brilliantly in "Superman Returns"), that actually hurt his performance. This isn't Reeve's version of Superman, apparently, so why attempt to bring some of that character to the table? I also felt that Diane Lane (Martha Kent) delivered a less-than-stellar performance. I enjoy watching Lane in other films, but something just didn't click with me in her portrayal of Martha. Ayelet Zurer portrays Lara, Superman's mother, and while her role is quite small in the film, I felt that her performance overall was average at best.
Amy Adams was decent as Lois Lane. When first introduced to her character, Adams brought the fearlessness of Lois to the forefront. As the film wore on, however, the character seems to lose a step. Michael Shannon (General Zod) chewed up any and every scene he was in. His Zod was burly, barking, and one-track minded. I never could really find any attachment to his character though and in the end, I was glad when his barking stopped.
Despite these bumps in the road, there were quite a few bright spots in this film, however. Kevin Costner nailed his brief turn as Jonathan Kent. Costner is starting to show his age, and was perfect for the role. Another bright spot was Russell Crowe as Jor-El. Even though I knew what was going to happen to him, I cheered him on in the beginning of the film. He seemed genuinely concerned for his people and for his son's life. He was quite possibly the best performer in the entire film.
One performance worthy of special mention is that of Antje Traue, who portrayed Zod's right hand man...er..woman, Faora-Ul. While she didn't have many lines in the film, she was excellent with the few she had. I actually hope to see her return in the next film, as I felt she was more imposing than Zod.
Other performances worth noting are those of Michael Kelly (Lombard), Rebecca Buller (Jenny), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), and Mackenzie Gray (Jax-Ur). While all of these actors had small roles, they did solid jobs with them.
Overall, I'd have to say that "Man of Steel" is a mediocre flick. I went in hoping to see a new spin on an old hero and I got that, but so much of the core character was peeled away that the film ended up somewhat hollow.
I do believe that Henry Cavill has the goods when it comes to portraying Superman, I just believe that a better director and better story would have helped him greatly. Much like Brandon Routh, he was weighed down by good intentions that eventually killed the film overall.
Mildly recommended, as it was nice to see Supes on the big screen again. Just skip the 3-D.
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Man of Steel is an American superhero film project, slated to be produced under the development of Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David S. Goyer. Based on the DC Comics character Superman, the film is a reboot of the Superman movie series.