With a host of blockbuster names behind it and a rather exciting marketing campaign, “Man of Steel” finally arrived in theatres to the tune of a $125 million plus domestic box office.
MoS introduces Superman, with a reinvented back-story and look. Audiences are treated to an extended view of Krypton as Kal-El is born and sent to Earth amid the coup by General Zod, the military commander tasked with protecting Krypton, no matter the costs. Kal-El is sent on his voyage just before Krypton begins to implode, a byproduct of Kryptonians harvesting their core for energy. Do I sense an environmental undertone to the first 20 minutes of tis movie? Perhaps, but unlikely.
The story is told in a non-linear fashion, which can prove confusing as we transition between now and then with no warning. Clark Kent is a wanderer, searching for his true identity, while performing acts of good as he moves around. He unwittingly signals Zod, who had been searching for him, to Earth, as well as setting Lois Lane on his tail for the story of the century.
Clark is raised by the Kent’s in Kansas, where he was taught to hide his powers from the outside world. This comes into conflict when he encounters Jor-El in his holographic form and is shown his heritage.
The third act of the film can be seen as either the shortcoming of this new series, to fans of the older series, or as strength in this world of grittier heroes to those new to the Superman mythos. With massive destruction of Metropolis during the showdown between Zod and Superman, we see a Superman without an established code, struggling to win at all costs, and willing to take more extreme measures.
A trend amongst superhero movies is the sympathetic villain. Like Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Zod is driven with a purpose, and it is his actions to that purpose that make him villainous, not his evil demeanor. Zod, desperate to fulfill his job as protector of Krypton, is wiling to commit genocide of the human race to re-establish the Kryptonian race on a terra-formed Earth.
Perhaps the real villain in MoS is Faora. Unlike Zod’s heated, almost frantic behavior, Faora is cold and measured and takes great pleasure in throwing both Superman and the more fragile humans around. It is perhaps with Faora’s warning that for every human Kal-El saves, they will kill a million more, that drives Superman to an action that has been the topic of debate since the movies premiere.
The movie starts out rather slow, with a massive set-up undertaken to create this new Superman. Between the destruction of Krypton and seeing Clark Kent grow into adulthood, explanations are lengthy, although necessary to inform the viewer. While jumpy, there is a clear progression present in the character of young Clark Kent to discovering Kal-El.
A lot of the film is CGI, which normally proves perfect fodder for 3-D.It is not the case here, with no 3-D effects present for the duration of the film. Save the money on that expensive ticket.
The cast is one of the most amazing parts of the movie. Part newcomers and part film veterans, DC pulled out the big guns to make sure this incarnation of Superman got off the ground. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are striking as the Kent’s who found and raised Clark, while Russell Crowe’s makes a strong performance as Jor-El, the Kryptonian scientist and father/holographic mentor to Kal-El. Amy Adams was the choice I was never quite sold on after casting, she just didn’t quite mesh with my idea of Lois Lane. I was proven wrong when her capable and sometimes overly confident reporter sticks to Superman’s tail and ends up assisting him in the end, without more than a couple saves from said superhero of course. Michael Shannon’s loud menace General Zod provides a good foil for the learning Superman, as experience faces off against desperate youth. It is Antje Traue’s Faora, whose quieter evil keeps Superman working. Lastly, Henry Cavill, the Brit who auditioned and was even cast in a previous un-made Superman movie, gets to shine. What many saw as stoicism is quiet emotion. Instead of acting with his entire body, Cavill’s face reflects the turmoil and determination of the superhero facing an identity crisis.
The best advice I can give to anyone going into this movie is, it is a set-up film. Yes, there is a conflict that is resolved within it, but truthfully, this movie serves as an introduction to the new Superman and the larger Justice League potential at work here.
In terms of scores, “Man of Steel” received a mid-B from me. I checked my time at least once during the extensive set-up, but that is a common occurrence anymore as movies get drawn out. Nolan, Goyer, and Snyder faced the challenge of making the “big, blue Boy Scout” relevant to today’s society, in which identity crisis and darker themes are the norm. Overall, it was a great set-up film to a larger saga that will unfold in coming years.
“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction and for some language.