Man of Steel – Movie Review

by Katie Gile
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the return of a franchise!
The long-awaited reboot of the man from Krypton has arrived in theaters with Watchmen director Zack Snyder at the helm.
The film begins on Krypton, spinning a familiar tale of a baby named Kal El sent away to Earth to escape the ruined lands. Flash to many years later, Kal El, now called Clark Kent, is a young man. He moves in shadow, taking odd jobs under false identities to hide his superhuman gifts from a world he doesn’t believe he can trust. But Kent’s trust in humans, and theirs in him, is tested when Kryptonian criminals land on Earth with a mind for domination.
Everything about Zack Snyder’s direction is geared toward a less campy, more grounded view of the superhero. While its grittier direction and Superman’s propensity for guttural screaming seem to push Man of Steel toward a more “Batman Begins” tone, moments of wit and “in jokes” pop up to remind the audience that while this isn’t “Batman Begins,” it ain’t your momma’s Superman, either.
Gracefully contemplating “big” concepts like the importance of choice, chance and destiny, screenwriter David S. Goyer and fellow storywriter Christopher Nolan’s script aims higher than a popcorn-chomping superhero flick. Upon first viewing, Man of Steel is a sci-fi spectacle, massaging characters we know into an even more compelling form. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of storytelling because there’s so much familiar ground to cover, and it’s in a way we’ve never before seen on screen. On second viewing, every bit of that characterization stands out, but the background is filled with details you might not catch the first time, details that emphasize that this iteration of Superman is here to stay.
If Man of Steel had any major weakness, it was the pacing. Although each “chunk” of the film is important for what it teaches us about Krypton, Clark, and the many loving people in his life, at times the ambling plot felt more like story points for their own sake, rather than an organic next step. The film runs a whopping 143 minutes, and sorry to say, the audience can feel it. But within this 143 minutes are brilliant special effects, beautiful production design, and grounded, captivating performances.
The production design in Man of Steel was truly a work of art. From the very alien world of Krypton to corn-fed Kansas and a few day trips to Metropolis, every place had a soul of its own. Departing from the well-known Christopher Reeve series, Krypton is reborn in Snyder’s film. It was a real treat to see a Krypton that wasn’t created with pastels and holograms, and instead felt like a real world on the verge of ruin. Production Designer Alex McDowell’s Krypton lives and breathes, its aesthetic is alien enough that it emphasizes Kal-El’s extraterrestrial heritage, but “human” enough that we can still relate to all that happens there. Snyder’s lingering in Krypton, and careful inclusion of all new visual references do well to frame Kal El and give his history interesting shadows. Because Krypton was treated with great attention to detail, it made everything about Kal El’s voyage to Earth and his return to his roots years later, much more interesting.
If anyone could talk about some big shoes to fill, it’d be Henry Cavill. His performance as Clark Kent/Kal El/Superman was absolutely perfect. First there’s the obvious, uncanny resemblance that Cavill bears as a bridge between Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh and occasionally, Tom Welling. If ever there was a “right” person with whom to reinvent the series, Cavill fits the bill, and the fancy new suit. Beyond the impeccable physical casting, Cavill makes the Man of Steel a palpable, emotional reality. As ever, Kal El is genuinely charming, kind and strong. But whether it’s the alternate direction of the film or any one person’s contribution in particular, Cavill adds a touch of macho all around, even as the unassuming Clark Kent. that’s not the only new touch to the well-known character. The film’s emphasis on his alien-ness really makes us wonder how we’d feel about being the Man of Steel. And Cavill has no trouble giving us plenty to consider, as he welcomes the audience into his mind, displaying his emotions and mental processes like paint on a canvas.
Michael Shannon: Whoa. Hardly the type of man you’d want to come across in a dark alley. His General Zod was a perfect blend of regal power and ruthless single-mindedness. The face-off between Kal El, the walking/flying billboard for chance, and Zod, the product of calculation and drive, is a thrill. Shannon’s Zod is so focused, it raises our every hackle, and he executes it flawlessly. A nearly unstoppable force, his savagery is perfectly balanced with the control of a well-trained fighter. There isn’t a moment when we don’t believe him, and that makes him all the more frightening.
It’s as if we’re seeing Lois Lane clearly for the first time, as Amy Adams dons a pencil skirt and tucks a pen behind her ear. Adams’ Lane is spunky, modern and tough, outsmarting and out-sassing everyone from her boss to the crustiest military men. The script’s treatment of Lane is far more charitable than iterations past. Rather than falling and shrieking and blushing her way into Superman’s heart, Lois is her own person. When her journalist instinct tells her to follow a lead or to something that others would think insane, Lois considers it part of the job she loves and rushes to do it. Whether it’s climbing a treacherous ice structure or traipsing onto a Kryptonian ship, Lois is all about the adventure and it makes her very fun to watch.
Provided that no studio executive greenlights “Man of Steel: The Musical,” Russell Crowe has truly redeemed himself for his unfortunate vocal performance in Les Miserables. His take on Kal-El’s father Jor-El was far more elegant and believable than any performance preceding. Crowe’s Jor-El was a real presence, powerful in his stillness, imbued with strength and dignity. His involvement in comedic moments, as well as in his dramatic stomping grounds, was noteworthy without stealing focus. And on a screenwriting note, Jor-El’s extended presence in the movie provides a lasting credibility to both Zod and Kal-El as characters.
As a whole, Man of Steel is the perfect foundation piece upon which to build a new DC universe, as Marvel accomplished with Iron Man in 2008. While the Batman/Dark Knight films were an excellent introduction to DC, Man of Steel’s massive scale and graceful direction make it the perfect basis for what is sure to be a DC Universe of epic proportions.

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october, 2021

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