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Man of Steel – Movie Review

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Man of Steel – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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With the incredibly successful attempt to bring Batman to a realistic and more serious universe in Christopher Nolan’s films, it is not surprising that the same treatment has been afforded to Superman. However, when the character is a flying alien whose only weakness is a piece of his home planet, going for realism is a tricky approach. Instead, Zack Snyder has decided to focus on the inner turmoil of being an invincible being in a fragile world. Man of Steel has plenty of problems, some which could have led this reboot to being ranked alongside the much dreaded third and fourth films in the Christopher Reeve series. However, Snyder and his screenwriter David Goyer make enough excellent decisions in how they depict the characters that this becomes a worthy take on Superman.

 Snyder and Goyer have constructed an interesting structure for their superhero movie with a clever use of flashbacks constructing Clark Kent’s youthful years. Man of Steel nicely delves into the hardships a boy with such extraordinary powers might go through with a solid performance by Kevin Costner as his father. There’s a worry and need for control that the Kents instill in their adopted son and while this is a departure from the comic book’s lore, it manages to work. The dilemma Clark faces is handled with the right level of emotional pain by both the screenplay and the young actors portraying his incarnations. The film is at its best, during the scenes in Smallville with Clark growing and maturing and figuring out his place in the world. When the film returns to present-day Clark, his growth is evident and it is well portrayed by Henry Cavill. Cavill gives a more quiet and subdued performance, not necessarily going for the American Boy Scout approach by Reeve and Brandon Routh. This is a different Superman and fits into the style that Snyder has placed on the film.

 One of the best aspects and changes given to an iconic character is Lois Lane. Amy Adams is wonderful as the tough reporter, who uses a lot of her brains and is extremely active in the story to a pleasing degree. Ever since the first Superman comic book seventy-five years ago, Lois somehow could not tell Clark Kent and Superman apart, despite him only sporting glasses. Christopher Reeve did make this somewhat believable, which is a key to how he excellent he was at playing both sides of the character. However, the concept is still on the ridiculous side, especially since Lois is supposedly a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.

In Man of Steel, she uses her intelligent journalistic skills to decipher that Clark is the invincible man saving people from town to town. Before they even meet, she is aware of who he is and aside from one scene, he doesn’t hide behind a pair of glasses. This creates a nice connection between the two characters and it is further helped by how involved she is in the plot. The film provides her with smarts and development that make her key in saving the day as much as Superman is and they are a winning team-up. Adams is fantastic in the role, even rivaling Margot Kidder’s famous portrayal, and it will be great to see how the filmmakers continue to develop and showcase Lois in the eventual sequels.

 As with other modern superhero films, the action is key and there is plenty. The flying scenes are quite spectacular and Snyder certainly has an eye for action. The final act especially goes into complete destruction mode as Superman fights the villains from Smallville to Metropolis. Snyder especially brings plenty of tension as General Zod’s plan becomes more evident. His motivation is quite interesting and well-developed and while he goes about fulfilling his desires in typical super villain fashion, his inner pain is clearly evident. Zod’s sidekick Faora, strongly played by Antje Traue, is given plenty to do and I almost wished she was given more screen-time. On the other hand, Snyder could have cut the final battle a couple of punches short. After all, the Zod-Superman confrontation gets a little lengthy and I just waited for him to get to the point.

 Despite his strong motivation, Zod is unfortunately performed by Michael Shannon in an incredibly over-the-top manner with frequent scenery-chewing. He comes dangerously close to becoming laughably comical, but stays in the territory of eye-rolling. This is one of many decisions Zach Snyder makes in his direction that could have been toned down. Man of Steel does not start out optimistically, with a ridiculous depiction of Krypton. Snyder did not need to go the route of the shiny, heavily crystallized environment of the Richard Donner film or the Jack Kirby-inspired designs of the Superman animated series, but his version goes very over the edge into goofiness.

With very silly costumes designed by James Acheson and odd-looking production design by Alex McDowell, it is hard to take this depiction of Krypton seriously. The surprisingly poor special effects for a highly-budgeted motion picture only sours the early beginnings of the film, though this continues through the rest of the running time. Whenever characters are flung around, they look obviously fake. The product placement is also very overt, especially during a fight scene in Smallville, which has Superman crashing through a 7-Eleven, an iHop and a Sears. Rather than selling their stores, it comes off as distracting during a major set-piece.

Ultimately, this new Superman series has a way to go before it becomes a strong superhero franchise. However, Zach Snyder has nonetheless crafted a well-made and spectacular adventure. It is not the majestic trip of the Richard Donner and Bryan Singer films, but while trying to bring a different depiction to the screen, it more than succeeds. The Lois-Clark dynamic can lead to some very interesting storylines in the sequel and hopefully, the filmmakers also bring some new villains for future installments, rather than bringing back the tried and true Lex Luthor. In this technological age, Braniac would fit perfectly into this new franchise. If Snyder can calm down his style for the sequels, it can only get better. Man of Steel is certainly another worthy entry into the pantheon of multiple superhero movies that open every year.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

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