Release date: 27th June 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
Review by Peter Gray
Much like Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy was a bold departure from the previous incarnations of Batman, ‘Man of Steel’ veers away from the Superman personifications we’ve come to know in that this isn’t a light take on the character. There’s no need to fret though as there’s still plenty of moments of magnificence peppered throughout as director Zack Snyder blends his own mixture of iconic Superman imagery and typical popcorn action. Whilst his handling of the character won’t cause too much of an upset, the respect Snyder holds for the character is evident, this particular man of steel won’t be erasing the memory of Christopher Reeve anytime soon.
Though a reboot can at times be a filmmakers attempt to completely reinvent a well-known character and their origins, that doesn’t appear to be Snyder’s intention nor that of producer Nolan or writer David Goyer, as they opt to present Superman’s back story in a series of flashbacks that play out like a succession of necessary moments in his life. So familiar with these moments is the viewer that the sequences feel like something that should be explored as opposed to wanting to explore them, a Superman film made for people already aware of his story if you will, so it’s oddly a film that feels both fresh and established. We know that as a child he was sent from his dying planet Krypton at the hands of his noble father Jor-El (a principally effective Russell Crowe), only to be raised by a good family, the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who aid him in his journey to hide his extraordinary capabilities. We know that as he grows up he’ll struggle with the understanding of the power he possesses and what it means for him being both the son of a God and a simple farmer. And of course he’s destined to meet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), fall in love with her, and not only be her constant saviour, but one to the world as well.
Whilst we know of all these events ‘Man of Steel’ at least decides to present them in a different way to what we’d expect, and the admiration held for the character is apparent so his story is presented in a serious matter but the film can’t help but feel slightly stilted in its narrative as it relies quite heavily on flashbacks and so any momentum the film looks to build is often halted. Being a film by Zack Snyder though, vibrant special effects and spectacular set pieces are in abundance and when the film delivers on its promise of energy, it doesn’t hold anything back. An extended sequence where the city of Metropolis comes under attack from Krypton’s banished solider Zod (Michael Shannon) is immense in its destruction, and a battle that takes place in downtown Smallville between Superman and two of Zod’s warriors is chiefly adrenaline-charged, but after so many of these big comic-book themed action films, you’d be forgiven for finding some of the unfolding redundant.
As for the cast, ‘Man of Steel’ has managed to pull together one of the finest ensembles a film of this ilk could receive. In the titular role Henry Cavill proves an acceptable choice with his alluring presence, good looks and natural self-assurance. The fumbling, spectacled Clark Kent we’ve come to know in previous outlets is passed over in favour of someone more rugged and capable, and with this Cavill exceeds. Costner and Lane as the Kents bring the right amount of sentiment to the film, so much so that more screentime for the pair wouldn’t have gone astray as Lane brings an instant likability to her Martha Kent, whilst Costner is the perfect casting for a father endowed with heart and perception. Laurence Fishburne appears as Perry White, and he has the right no-nonsense attitude and sense of authority to pull it off, but unfortunately his character is vastly underwritten. As Lois Lane, Adams has the right balance of determination and innocence but the romance angle between her and Cavill is practically non-existent and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, her character becomes a bit too involved in proceedings, which results in the material not always sitting well with the actress. As expected it’s the villains that have the most fun and Shannon as Zod is enjoying his time as Superman’s head antagonist. By far one of the more unlikable villains in the comic book universe, at least as played here, there isn’t a sense of fun per se in his delivery, but the intense yells and cold stares he gives off throughout really make his presence felt. It’s the kind of role to sink your teeth into and the actor commits 100%.
Although it may not be the epic jaunt it promised to be, and it may not even be the Superman film you’ve been waiting for, ‘Man of Steel’ gets the job done and at least shows glimmers of potential for another franchise. Much like ‘The Dark Knight’ upstaged ‘Batman Begins’ in almost every way conceivable, I dare say the proposed sequel will be where this particular Superman finds his strength now that the origin story is out of the way.
My rating 3.5/5 (Potential for a super franchise)