It hasn’t been since 2006 that Superman graced the silver screen, and even longer since anyone cared. DC has a lot riding on this reboot though. Despite the immense success they had with Christopher Nolan refreshing the Batman franchise, DC comics is still leagues behind what Marvel has turned their cinematic universe into. It’s no secret that Man of Steel is to serve as testing grounds for an eventual Justice League film and other linked superhero properties such as The Flash and possible reboots of Batman and The Green Lantern properties. A lot is riding on the shoulders of steely man of the hour, Henry Cavill.
I’ve never been a big fan of Superman. The fact that he is basically invincible always made his stories a little less interesting to me – and the fact that his enemies just happened to be able to find a way to get to him despite his supposed invincibility just made the whole scenario seem even more unlikely and manufactured. You know, more than a super-hero story normally is.
Director Zach Snyder, and Dark Knight team Nolan (producer here) and David Goyer (writer) manage to pull off the three impossibilities that stood in the way of this film being a success. First, in yet another reboot, they manage to tell an origin story that doesn’t feel like an origin story. Yes, we get the whole “Krypton is dying so baby Kal-El is sent into space by his parents, is raised on an Earth farm, and becomes the planet’s greatest superhero” bit, but all of that is a very organic part of a much larger story instead of just being dutifully regurgitated with new actors and modern references.
Second, a story about a super-powered man that can fly and battle enemies from space feels incredibly grounded and believable. Time is taken to carefully establish just who and what Superman is. Technology is introduced and remains consistent. Mythology is explained (some of which I believe is new for this film) and parameters set. This film exemplifies the fact that almost anything can be portrayed in a realistic manner so long as rules are made and stuck to and the people in the film’s universe react in a believable way while holding to those rules.
Third, despite checking off the laundry list of being culturally relevant, gritty, realistic, and blockbustery, Man of Steel somehow is able to still bring the aesthetics and physics of a comic book or Saturday morning cartoon to the live-action big screen. For the first time I can remember, people moving at super speeds and punching each other through multiple buildings has a look and feel to it that feels real without the “that seemed cooler in my head or as a cartoon,” afterthought. It looks like you think it should. Though he’s not especially known for his great stories, Snyder certainly has a way with visuals. His artistic sense paired with Nolan and Goyer’s sense of story is a winning combination.
The main plot itself is not overall too complex, yet engaging enough for us to care. As the trailers suggest, it involves General Zod (a villainous yet complex Michael Shannon) hunting down Superman, leaving destruction in his wake. His exact motives are soon made clear. We’re also introduced, as is “Clark Kent,” to crack reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the sparks fly. I don’t just mean from Kent’s laser vision. Kevin Costner and Dianne Lane are the adoptive Kents, and Russel Crowe is Jor-El – Kal’s biological father, and a surprising badass (possibly because he doesn’t sing here). Laurence Fishburn and Christopher Meloni appear in supporting roles as editor Perry White and Colonel Hardy.
Overall, this is an epic summer film event with a lot to like. It does have its issues though. It is an origin story still, and try as it might, it does drag a bit during the first part of the movie with a certain amount of exposition that needs to happen. Second of all, Henry Cavill/Superman is not terribly interesting. He looks the part, he acts the part, he sounds the part, but there are only a few moments where he’s really actually interesting. There’s a sense that any actor who had the look could have pulled off the role in the exact same way. It’s not like how it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone but Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man / Tony Stark. That said, Superman feels like Superman is supposed to feel like, and it’s hard to find too much fault with that.
In the end, this is a Superman film that looks, feels, tastes, and acts, pretty much how we thought a great Superman film should. It stays pretty true (as far as my judgement on the matter goes) to the essence of the story and character. Regardless of it’s more realistic and edgy approach, it doesn’t even try to make apologies for the fact that somehow nobody notices that Clark Kent and Supes look almost exactly the same. The film leaves on a great note opening to the next installment (no Marvel-esque after credits stinger though) and I will be the first one in line to see that one as well.
Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening
My Rating: Four out of Five Hats
Man of Steel flies into 4,207 theaters, June 14