Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Jerry Bruckheimer put his thumbprint on action films. Some examples of Bruckheimer’s influence include Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Bad Boys, and Con Air. Regardless of the director it was easy to feel the producer’s impact of the films. Sure he had his stable of go to guys but even when he worked with someone not in his circle such as Simon West what was birthed still felt like a Bruckheimer film. It can be debated whether his influence is a good thing or not and that could be another article altogether. I bring him up though because producer Christopher Nolan has a similar impact on the films he chooses to work on.
Zack Snyder is the type of director that has a very singular vision that plows its way through any obstacle, including a producer that comes from a very different approach to filmmaking. Love him of hate him one has to appreciate Snyder’s dedication to the style of film he wants to make. Man of Steel flows right into Snyder’s filmography as looking and feeling like his other films including the Dawn of the Dead remake, 300, and Watchmen. Now Nolan also has different ideas about films featuring his name and he also plows through on Man of Steel. All of this in the end is a great thing though. Nolan along with his brother and writer David S. Goyer know how to craft character. One argument that can’t be debated about Nolan’s Batman films is that the action, hand to hand fight scenes in particular, are nothing to write home about. His character creation on the other hand is stellar. His strengths and weaknesses play well with snyder’s own pros and cons. Snyder knows how to craft an epic atmosphere his films and he knows how to build momentum with action. Snyder doesn’t always do the best job however of developing layered and complicated characters. So, putting Nolan and Snyder together on a Superman reboot is sort of a stroke of genius. Does it pay off a 1005? No. is the film we end up with the absolute best rendering of the Man of Steel ever set on film? Yes.
I’ve always said that my biggest “issue” (yeah I did that) with DC Comics is that they are science fiction books first and super hero books second. I love sci-fi but main characters, aliens in particular, are often hard to relate to, and that has been the man in red and blue’s biggest cinematic ball and chain since the 1978 film. Here you have this guy from another planet sent here by parents that believe he can be the moral compass for a planet of animals with potential (that’s us). Superman has always carried the burden of thinking it’s his responsibility to be the best of all of us, yet not be one of us. If that burden were ever well represented on film you might have something. You also might have a super hero come off like an elitist snob, wait that’s kind of like Superman. The character’s heart and personality have always been as bullet proof as his chest making him completely unrelatable to the everyman. Man of Steel, with the combined efforts of Snyder and Nolan finally achieves that reliability. People are flawed and he is of this planet so he is also flawed. Decisions he made or was pushed into making as a child by his fathers have plagued him for his entire life. It’s only when General Zod finds Earth and is willing to destroy it to find Kal’el that “Clark” is forced to mae a decision on how he will participate in this adopted world.
The film is a science fiction drama first and a comic book super hero film second. Being a science fiction film first does a better job of paying homage to the original Action Comcis and the early Superman comics than I could ever have hoped for. Seriously, a Superman movie should have more in common with Starman than with Iron Man 2. The film is about an alien struggling to find his place on an alien world and to deal with the fact that he is a one of a kind, that he will never see another Kryptonian. It is a shame that this bit of social commentary wasn’t dealt with more aggressively but there’s time for all of that in the already announced sequel. That’s not to say that the subject isn’t broached because it is literally and painfully figuratively in the final act of the film. Speaking of painful the drama is melodramatic, similar to what was rampant throughout Watchman, but it was written or influenced by Christopher Nolan so the melodrama still has weight and importance. What could have been campy is instead powerful I the film.
As great as Man of Steel is there are many minor flaws from opening to closing credits. Fortunately the flaws aren’t in the character development. Said flaws are usually more apparent when they are simply shortcuts to get to the over abundance of action scenes. One example is just how easily everyone understands what a black hole is and the process needed to form one, another is that this film features a computer virus that’s just a little too powerful when it’s convenient. Finally Clark really gets one particular job just a little too easily and having him hide behind glasses by the end of the film doesn’t fit the more realistic tone the movie has portrayed up to that point either.While the flaws are a little too common none of them are eye rollers and just can’t detract from the myriad of powerful moments in the film. The scene where Clark first fully develops his superpowers is just magical. Kevin Costner does some of his best work in this film as a father seemingly willing to sacrifice everyone and everything around him to protect his son, doing anything he has to do to convince Clark not to reveal himself until the time is absolutely right. Russell Crowe is also fantastic as a father with a good heart who fights for the good things all the while still showing that old superior side of his son, himself, and his people to earthlings. Just because Kal’el is a better person doesn’t mean he needs to go killing everyone does it?
Man of Steel dishes out the action along with the fantastic character moments not only giving up the super hero beat down goods but also giving us a science fiction element of aliens and a well-crafted and fascinating alien world with beasts and wild tech and all the good things sci-fi does for us. The film represents Superman as an alien and it leaves that as the answer to many things but the reasons for the suit, the meaning behind the S on the chest, the existence of the fortress of solitude, and a few other bits of Superman canon are answered for in the film. Be warned, while there are a scant few minutes of levity this isn’t a Whedon action packed humor driven approach to a super hero story. This film comes from the creators of the Dark Knight movies remember? It can be character wise a little somber, but considering what Clark has gone through it kind of should be. The action will have you on the edge of your seat and the dramatic moments might even bring a tear to your eye. What else can you ask for? Join us on the CineGeek Webcast Episode 267 for an in depth postmorteum discussion of the film (the show is live every Wednesday here http://tinyurl.com/lpzhjsw Join us and speak your mind). Amy Adams doesn’t get a lot to do in this film but she is playing Lois Lan so I’m sure now that Supes exists she’ll become more a part of things in the sequel. As always Michael Shannon is excellent and weird and perfect. Henry Cavill looks the part and he owns both the Clark and Kal’el roles in this film. Man of Steel is absolutely the most interesting and deepest telling of the Superman story to date. Be ready Superman purists the Man of Steel breaks one of his classically most important rules in the film but he does so with major consequences!