PG Cooper: Man of Steel Review

Posted: July 6, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

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This is the second review for Man of Steel on this site. The first can be found here.

It’s almost sad the way Superman has been treated by the film industry. The first two films, while very dated, are a lot of fun and huge stepping stones in the superhero film genre. However Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace temporarily killed the franchise and as the years went on more superhero films came and became the benchmark for the genre, replacing Superman. In 2006, Warner Bros. tapped X-Men director Bryan Singer to bring Superman back with Superman Returns. The resulting film was not terrible, but overall pretty underwhelming and paled in comparison to Chris Nolan’s revival of the Batman franchise. Nolan made such an impression that Warner Bros. has brought him in board to produce their second revival of their Superman franchise and genre filmmaker Zack Snyder to direct. This begs the question; is Man of Steel the first good Superman film in 33 years?

The film retells Superman’s origin story and the essential pieces are there. On the dying planet Krypton, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his only son to Earth to escape Krypton’s pending destruction. On earth, the child is adopted by a family in Kansas and grows up to be Superman (Henry Cavill). The major difference to the origin story is that Jor-El sends his son to Earth with the Kryptonian Codex, an object the Kryptonian military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) needs to rebuild Krypton. Zod swears revenge and eventually comes to Earth to confront the son of his enemy.

Despite retelling a well-known origin story, Man of Steel still feels very fresh. For starters, this version of Krypton is very different than what was presented in the 1978 film. The look of the world is very unique and the details of Krypton we see are very interesting. The conflicts between Jor-El and Zod which take up the film’s twenty minutes are also very engaging. These moments are also highly effective because they establish and develop Zod’s character so that when he returns as a villain later on in, it feels like a natural progression and not just a superhero trope. The film is also smart not to spend too much time with Clark in Smallville with most of these scenes being flashbacks. This allows the film to focus on the important parts of Clark’s younger years, such as the discovery of his ancestry, his struggles with controlling his powers, and his relationship with his adopted parents. All of this material is handled very effectively and none of it overstays its welcome. The result of all this is a superhero film which doesn’t feel structured the way most films in the genre are. Like how Batman Begins was a crime film which featured a superhero, Man of Steel is a science fiction film which features a superhero.

Henry Cavill is an actor who’s been unknown to me (and most of the world) up to this point, but he quite impressed me here. Cavill’s Clark Kent is a man who is ultimately unsure of his place in the world and has doubts, but also has an honesty and nobility to him which are essential Superman characteristics. The result is a Superman who is not only likable, but also very interesting. Perhaps most importantly though, Cavill wisely avoids trying to mimic the traits which made Christopher Reeve’s Superman such an enduring character. Opposite Cavill’s Superman is Michael Shannon’s General Zod. Like Cavill, Shannon has big shoes to fill in stepping into the role immortalized by Terrence Stamp and like Cavill, Shannon finds success be not mimicking what made the classic performance so good. Shannon doesn’t play Zod has the calm dictator Stamp did, but brings an almost barbaric intensity to the part. It’s also important to note that while Zod is certainly a villain, his motivations come from loyalty to his home planet. One can understand why he’s taking the actions he is. I was also relieved that not once the film felt the need to shoe-horn the line, “Kneel before Zod” into the script. Amy Adams makes for a very strong Lois Lane and the supporting cast is rounded out by great actors like Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, and Laurence Fishburne.

The technical elements are executed very well. Hans Zimmer’s score brings an appropriate mix of heroism, epic scope, and emotional weight to the film. It’s a far cry from the excellent music John Williams composed for the original film, but such music would have been out of place in this more somber film. The cinematography is also gorgeous. Making a character like Superman believable is not inherently easy, and is made more difficult by the fact that Snyder and writer David Goyer have really emphasized the sci-fi elements of the mythology. To overcome this, Snyder has shot the film with very earthy colours and it really makes the world feel real. Some have taken issue with the slightly shaky cam, but it serves its purpose and serves it well. Snyder has also widely toned down his style. His visuals are still stunning, but the slow-mo/speed-up he’s become notorious for his absent here.

One of the biggest complaints with Superman Returns was the lack of action. Warner Bros. certainly got the message because this thing is packed. While there are a lot of moments of story and character, there’s also a lot of Superman kicking ass in the third act. These action scenes are pretty impressive and there aren’t a lot of other films with action that can compare. Granted, a lot of people have claimed these action scenes go too far and too long. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t excessive, and the property damage on display is particularly over-the-top. But even so, for the most part I found the action pretty gripping and overall awesome.

There are some complaints here for sure. The levels of destruction really should have been toned down, there is a lot of product placement, and the film’s few attempts at humour are very weak. Yet most of these issues are pretty small and overall I’d call Man of Steel a massive success. It has a good cast, an interesting story which does not follow the formulaic origin story, and is overall a very entertaining film. It’s not a perfect film, but I’d go so far as to call it the best Superman film yet as well as the best film from Zack Snyder. Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan have made a film which not only takes Superman seriously, but also its audience.

A

Comments
  1. An A review! Thank fucking God!

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Heh. Yeah I’m shocked by all the negative reviews.

    • Chris says:

      Man, put DC or Marvel in front of any crap and you’ll give it a good mark eh? I enjoyed the first two thirds of this movie but the 45 minute battle at the end killed the movie for me pretty quickly. Cast was really good and the story for the most part was interesting. It will be a major drunk fest when I don’t have to go to any of these lame super hero movies again. I think I liked about 5 of the 25 or so I have had to go see. Take your brother to Kingston with you!

  2. Good review! I very much enjoyed this one also. A fresh, exciting take on the Superman legend.

  3. moviebuff801 says:

    I, too, am happy to finally see another positive review. Well put, sir.

  4. Great questions and well written. I always like your take on things. It’s nearly impossible to please science fiction fans. They have to be impressed with the special effects. That usually means the story line suffers. For me, the script is very important. If I don’t care for their plight, then all the money in the world on special effects don’t matter.

  5. I hope you realize he’s not only an alien but part terminator. Explains his super strength, right?

  6. Good review, glad you liked the film :D

    I loved it so am certainly agreeing with you :D

  7. le0pard13 says:

    I’m not as enamored as you, but it never bored me. That’s for sure. BTW, I’ve nominated you for both a Sunshine and WordPress Family Award.

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