man_of_steel_4Year: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer(s): Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
35mm, Color, 143 mins

Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race. (Source)

It’s not hard to see why Superman’s position as the very first superhero has prevented him from truly connecting in a modern age where cynicism and dark, brooding antiheroes are king. As the first of his kind, Superman is the purest emblem definition of hope, justice, courage and absolute heroism. He points us towards our frailty but more importantly shows us that his heroism doesn’t come from fantastic superhuman strength or powers but from the ability to unwaveringly do what’s right. In that sense he’s a bit static, old fashioned to some and unrealistic to others but still a relevant and much needed reminder of what humanity should inspire to achieve. By focusing on the way his purity comes from human upbringing rather than Kryptonian heritage, producer Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder have finally given Supes an entry way into the modern age. Man of Steel is not as emo as you’d think, instead it’s a hopeful saga of true heroism, redefining the word epic and giving you the Superman movie you’ve never been able to see until now.

The story begins in a breathlessly realized Krypton, hours away from it’s destruction as a desperate scientist named Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife race to send their newborn baby off to safety. Nearly thwarted by a military coup led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), the couple manage to send their son Kal-El to a tiny blue planet named Earth. From there the film flashes forward to Kal, fully grown and living as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Clark is a drifter, secretly helping those in need but not having a place to truly belong. It’s here that the film takes a similar route to Batman Begins, showing the adult Clark at a crossroads while a series of flashbacks tell us about his upbringing and the decisions he soon has to make. We learn of his parents who loved him as his own but taught him to hide his powers for fear of rejection, among other things. But when a mysterious craft is soon discovered and linked to to Clark’s past, it instantly alerts an old enemy to his location and initiates a chain of events where Clark has to take leap of faith to take responsibility for his gifts and decide how to use them.

man_of_steel_3Let’s not mince words here and just say that this film is a beast. After seeing the finished product, there’s no way that anyone else could’ve pulled it off with as much scope, confident visual mastery or heart-stopping thrills as Zack Snyder. He’s simply a master at visual story telling, finally giving Supes’ the imagination and spectacle that he deserves. The first indication that this is not your everyday superhero film is the lengthy introduction taking place on Krypton. Resembling a mix lush mix between Jodorwsky’s Dune with a bit of Giger for good measure, the planet’s landscapes are stunning and the emotional storytelling that occurs is a near-flawless short film in and of itself. Snyder strength has always been his deep knowledge of how to evoke and even manipulate with a complete cohesion between visuals, music and sound, making the thrills that happen in the film mean something; that’s what makes him one of the most important blockbuster directors of this generation.

As far as the action goes, it’s not at all hyperbole to say that Snyder has created some of the wildest superhero brawls ever committed to film. Under any other director it would’ve been a mess of CGI, but Snyder grounds everything with a surprisingly realistic look and universe, making us somehow believe that it could really happen. But seriously, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen some of the insanity that occurs here. It mostly works because with all of Superman’s strength and agility, he goes up against a villains from his world that were born for battle, giving them a slight edge and Supes a run for his money. Entire cities are near decimated, punches create shockwaves on the sides of buildings and the frenetic speed at which they fight and violently fly through the air is exhilarating; Snyder’s pitch-perfect staging and quick camera movements capture the entire thing with natural and almost doc-style immersion. Superman definitely gets down and dirty in this one (in a good way of course). I will say that due to Superman’s inability and oversight to not draw his villains away from the populace, there’s a slightly disturbing element in terms of the alarmingly huge collateral damage (in the thousands at least) that occurs. I’m willing to chalk it up to the hero’s inexperience and growth that needs to happen however. It also leaves the door open for some issues to handle at a later point. The good outweighs the bad though, and at it’s best, the thrills are stunning and stupefying. Think big, then think bigger and more brutal.

man_of_steel_2All the spectacle matters though, because the arc that’s set up before the film shifts into pure lunacy puts us in Clark’s relatable shoes. When he finally becomes Superman, we admire his ability to tackle the weight on his shoulders and understand his hesitancy in trusting mankind. Without spoiling things, there are some brave choices made to Supes origins in relation to the way he was born and why it’s different to other Kryptonians that is pretty clever and makes his character much more heroic when he finally steps up to who he needs to be. There’s a bit of emo put into his childhood as he’s relentlessly berated and bullied, but thankfully the character is never too mopey, instead offering up a stoicism that leads to a more gentle kind of strength instead of whiny angst. As Superman, Henry Cavill is great. He’s lethally good-looking, is extremely manly but still elicits vulnerability to give Supes that extra depth. In all honesty, his range is a little one-note but that’s not a fault of his, it’s a script that lacks more levity. Hopefully there can be more humor next time, but as it is, the film isn’t devoid of it.

Another thing that helps is the excellent cast that surrounds Superman. I usually don’t care much for Russell Crowe but I loved him as Jor-El, Supes’ birth father. He brings a gravitas similar to Marlon Brando and approaches the role in a completely serious way. Kevin Costner compliments Crowe as the human father, and along with Diane Lane, teaches him how to be human in some really beautiful and heartbreaking ways. These three and most importantly the fathers are a huge role in shaping who Supes becomes and they do it brilliantly. Giving Superman a run for his money is Michael Shannon’s Zod. As someone who was bred for battle, he has a really specific purpose for doing what he does, even if he lacks any empathy and is lethal. You can understand why he’s devoted to his mission at all costs and Shannon that trait as almost an inverse but necessary version of Supes. Anje Traue as Faora, Zod’s right hand is used pretty well as a lethal weapon and though she hardly speaks, she’s full of menace and embodies strength. The rest of the characters, are basically just there for setup, including Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. She plays the character well, but the love story is a bit forced. She’s still a good show of faith for the human race, proving to Supes that not everyone’s first instinctual reaction to fear is violent self defense.

I wish I had a more original way to close this, but Man of Steel is absolutely the Superman film you’ve been looking for your whole life. It excitingly reintroduces the character and his universe in smart and relevant ways, and while it isn’t perfect, makes your head spin with some pretty amazing possibilities. I’d love to see Snyder get another chance at the character because there’s a lot of growth and seeds planted beyond generic sequel bait that can be expanded on now that he’s completed the almost Herculean task of giving Supes a fresh start. As far as first impressions go, this is a mighty strong one, worthy of the character’s legacy and in the best way showing us how hope is still the strongest weapon of all.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5