Superman is one of the most recognizable characters ever created and he finally has a movie that I think captures the pure power of Kal-El. Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Russell Crowe, Man of Steel reboots Superman’s origin story and sees him faceoff against his greatest enemy, General Zod. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
This is one of the greatest superheros movies ever made. I can very confidently say that. It has everything thing you would want in a Superman movie and gives him an origin that not only makes sense, but takes his character in new, interesting places. It is a dark movie, with heavy dramatic beats throughout. And there is a ton of action.
Henry Cavill becomes Superman in this film. There is no other way to describe it. His acting is as powerful as the character he plays, both sincere and angry. And his scenes as Clark Kent work too, especially when interacting with his parents and Lois Lane. Nothing seems forced in the performance and I am very excited to see what Cavill does in the sequels.
I am sure you know the story of Superman by now and for the most part, the early scenes will be familiar. But just barely. Russell Crowe plays Kal-El’s father, Jor-El, and gets a couple big action scenes as Krypton is on the brink of destruction. And once Kal-El gets to Earth, the scenes of him growing up with his human parents are told in flashback/ memories that the adult Clark reflects on.
I enjoyed these flashbacks because they hammered home his emotional connection with Jonathan Kent, played to perfection by Kevin Costner. The parental emphasis switches from him trying to control his powers (though that is still shown in one amazing scene). Now his father is more worried about him keeping his powers hidden.
After saving a school bus full of kids, Clark asks Jonathan if he should have let them die. And the reply is “maybe”. This is an example of the darkness this movie goes to, as well as the many intriguing dramatic beats it hits. This isn’t your “guess-the-panties-colour” Superman. This movie is more special than that.
This drama continues when Jonathan dies. Unlike the 1978 version, where he dies of a heart attack, Jonathan now dies when saving his dog from a tornado. This is another defining moment for Superman, with his father telling him not to save him and compromise his hidden identity. It’s another amazing scene that much more clearly defines the character throughout the movie.
A major part of the Superman stories is journalism and Lois Lane. Amy Adams picks up the role this time and breathes life into a character that gets a lot to do. It is Lois that discovers Kal-El, while he is working for a mining company in Canada. And it is Lois that helps him escape General Zod’s ship. Eventually she has her damsel in distress moment, but there isn’t much romantic tension between the characters and it greatly benefits the character.
Her newsroom coworkers at the Daily Planet all appear too. Perry White, Steve Lombard and Jenny Olson all show up for a couple of scenes and I look forward to seeing more of them in the sequels too. I especially found it interesting that Jimmy is now Jenny because that could lead to an interesting new take on the relationships Clark forms in the newsroom.
Michael Shannon also gives a great performance as Zod. His motives are very clear but still homicidal, and Shannon gives the role the energy and anger required. And he is an equal force to Kal-El which leads to a very destructive finale. Both are virtually invincible and it is nice to see Superman have to physically fight an enemy instead of stopping a business mogul (Lex Luther).
After talking to people and reading other reactions to the film, I noticed a pattern of criticism in the action. Most people felt that there is too much action and destruction and that it was hard to follow. I didn’t notice this in my viewing, a regular 2D screening, though the final 45 minutes are non-stop action that happens very fast.
The way I saw that was like this. Zod, Kal-El and the other Kryptonians in Zod’s army all have heightened abilities. This allows them to move faster and hit harder, which would naturally lead to the destruction of city blocks. So although it is extreme, this is a superhero movie and I felt the sheer power these characters posse was accurately presented here.
This also explains my favourite scene in the whole movie, when Superman learns to fly. Here we see Kal-El fly to many different places around the world and actively change the environment with his sonic boom and tail wind. Visually, the interactions between the environment and the character are stunning, while the scene also invokes an exciting thrill as we see our young hero discover his powers. It is pretty spectacular.
Zach Snyder directed this movie on a script from the Dark Knight trilogy’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. And the Dark Knight influence is every where, especially in the first 90 minutes. Everything seems a little dark than past Superman movies, with lots of clouds and shadows in many of the scenes. And the drama is heightened on multiple occasions when young Clark is struggling to get used to his powers, including an awesome scene involving x-ray vision that instantly reminded me of when young Bruce Banner first encounters bats in the well.
Nolan probably won’t be as involved in the sequels, but Goyer will be and his influence should (hopefully) carry over in the coming films.
If I were to have one complaint about this movie, it is that John Williams’ classic Superman theme does not appear. Hans Zimmer scored this film and like his other movies, the instruments are very loud. It works better than the Dark Knight Rises score Zimmer did, but just doesn’t have the same feeling Williams’ did. But with a darker movie than the 1978 one, that probably makes more sense.
And although I keep calling him Superman in this review, that name is hardly used in the movie. Like the first Iron Man, this movie is very much about the character and less about what people should call him. For an origin story, this makes a lot of sense and I am glad that decision was made.
Anyone who likes superhero movies should not miss Man of Steel on the big screen. It has the potential to be the first in a long line of DC Universe movies and I think it starts that series off on a good note. I look forward to seeing what Synder, Goyer and Cavill do with the character next but for now, I’ll just have to settle with seeing Man of Steel a few more times.