‘Man Of Steel’ Leaps Tall Buildings, Punches All The Faces [Review]
You’ve heard the one about leaping tall buildings in a single bound, right? Well, Warner Bros. and DC Comics have done exactly that — or at least come tremendously close — in Man Of Steel, the big-screen Superman reboot from director Zack Snyder.
Henry Cavill is the latest actor to don the blue and reds as Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, living a secret life in simple Smallville, Kansas as Clark Kent. Growing up knowing he’s special and unique from those around him, tragedy pushes Clark out into the world, forcing him to confront his true self and become the man he’s long been destined to become.
Not that any of that is new information for Superman fans, of course. In many ways, Man of Steel is a fairly straight-forward origin story, albeit with some twists and turns. Do we even really need to retread the tale of how Clark Kent becomes Superman, after decades and decades of similar retellings across countless media?
In Snyder’s hands, the answer is one sonic-boom of a yes. The Watchmen filmmaker, long praised for his style but often questioned on the matter of substance, rises to the occasion with Man of Steel. He packs in all of the signature firepower and adrenaline viewers have come to expect from a Snyder film, and it’s made all the more glorious because it’s not just any man flying around beating the pants off of alien invaders — it’s Superman, a hero fans have long hoped would fly in live-action with all of the face-pounding visual wonder the character has always been capable of. In this department, if nowhere else, Snyder delivers.
But that’s not the only area where Man of Steel soars. The script from David S. Goyer, one of the key writers behind the Dark Knight trilogy, paints a plain picture of a humble man seeking normalcy in a world where he doesn’t fit, a world he loves regardless of his questionable place in it. In between the high-flying combat scenes, Man of Steel boasts a whole lot of heart thanks to Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan’s story, and Snyder’s ability to reign himself in when the mood calls for it.
Structurally, the Goyer-Nolan take on Superman isn’t far away from their work on Batman Begins. As much as one can ground the story of Earth’s first alien protector and his extraterrestrial enemies in reality, Man of Steel gets it done. Just as Begins crafted Batman through glimpses of Bruce Wayne’s childhood traumas, his adolescent angst and his adventures abroad, Steel strikes after a similar shape for its story, albeit with greater scope and higher stakes. In other words, if you’re high on the Dark Knight films, there’s plenty for you to enjoy in this new adventure of Superman.
Another way MoS mirrors The Dark Knight trilogy: impeccable casting. Everybody is a somebody, whether it’s marquee names like Diane Lane and Kevin Costner stepping into Ma and Pa Kent’s shoes, or bit players filled out by sci-fi-friendly actors. (Fans of Battlestar Galactica have a fun pair of back-to-back nods to look forward to.) Looking at the cast, Michael Shannon stands peerless as General Zod. He takes on a role that could have been an easy goatee-groping villain; instead, he turns Zod into a deeply committed and passionate (if not a touch psychotic) soldier with a singular focus: restoring Krypton to its former glory. Russell Crowe is another standout as Jor-El. The performance and execution of the character flat-out rules. The less said, the better.
How about the big one, though? How about the Man of Steel himself? There’s no question that Cavill looks and sounds the part. There’s no question that he can punch his way through scene after scene and leave you wanting more and more. But that’s just it: you want more. You can’t help but sense that outside of brawling and brooding, Cavill wasn’t given enough to do. The potential is all there; the actor has basically everything you want in a Superman. He just doesn’t get the best chance to show it all off. Here’s hoping he gets a bit more to chew on in the already-developing sequel.
A similar complaint could be filed against the Lois Lane story. Amy Adams is excellent as The Daily Planet’s most fearless reporter; it’s not her performance that sells the role short. Instead, it’s the relationship between Clark and Lois. Superman purists will have plenty to gripe about in terms of how their relationship plays out and how some of their secrets are revealed – but that doesn’t matter as much for the casual viewer. What does matter is that Clark and Lois’ relationship accelerates way too fast. The best way to put it is through a Marvel lens: Fans who didn’t buy into Thor and Jane Foster’s we-fell-in-love-in-a-weekend romance in Thor won’t buy Man of Steel‘s love story. Again, as with Cavill’s performance, the Clark-Lois dynamic will hopefully have more room to breathe in the inevitable sequel. This time around, it’s just a little too much, a little too fast.
And on that note, let’s just say it for the record: Man of Steel is not flawless. There are little nitpicks to be found if you look for them. Perry White’s shoddy journalism standards. The “every Kevin Costner scene is a life lesson” of it all. But for every whiff, there are both subtle and major victories. Perry White learning big lessons from Prometheus. The immaculate details of Krypton, from tech to armor, weapon and spacecraft design. And there’s the breakneck ending to consider, a series of climaxes upon climaxes upon more climaxes that leave the viewer almost as breathless as Superman winds up himself. In those regards, it’s the summer-season blockbuster at its absolute finest.
There’s no debate that Marvel is leaps and bounds ahead of DC in the live-action feature film department. Can Warner Brothers/DC respond to Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers with a Justice League franchise now they finally have a suitably strong Superman film under their collective belt?
Maybe not. Maybe not just yet. Maybe they need to go slower than a speeding bullet before they start putting all their eggs in that basket. But with Man of Steel, we are closer to a cohesive DC Comics Cinematic Universe than ever before. Watching this heretofore unlikely outcome start to come together is worth the price of admission for the DC faithful all on its own. It doesn’t hurt that this Superman movie is pretty damn super by itself, either.