Man of Steel (12a)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Laurence Fishburne
Running time: 143 min
A young Kansas boy is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
Oh but there’s a lot riding on this. In this, the year of Superman’s 75th birthday, DC and Warners have decided to go all out and rebrand and relaunch Superman under the control of Zach Snyder.
It’s a real gamble given that Marvel have been destroying DC in the movie stakes for years – outside The Dark Knight movies, also written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan who are on scripting duties here – so DC have finally decided to up the ante and start the road to the Justice League with the first Superhero, the biggest of them them all (the Batman fan in me hates to admit it), Superman.
And for the most part it’s a success. Starting out with the destruction of Krypton, the movie quickly introduces the infant Kal-El, his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the military leader of the planet Zod (Shannon). As is the mythology, Krypton is doomed and chaos breaks out which results in Jor-El and his wife Lara sending their son off to safety on earth. We shoot forward 33 years and meet Clark Kent, a man with a secret bigger than the world. A secret that has left him an outcast… the hero’s journey is a hard one. But it will ultimately lead him to the fortress of solitude and a confrontation with Zod and the last survivors of his original home planet.
This Superman is a new Superman. Nolan and Goyer draw from the mythologies of the comics, the movies and throw in some of their own ideas. Everything has a reason, with the movie going to great depths to explain why everything exists and it helps make it more believable, Kryton and its people feel more alien and there’s a reason to Kal-El’s ‘S’ on his chest, why he wears the suit, why he is more powerful, what the fortress of Solitute really is… it all makes sense and helps to cement such a fantastical character in a world we can believe.
The performances of Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe as Jonathan Kent and Jor-El are solid and really help feed into just who Clark has become. He is a hero with a burden, a burden that weighs heavy and is much more of a hindrance than a help, he wrestles with this throughout the first half of the movie’s two-plus hours and, while it explains everything in a stylish way, being careful to not simply rehash all that we already know; is there anyone who doesn’t know these origins? One complaint was Jor-El’s presence in the movie – he hangs around too long and becomes nothing more than a tool to explain what’s happening to those in the audience who are just waiting for the next fight scene. A waste, surely?
The character of Superman is more complex here than he is normally portrayed and Cavill really nails it, bringing a whole new take on the character that, while nods exist throughout, is independent of anyone else’s portrayal. If Donner’s 1978 movie was a love letter to the American Dream, this is more an ode to an America that is recovering post-911. Superman is still the all American hero, but he’s not afraid to stand against the government too. Following on from the themes of The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, while a lighter affair, slyly attacks the US Government and the current climate; Superman tells one general that while he can’t be controlled, he is not his enemy. In another scene he makes it quite clear the military has no right to spy on him. He’s homegrown, but savy. I hope this version of the big blue boyscout gets the chance to lock horns with Batman someday.
Zod too is a different character. Shannon’s portrayal wisely avoids what has gone before – except Shannon’s sporting of a goatee beard, an obvious nod to Terence Stamp’s Van Dyke beard – here Zod is not really a criminal but a once great man who, like all the best villains, truly believes he is doing what is right. He was born to protect his planet and he will stop at nothing to do just that. And he feels justified in everything he does, at one point telling Kal-El that a day doesn’t pass that he’s not haunted by the things he’s done, but he wouldn’t hesitate for a second should he have to do them again. Shannon delivers a menace, desperation and necessary evil to Zod that really makes him a force to be reckoned with. Sadly his fellow troops are cut-out characters.
But, let’s be honest, one of the things people complained about – especially in Superman Returns – is that Superman needs to have an adversary that is worthy of him. Someone Superman can fight toe-to-toe. And here he gets it. Snyder, no suprise, handles the fight scenes wonderfully. The second half of the movie is basically a battle that starts in Smallville and reaches to Metropolis and it doesn’t disappoint. While the first half is more of a think piece, a study on what it means to be a hero and an outcast, the second is a powerhouse of destruction. Again, the nods to 911 are unmistakable as buildings collapse and people run for their lives.
But it’s not a dark movie by any means, despite Nolan’s influence.
Superman is reborn here. He’s still the character we know but he’s slightly darker and more world weary, a man who will do what has to be done even when – and we see it here – it goes against everything he believes.But he remains a beacon of hope for the people of earth. He questions if he can trust us, but does what he must anyway. He is noble and good, but he’s no fool.
While it’s far from perfect, Man Of Steel goes out of its way to bring us that which we already know in a fresh way. And once it gets all the obligatory stuff out of the way it really, ahem, soars. Special mention must be made of Amy Adams’ as Lois Lane, she manages to be the steely, hard-nosed reporter we want her to be and still be vulnerable, and her relationship with Superman is handled well. Laurence Fishburne too is great as Perry White, although he gets far too little screen time. A word to the wise, the set-up of Lois finding out who Superman is is a break from the norm – a stamp that clearly shouts out that this is a fresh take on an old theme. And that’s ok, but like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, it could put a few noses out of joint, however it never messes with the integrity of the characters.
A slow start leading to an explosive second half, Man of Steel is certainly flawed but it creates an idea that there’s a much bigger universe out there, potentially teaming with life and aliens and heroes. The more eagle-eyed will also notice nods to Lexcorp and Wayne Industries. Make no mistake, if this is the success DC hope and it deserves to be, there will be big things in the future. It was announced last night that Man Of Steel 2 is coming… and soon hopefully Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman… if they are all handled with the same aplomb then the Avengers may just have a fight on their hands.
So, flawed but fun, this is a confident start to DC’s movie universe. And that is surely something great. And yes, I did believe a man could fly…