daniel cohen reviews the biggest film of the summer …
Plot: After being evacuated from his doomed planet of Krypton as a baby, Kal-El (Henry Cavill) arrives on Earth, and discovers he has exceptional abilities. Raised by farmers, and given the name Clark Kent, he spends most of his life discovering where he came from, and what he should do with his powers. When a being from his past threatens his adopted world, everything changes forever for both Clark, and our world.
Ever since the Superman cinematic world was established in 1978 by director Richard Donner, it’s level of iconic stature is right up there with Star Wars or Jaws. For decades, filmmakers and Warner Brothers were too scared to break away from this continuity. Would a new Superman be accepted? Is Christopher Reeve and the John Williams theme just too ingrained in people’s memories? After the negative reception of 2006’s Superman Returns, which continues the Richard Donner Superman, it was clear we needed a new take on the character. It took seven years, and a pitch from Christopher Nolan (acts as a producer), but we have our new Superman … and it’s the best interpretation I’ve ever seen of the character.
In Man of Steel, we don’t see the perfect flawless character that was Christopher Reeve. We don’t see the whiney Brandon Routh from Superman Returns. In Man of Steel, we see a Clark Kent who cracks open a beer and watches football. This Superman is a man, and for the first time maybe ever, a character we can relate to. That’s why this movie works. And it all begins with the great performance of Henry Cavill.
Cavill possesses all the qualities you would want from the character, but it doesn’t just happen over night. This character earns the right to be Superman. Cavill’s performance is understated, but that’s the best kind of acting sometimes. He expresses everything emotionally and through his face. He’s good, curious, determined, flawed, angry, but when the time comes for him to don the suit and be the protector, he’s a total and absolute bad ass. Man of Steel could not be a more appropriate title for this movie.
But the stellar acting doesn’t stop with Cavill. Amy Adams as Lois Lane … perfect. I finally understand why this character is smart and witty, where other interpretations tell me she is, but I don’t really buy it. And I love how her relationship with Clark begins and ends in this movie. The development of their relationship is radically different from what we’ve seen before, but at the same time, it’s all too familiar.
And we obviously have to talk about Clark’s four parents. We’ll start with the adoptive. Diane Lane as Martha Kent is an inspired choice. There’s a moment where young Clark is scared out of his mind when his abilities start freaking out, and she has to come down to the school and calm him down. This scene tells you everything you need to know about Martha Kent. And she’s also tough as nails. And one thing is very clear after watching this movie — don’t mess with Superman’s mom … holy shit. Clark’s other adoptive parent is Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. When that casting was announced, I really started to get excited for this movie. He’s not in it a lot, but there’s one scene with him and Clark that is so fricking heartbreaking, you could hear a pin drop in the theater.
As far as Kal-El’s biological upbringing, this is the most we’ve seen of Krypton in a Superman movie. And holy Big Cheez-Its, it’s amazing. The Krypton stuff is 20 minutes of pure adrenaline. Ayelet Zurer plays Lara, Kal-El’s mom. She’s not in it much, but she makes the few scenes she has impactful, especially her last. But my favorite performance in the entire movie other then Cavill is Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kal-El’s dad. If you’ve been hankering for a bad ass Russell Crowe performance, you’ll get it here. He is AWESOME. And the film finds a great way to continue using him throughout the whole movie.
The other big performances are from the villain side of things. Michael Shannon as General Zod is the main baddie, but we’ll get to him in a minute. Zod’s main henchwoman is Faora, played by Antje Traue. Watch for this actress to get more roles. She is chilling, with some downright evil as hell dialogue.
But Michael Shannon really does almost steal the show as General Zod. This is a tricky performance, because a lot of other actors could have made this campy, but with Shannon, it’s the exact opposite — he is a threatening son of a bitch, and has one of the greatest villain lines ever. But towards the end of the movie, despite all the evil this guy’s done, there is a slight revelation that makes you kind of sympathize with him, as he is a victim of Krypton’s misguided society. The funny thing about Zod’s main plan is that it’s recycled from Transformers: Dark of the Moon of all films. Except one movie is awesome, and the other is total garbage.
Aside from the great performances and Clark’s character arc, this film delivers on monumental action. This is like Independence Day times 10. I thought the theater was going to explode. But what makes this action so emotional, is that despite how much CG there is, it feels more real than in so many other action films. Because David S. Goyer (screenwriter) and Zack Snyder (director) are so determined to make this the real world, where it just so happens there is an alien living among us, the action gives you real drama. And this isn’t like the Avengers, where everyone is cracking jokes, and Hulk punches Thor just for fun. This is treated with the utmost seriousness, and what feels like real consequences. There’s a point where a building is coming down, and it does kind of get uncomfortable. There’s also a fight scene between Superman and Zod that is without a doubt the greatest fight scene ever in a superhero movie. It gets in danger of going a little too long, but I think it ends at just the right time. For as great as the action is though, it can get a little draining at times.
My other big complaint is there’s too much shaky cam. It doesn’t ruin the action, but I can’t stand it when it’s used for quiet scenes. Does the camera really need to shake in scenes like young Clark and Jonathan talking. I want to actually pay attention to the conversation. *Sigh* I hate shaky cam so much.
For a movie that’s almost 2.5 hours, the pace is actually pretty quick. There isn’t one wasted moment. With editing being such a problem in film today, other filmmakers should take notes when watching this. The dialogue is always moving you along. It’s direct, but still good. What I also love is that they don’t linger on the Superman stuff. When he gets his suit, we don’t have to reflect for ten minutes as he hovers in space. He gets it, and we’re off and running. When he finds the fortress of solitude, we don’t have to stare in awe as Clark takes it all in. He finds it, and keeps moving to get more information.
It seems like the last couple years, people want more lightheartedness and fun from superhero movies. For me, superheroes can’t get serious enough. I want The Dark Knights of the world, not Iron Man 3 where everything is a damn joke. Man of Steel is in the mold of the Nolan Batman films. This isn’t fun and games. There’s a lot of action, sure, but it asks more of the audience to actually invest in the character. And what elevates this movie for me are some of the decisions Clark/Superman is forced to make. In most superhero movies, they would have found some lame way out of these choices, where the character doesn’t actually have to make the tough call. But in this movie, the filmmakers put their money where their mouth is. And whenever one of these decisions takes place, Cavill’s acting really knocks it out of the park.
Also, if you were worried about the music not living up to John Williams, Hans Zimmer’s score is one of the best elements to the entire film. I love the 1978 Superman, and the sequel, Superman II, don’t get me wrong. But this is the Superman movie I’ve been waiting my whole life for, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)
All photos credit to Warner Bros.