Man Of Steel Review

The Plot:

Realising that the planet Krypton is doomed to imminent destruction its foremost scientist sends his new-born son Kal-El to the distant planet of Earth, hoping to safeguard the future of both worlds. With the help of his adoptive earth parents Kal must learn to deal with his extraordinary powers whilst living in hiding from mankind. However, when an evil force from Krypton led by General Zod tracks him down, Kal must finally embrace his destiny as earth’s greatest hero.

The Good:

After the widespread disappointment in Bryan Singer’s 2006 effort Superman Returns, Man Of Steel wisely makes the choice to reboot the franchise entirely and disregard all of Superman’s previous big screen adventures. Rather than seeking to ill-advisedly continue the legacy of Richard Donnor’s iconic movie franchise, Man of Steel instead offers an expanded and modernized re-telling of Superman’s all too familiar origin story.

Superman films have always been credited with pushing the boundaries of special effects and imagination. Famously the tagline for Superman The Movie boasted “You’ll believe a man can fly!”, Man Of Steel surpasses that now humble achievement with ease. The film arguably makes costume clad alien superheroes more visually convincing than ever before.

Opening the film on the dying planet Krypton, complete with dragons, apocalyptic volcanoes and spaceships locked in civil war; is an epic statement of intent. So often ignored as a barely mentioned footnote in Superman’s origin tale, it’s a surprise to see this exotic world explored quite so fully. It adds a new element of intergalactic fantasy to Superman’s subsequent earthbound adventures.

Beyond all its lavish CGI magic, the film has a significantly handsome asset in the shape of new leading man Henry Cavill. The towering British actor is immediately more rugged and rough edged than past men of steel like Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, replacing their perfect mannequin features with some actual stubble and sweat. Squeezed proudly into the traditional skin-tight red and blue suit he actually looks more appropriately god-like and a less like a camp comicbook cliché.

Surly Boardwalk Empire star Michael Shannon also does a fine job of scowling his way through his performance as power mad Kryptonian General Zod. Demonstrating a typically vicious intensity, Shannon avoids the obvious temptation to ham things up too much as a cartoonish cliché. He’s a ruthless soldier with a mission, rather than merely a genocidal lunatic with a god-complex.

The Bad:

Director Zack Snyder is consistently praised for his visual flair but often accused of lacking emotional substance beneath his trademark CGI style. Although Man Of Steel successfully reimagines the look of this timeless superhero franchise, perhaps predictably it isn’t nearly as effective in injecting convincing depth and emotion.

After a promising start, Man Of Steel soon overly complicates itself with persistent flashbacks. Jumping back and forth randomly between Clark Kent as a gloomy drifter and his formative Kansas childhood. It’s a heavy handed and unnecessary attempt to distract audiences from how overly familiar they might be with this classic origin story. However, simply showing things out of sequence can’t disguise how little of Superman’s core mythology has really changed with this fresh ‘imagining’.

Superman has two innate flaws as a character, his physical invincibility and his dispassionate lack of human emotion. He’s entirely invulnerable from harm and rarely if ever displays any emotion other than benign confidence. Both traits make it hard for audiences to emotionally invest in him. Despite an annoyingly persistent use of childhood flashbacks, the film still largely fails to humanize this god like hero.

Although the action sequences in Man of Steel are impressively explosive, at times it feels meaningless and repetitive to watch indestructible characters hurling each other through endless rows of buildings and debris. General Zod and his super powered minions may represent a legitimate threat for Superman, but the action moves at such a blurred and dizzyingly fast pace that it’s hard to absorb or enjoy it fully.

Traditionally the romantic tension with feisty reporter Lois Lane has been the one thing to get beneath Superman’s square jawed stoic heroism. Clark Kent’s fumbling attempts to romance Lois, whilst ironically competing with his own hunky alter-ego as Superman, gave him an endearing relatable charm. Sadly after a lengthy build up to their first on screen encounter, there’s very little chemistry between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill. Without that initial spark, their entire relationship feels more functional than plausibly romantic. It’s a tepid plot device, lacking in passion or intimacy.

In a deliberate efforts to defy expectations, Man Of Steel never really gives Henry Cavill any opportunity to play the familiar ‘Clark Kent’ role. Sadly keeping Cavill costume clad and relentlessly serious robs him of his one valuable avenue for both character development and humour. Ironically the very same qualities the film lacks most.

Though it’s understandable why the film choose not to include Superman’s usual flamboyant nemesis Lex Luthor, the reality is that some wickedly witty villainy would have actually been a very welcome contrast to Superman’s bland benevolence.

Avengers proved it’s entirely possible to balance dramatic apocalyptic action with flashes of self-referential humour and well placed one liners. Man Of Steel by contrast, is even more devotedly sullen than executive producer Christopher Nolan’s previous Dark Knight Batman saga. For what should really be a spectacular example of pure escapist fantasy it’s surprising how oddly joyless Man Of Steel often feels.

The Ugly Truth:

Man Of Steel is a successful big screen re-birth for the most enduring and iconic superhero. It’s consistently spectacular enough to break box office records and secure an inevitable sequel. However, in re-imagining the mythology of Superman the franchise arguably loses as much as it gains. Credible seriousness on a grand scale comes at the price of romance and silly fun. Not all fans will be quite as happy with the choices made to ignore or re-imagine key elements of the franchise.


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