Man of Steel (2013)

“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… out of fear. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”

★★★

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer (screenplay), David S. Goyer (story)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

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In Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel,  nine year old Clark Kent is given a word of advice from his father about keeping his super strength and unnatural abilities under wraps. His father (Costner) explains: “people are afraid of what they don’t understand” – that is, the world isn’t ready for Superman just yet. It would take time for the young Superman to develop his inner moral compass, and understand what it meant to be a regular human being. On that note, I was ready for another Superman movie. I would have preferred to wait for a fully developed, post-adolescent Superman that didn’t simply rely on his super effect powers to impress a crowd. With Hollywood exhausting the superhero genre (to the point where Ryan Reynolds was cast as Green Lantern), sequels, 3-quels, and reboots to boot, I don’t think the world needed another summer blockbuster to rip out another page from comic books.

While I continue to pray for a different trend to ride the waves of the summer blockbuster money stream, I will give my two cents on Superman without too much complaining, because my eyes didn’t heat up and burn holes through the screen from anger. It was a decent film.

Snyder’s Man of Steel attempts to remove itself from the long lineage of Superman films that have come before it by taking on a much darker and serious tone (courtesy of Nolan). It also tells the Superman story a little differently. It opens with Superman’s parents Jor-El (Crowe) and Lara (Zurer) fighting to keep their plant Krypton from A. imploding, no thanks to a complacent government happy to overlook the environmental warning signs, B. falling into the hands of General Zod. Jor-El and Zara cling to their son, Kal-El, as their last hope, sending him off to planet Earth as the first naturally conceived Kryptonian in years. Instead of creating a dichotomy between nerdy, socially awkward Clark Kent, and muscly, suave Superman, Snyder creates a juxtaposition between Clark Kent the human, and Superman the Kryptonian. The power that comes with knowing your own origin story, we soon find out, gives Snyder’s Superman invincibility.  But will his humanistic empathy bring him down? (No, it doesn’t. But you probably already knew that.)

Without much humor or warmth, Man of Steel zings around CGI heavy worlds that face close-calls in the form of falling buildings and lots of fire. In many ways, it’s a smart change – with so many Supermans and superhero films to compare to, and despite plenty of opportunities to wisecrack, Man of Steel remains … steely… and actually benefits from it. Taking as much time as it needs to, Man of Steel examines Superman’s difficult moral decisions, his personal development growing up as a human, and the world’s reaction to him – both as an outsider (an E.T. of sorts), and as a weapon of mass destruction.

Like Henry Cavill, Man of Steel is not hard to look at. It has state-of-the-art CGI and the action is very typical of Snyder (300Sucker Punch, Watchmen), but the film doesn’t do much to go beyond safe artistic and conceptual limitations set up by a plethora of other superhero films. It lacks the signature dramatic tension we’ve seen in Nolan’s Batman reboots, and it decides to opt out of the charming humor that wins us over in The Avengers, leaving it in an awkward middle ground that isn’t made any more impressive by the operatic special effects.

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