Man of Steel

15 Jun

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Man of Steel tells the story of a young extraterrestrial man living on Earth, trying to discover why he is different to other humans. He’s known since he was a child that he’s not the same as them, but he doesn’t know what he is. When members of his own race come to Earth to take him back, his journey of self-discovery quickens as he is forced to protect himself and his adopted planet.

Warning; There may be some parts of the review that some would consider to contain slight spoilers. If you have haven’t the film (or any know nothing about Superman) you might want to stop reading at this point.

Ok, so our story starts with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) fretting about the impending end of his planet, Krypton. The film wastes no time throwing us into some action sequences when General Zod (Michael Shannon) bursts into a council and starts shooting at people and doing other general ‘bad-guy’ stuff. He’s our villain; his aim is to protect Krypton and he’ll commit any horrendous act to do it. Jor-El has the same aim, but he’s gone about trying to save his people in a slightly different way. Rather than killing his people, he’s had a son with his wife. They name the son Kal-El then, in a scene that packs an emotional punch early on, they send him off to Earth in a space ship.

The next we see of Kal-El, he’s a grown man working on Earth (played in adult life by Henry Cavill). We find that he was taken in and raised by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and they’ve called him Clark. The film begins flicking between time periods. We get to see Clark as a child, bullied at school for being ‘a freak’, and struggling to deal with the fact he’s not like the other children. 

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When we see him as an adult, he’s having the same problems; he’s aware of his power and uses it to help people where necessary, but he tries to hide who he is as he doesn’t know how the planet will react. When he eventually learns about his past and why he is the way he is, he dons the famous Superman suit and can finally begin being a proper super hero.

Christopher Nolan is on board for this film as a producer and has writing credits, and his influence is all over the movie. For a start, the title doesn’t have the word Superman in it, much like Nolan not using ‘Batman’ in the names of two films from his Dark Knight Trilogy. Like that trilogy, this film tries to establish the factors that allow the protagonist to grow into the hero he becomes.

Filled with moral quandaries about the extent to which he should help people, and risk revealing his real identity, or whether he should hide his powers, Clark has big decisions to make. Director Zak Snyder does a decent job with this side of the film. I did like the alternating between Clark’s childhood and his older self; it worked well for me in establishing his character.

Unfortunately, we are forced to watch a few too many father and alien-son heart-to-hearts. Kevin Costner does nothing wrong as Clark’s Earth dad, but I often find in superhero films that there is always a character who is just too overbearing. That is definitely the role that has fallen to Costner. He spells out the moral dilemmas of Clark’s position too explicitly, too often and leaving no room for subtlety or for the audience to use their own heads. I am not a fan of these type of characters; they’re too clichéd now in these films and I found myself rolling my eyes every time Jonathan tried to impart advice and wisdom on to Clark.

I’d suggest this film has two major strengths, one of which is having a well cast villain. My love of Michael Shannon is no secret, and he impressed me again here. He deals well with his fight scenes and carries plenty of menace as General Zod.

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The other major plus point here is the action sequences/special effects. As you would expect from a big budget summer blockbuster, nothing has been spared in making this film look fantastic. There are plenty of explosions, falling buildings and cars being thrown through the sky to catch your attention and they never look anything less than brilliant. Despite the effects being so good, I was unimpressed by the close-up shots of Superman flying. In truth, I felt these shots looked a little tacky.

The biggest problem I had with this film, and it’s one I anticipated, is that I found my mind wandering several times. Everybody knows Superman never dies, so where is the peril? The villain has a good enough story to stop this ruining the film, but it will always remain an issue for me with Superman. If you know he’s going to win, no matter how bad his situation may seem, then why should you care? It becomes a case of “how is he going to get out of it this time”, rather than “is he actually going to die?” and sadly that just isn’t as interesting. As a result, during some key scenes I found I lost concentration a little, which is never good.

I also found myself unimpressed by certain elements of the fight scenes. Although they are well choreographed, we regularly see Superman or his adversary being flung several feet after taking a punch, and usually crashing into something very hard. But then they get up and they’re fine. After a while, I was thinking “Ok, I get it, they’re strong!” and it all became a bit “so what” to me. The final disappointment was the anti-climatic conclusion to General Zod’s story. As my friend said to me after the film, it was a bit too easy.

Other than Michael Shannon, the casting of this film doesn’t really stand out. Henry Cavill definitely has a charm as Clark Kent and I will look forward to seeing how he develops in the role, but he’s nothing special here. Amy Adams is a reasonable Lois Lane but you never feel she’s made the role her own. It’s not badly cast, but there’s not much on display that will live long in the memory. I am however really glad for Shannon that he did a good job as a major character in a big film. He deserves more big roles and this will surely help him land more of them in the future.

Overall then, Man of Steel is a good movie, not a great one. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy it because that isn’t the case. There is enough happening on screen to keep your attention, and the core of the story is good. I should also mention I was impressed by Hans Zimmer’s score. However, in accepting that Superman never loses, I found it hard to retain a big interest, and the story loses all emotional resonance.  Snyder and his writers do a good enough job with the origin elements of Clark Kent’s development, and the fight scenes are presented well but stick resolutely to superhero cliché. All that said, Man of Steel fulfills it’s role as a summer blockbuster and I would happily recommend it as a film worth watching at the cinema.

7/10

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5 Responses to “Man of Steel”

  1. Bubbawheat June 16, 2013 at 00:47 #

    Yes, but there is one thing that this movie does that many people don’t like. It’s the (vague spoiler) scene at the end, you say that Superman isn’t going to lose. But in my opinion, he does lose in a certain way. I honestly think that a lot of people who are more middle of the road may come to like this movie more as time goes on.

  2. themovieuniverse June 18, 2013 at 16:34 #

    Great review. I can see where you’re coming from with your points about Kevin Costner’s character but I actually thought he was great and his character really added to Clark’s human side (something that was very little developed in Man of Steel). My main problem was the hurried love story between Clark and Lois which seemed to have no emotional investment or story direction at all.

  3. themovieuniverse June 18, 2013 at 16:37 #

    I forgot to say this before I posted my comment, so my apologies for commenting again. But the lack of peril that you mention is the same for every superhero movie and most action movies on the whole: you know Tony Stark isn’t going to lose, nor are Thor or Hulk. And Batman definitely isn’t going to lose. It’s just something that we, as an audience, have to come to terms with. However, I do realise that the other heroes I mentioned can be pushed to the very limit in terms of strength and near-death where Superman can’t quite experience that. Phew, all done. I think.

    • Richard Burns June 18, 2013 at 16:49 #

      I think that’s a fair comment and probably something I should have expanded on. It is a problem I have with most hero films but the difference I see with Batman, especially with The Dark Knight, is that the villains feel a little more real. I know that might sound silly but Ledger’s Joker was, to all intents and purposes, a terrorist. Being able to relate that to the real world made the sense of peril a little more genuine. You could always see where Batman *might* lose.
      With Superman, the fact they’re beings from a different planet reduces the believability and level to which I could relate to the story.

      It’s not necessarily the fault of anybody connected with this film, it’s the hand they’re dealt with the character…but it’s almost always going to be something that detracts from my enjoyment.

      I definitely agree with you about the Clark/Lois angle.

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