MAN OF STEEL Author: Bill "Jett" Ramey (Follow @BATMANONFILM)
June 10, 2013
SYNOPSIS: A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.
Before writing this review, I saw MAN OF STEEL two times (Hollywood and Houston). It's totally a film that needs more than one viewing to process it. Before putting the final touches on what you are now reading, I saw it a third time in New York at the film's premiere. If you're counting at home, that's three viewings, and I think I've got a good handle on it now. Maybe.
So, what can I say about director Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL?
Well, it’s one of the best comic book superhero films ever. (No it's not on the level of any of the films of "The Dark Knight Trilogy," but what is?!) It’s an action film that never becomes a “spectacle.” It has a tremendous amount of heart. It makes you care about, and become emotionally invested in, all of its characters – good or bad. And, it’s a balls-out, non-stop, friggin’ thrill-ride from start to finish!
Good enough? OK, let me gush about it a bit more…
The filmmakers (director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Chris Nolan – who also helped concoct the story along with Goyer) had the daunting task of making Superman – the granddaddy of all comic book superheroes – relevant to today’s audience. So, how do you make Superman “cool” without changing what makes him, well, Superman?
Well, we get the answer to that last question in MAN OF STEEL. You don’t change anything in terms of the Superman mythos, but you offer up a fresh approach when it comes to how the audience sees Superman. What the filmmakers did is put Superman in the “real world.” Exactly how would the people of Earth react if a flying alien with extraordinary powers – who just happens to look like one of us – showed up out of the blue? We’d freak out, that’s how we’d react!
Also, if you were this super-powered alien, wouldn’t you feel out of place? Would you not feel like a freak? And how would you not use those powers to rule the world, instead of being a force of good?
Consequently, MAN OF STEEL is much more than a first contact movie. It’s also a film about finding yourself – a journey we all take during our lives. And that’s the true brilliance of MAN OF STEEL. Unlike any previous cinematic incarnations of Superman, we get to take that “finding yourself” journey along with Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill). And by the time Clark figures out who he is and his role on this planet, savior instead of conqueror, we’re totally invested in the man, not just the super part of the man.
As far as the film’s story, it’s essentially a first contact movie as I mentioned previously. However, it’s not Clark who makes first contact with Earth. No, that would be General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his small group of Kryptonian warriors. I won’t spoil how or why they show up on Earth, but I will say that they don’t have good intentions.
The core aspects of Superman’s origin story – the infant Kal-El is rocketed to Earth from a doomed Krypton where he is raised by a kind and upstanding family in America’s Heartland – remain unchanged. However, there are a few wrinkles added to the tale that make it different than anything we’ve seen previously. Also, don’t expect to see the full-on Clark Kent, reporter for the DAILY PLANET, who is secretly Superman, the protector of Metropolis in this movie…well, at least not in 99.9% of it.
The review continues after the jump!
When it comes to the cast and their performances, topnotch work by all involved. If I were forced to pick a few standouts, I’d go with Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Kal-El (and yes, that’s his role according to the end credits), Michael Shannon as General Zod, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.
Would it be blasphemy to suggest that Cavill is the best cinematic Superman – err, Clark Kent/Kal-El – ever? (Listen, I LOVE SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. It's one of my personal favorite comic book films of all time -- that'll never change. But I'm ready to move on and you all should be too.) Regardless, Cavill brings a real humanity to the role which allows the audience to connect to him as a regular person like we never have in the past. Plus, the dude really looks like Superman!
Zod. Wow. Yes, we dislike him immensely and look forward to Superman (sorry, Kal-El) beating the hell out of him. But, he has an innate and genetic reason to be doing what he’s doing – “saving” Krypton. Does Shannon steal the show? No. But his performance as Zod is definitely one of the best ever in superhero cinema.
What if I told you that MAN OF STEEL gives a Jor-El who kicks some major ass? Well, that’s exactly the kind of Jor-El we get in this film. Don’t think that Russell Crowe pulled a Brando here and mailed in a performance that amounts to a few minutes on screen. Crowe’s Jor-El is in the entire film. How? Well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. But let’s just say that he does a whole hell of a lot more than simply put baby Kal-El in a rocket ship and blast him off to Earth.
I must also tip my hat to Antje Traue and her portrayal of Zod's right hand man, well woman, Faora. She's one ruthless individual without a trace of compassion for anyone – especially humans. And while Zod is indeed one calloused and brutal SOB, it’s actually Faora that does the General’s dirty work. You may hate Zod, but you'll despise Faora.
Any negatives? Well, if I had to nitpick, yes, a few…I guess. The action scenes are a bit CGI-heavy – but you have to expect that going in to be honest. It’s Superman (um, Kal-El) battling a bunch of Kryptonians with powers like his own. If we want the sort of action fans have been clamoring for in a Superman film, you got to accept the CGI. Also, Superman (sorry, Kal-El) saving Lois gets a bit clichéd by the end of the film. But on the other hand, isn’t that what Kal-El (got it right this time) does, save Lois? In addition, there's some elements of what Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) preaches to Clark that might be offputting to some. I sorta felt the same way, but additional viewing made me come around to it a bit. Anyway...
I loved this film. It was totally NOT what I expected to see – and that’s a good thing. (FYI: The TV spots and trailers give away NOTHING!) People have been clamoring for Kal-El (I’m on a roll now) to “punch something” in a movie and that’s exactly what he does in MAN OF STEEL. In fact, he punches A LOT of stuff – so that should quiet the fanboys…at least for a while. (Speaking of fanboys, there’s one moment in the film that’s going to be a bit “controversial” and I’m quite sure many of ‘em will totally freak out over it. Heads up.)
But MAN OF STEEL is MUCH more than Superman (Kal-El, sorry) “punching something.” It’s a movie with tons of heart and one in which we care about all the characters in it – good or bad. And hell, I’ll say it…
It’s the best Superman (Doh! Kal-El film) film ever. "I guess you'll just have to trust me." - Bill "Jett" Ramey
OVERALL GRADE: A
A NOTE FROM JETT: If you want to know if there are any DCU "Easter Eggs" in MAN OF STEEL, do a mouse-over below. If you don't want to know, DO NOT mouse-over below! Here you go...
There is not a "Marvel-esque" post-credits scene in the film. Unless you simply like looking at the credits, you can leave once the film ends. Also, the film is pretty much self-contained. There are a couple of nods to a specific person/thing in Superman lore, but that's about it -- except for one VERY brief moment that's related to another non-Superman Family DC superhero...sorta.
A life-long Batman fan, "Jett" is the founder of BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM. He resides in the great state of Texas with his wife, three kids, and two Boston Terriers.