Review - Man of Steel


Man of Steel is one of those films that comes around every so often. A film with high expectations due to the buzz created from an extensive marketing campaign. It's been a whole year since we first started seeing trailers and from that moment people have been wondering what to expect. This was more of an event for some rather than just a casual Friday night at the cinema.

The foyer was packed and the queue that we had joined was starting to head outside the doors of the cinema itself. This was only the beginning. It took until halfway through the trailers for the screening I was at to completely fill out and we had only reached the film's certificate clarification when people started to cheer in excitement for what they were about to witness. 

After all, this was a Superman movie. To a lot of comic book fans Superman is the ultimate superhero, ask them about any other superhero and they will say that not one of them comes close to Superman. 

Man of Steel is both the most anticipated film of the year and the biggest gamble of the year. The trailers were great and the general feeling was that we were going to get an awesome Superman film for this generation. On the other hand, as with any film adapted from a comic book there is always a danger upsetting the film's biggest critics, the die-hard fans. Get the smallest thing wrong and they will be all over it like a rash. 

No one can argue that this reincarnation of Superman had a super team behind it throughout production. Zack Snyder as director, Christopher Nolan overlooking as producer and David S. Goyer writing the script. Snyder's visual style is a perfect match for a character like Superman and with what they produced in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan and Goyer were brought in by Warner Bros to hopefully see the same result with Man of Steel.

A stellar cast was also assembled signalling that Warner Bros meant business. Henry Cavill as Superman after having missed out on the role in Superman Returns, Amy Adams as journalist Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Superman's father Jor-El and Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod. Even Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were brought in to play Superman's adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent.

All this added together meant there was only one thing going through my mind when the film was starting: "Come on, impress me!"

Back in 1978, Superman: The Movie opened with a majestic title sequence. John Williams' score matched perfectly with the swooshing-style of the titles. There was none of that here. Instead we are thrown straight into the action on the dying planet of Krypton.

What was interesting here was that we see more of Krypton then we ever have before. With the wonders of CGI these days it does look very impressive. I think this was Snyder's intention from the get-go, to show us more of Superman's home planet and what exactly it is that was destroying it. This also meant that we would see more of Jor-El, with Russell Crowe stepping into the boots of Marlon Brando and with the introduction of Michael Shannon's manic General Zod the opening sequence really did impress me. 

So far so good.  

What followed next was an attempt to break away from the usual comic book origin story. Goyer and Nolan together came up with the story and I can see what they were trying to do but I just feel that some of it didn't work. Instead of a linear storyline we are given one that follows no chronological order. 

An example of this would be when we have Superman as a baby sent on his way to Earth by his parents. We follow the baby all the way to Earth in this capsule and then the camera cuts out as soon as it crash-lands. The next scene shows an adult Clark Kent working out at sea as a fisherman. An oil rig is on fire and we see Clark all of a sudden appear and use his strength to rescue the crew. 

The story then jumps from flashback to flashback, including incidents with a school bus and a hurricane, to show us how Clark has found it difficult to live a normal life with the powers that he possesses. The message from his adoptive father is that he has to hide his powers and try to be ordinary as the world may not accept him as he is, more on that later though.

For me some of the flashbacks just felt out of place and rushed. I know most people know the origin story but I just think they could have done with showing Jonathan and Martha Kent finding him as a baby in the capsule that crash-landed on Earth and then start the flashbacks with him as a child rather than jumping to his adult life straight away. There is a chance that some people may get a little confused.

There is no denying it is a fresh take on the origin story and there will be some people that love it. All I am saying is that it was quite good and could have been done a little bit better. For me that may be a result of Snyder not being the greatest storyteller working in Hollywood today.

After all the flashbacks, the story heads in more of a linear structure. Clark sets off on a journey to discover who he is after it is revealed by Jonathan Kent in his childhood that he is not from our planet. He comes across a Kryptonian scout ship buried beneath the ice and meets his father Jor-El. Here he learns about his family and what their purpose was on their home planet while being shown the iconic Superman costume for the first time.

This was the moment that many people had been waiting for. His first appearance as Superman. It does not disappoint. Henry Cavill plays this scene perfectly as he takes to the skies with a childish joy, sweeping from continent to continent before heading up into space. Snyder was seen as a perfect fit for Man of Steel as his visual style from previous films suited Superman so well and it shows here. 

The activation of the Kryptonian scout ship sends a signal to General Zod who realises that it must be the child that escaped amidst the destruction of Krypton. Earlier in the film he promises Superman's mother that he will find him no matter how far away he is. Michael Shannon delivers the line "I will find him!" several times showing his persistence but it is the last one that really has an impact on the audience, making them really believe his every word.

They finally arrive on Earth in one of the standout scenes of the film. Everyone has their attention on the UFO flying into Earth's atmosphere until the power cuts out and all broadcast devices appear with a message. General Zod sends a threat to Earth stating that they must hand Superman over to him within 24 hours or their planet will pay the price. The image and sound of the message is distorted and everyone is captivated by it. It had the same chilling effect of the similar video that The Joker broadcasts on the news in The Dark Knight.

This is where it really starts to kick off. Superman Returns in 2006 left a lot to be desired when it came to action set-pieces but Man of Steel more than makes up for that with its third and final act.

Zod reveals to Superman that his plan is to terraform the Earth and change it into the new Krypton. This would pretty much wipe out the entire human population on Earth and this is where I can go back to what Jonathan Kent told Clark earlier in the film. Superman has two father figures in his life, biological father Jor-El and adoptive father Jonathan Kent. Jonathan's message earlier of having to hide his powers as society may not accept him are words he has lived with his whole life. However, when he meets Jor-El he is told that they sent him to Earth to be more than a man. He is told that he had to live amongst them and when the time came, he would know what is was he had to protect. Zod arriving and revealing his plans make Superman know that the people he has lived with all of his life must be protected.

From this point the action comes thick and fast, starting in the countryside town of Smallville and ending in the city of Metropolis. Planes are taken out of the air, trucks are slung about by Zod's army and buildings are laid to waste in an epic finale. There is no denying it is mightily impressive. Snyder has a talent for the big action set-pieces and it is clear that he takes the time and effort needed to make it look as real as possible.

There was one overly long fight scene involving Superman and the many tentacles of the 'world engine' which could have just been cut down to the final few minutes of that particular scene, especially as Superman then travels to Metropolis to take Zod on for a final time in a fight that has to be seen to be believed. Not even Michael Bay can imagine this much destruction in one city!

Superman to me has always been a simple character but in one particular moment after his showdown with Zod I realised there is much more to this character than I first thought. Henry Cavill does a great job in the lead role. He does not possess the charm of Christopher Reeve but that is not what they were going for in this version. To me they are going down the same road they went with The Dark Knight Trilogy by making it that little bit darker than any Superman film before. 

Amy Adams does a fine job as Lois Lane but from being a main character in the first half she seems to be shoved to the side as a bit of a side character for the second half. When you have a talent like that it seemed a shame that they decided to underuse her a bit. Adams and Cavill were lacking a bit of chemistry but that is something that can be worked on in the inevitable sequel.

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane give good performances as the Jonathan and Martha Kent for the little amount of time they have. The weak link in the film for me was Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. For every single moment he was on screen all I could picture was Morpheus from The Matrix

There were two standout performances for me in this film. Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Michael Shannon as General Zod. Both want Krypton to be saved but both want to go about it in very different ways. Crowe is the best I have seen him for a while as the wise Jor-El, guiding Superman to who he can become and Shannon embodies Zod's passion to save Krypton no matter who gets in his way, without going over the top with it.

Hans Zimmer, who is one of my favourite composers in Hollywood, has created another solid score that makes you feel the triumph and the vulnerability of Superman. There is no sign of the iconic John Williams score but like I have said before, they are trying to breathe new life into this character and starting from scratch with someone like Hans Zimmer to compose the score, is a step in the right direction.

The script was well written and there were only a few times where some of the dialogue felt out of place. For instance, the last scene of the film contains one of the best lines but the scene as a whole just felt a bit out of place with the rest of the film. They were always going to have a scene like that in there but maybe, just maybe, they could have waited for the sequel. 

The action is epic and because of technology these days it really does feel like you are flying with Superman. The fight scenes are some of the best I have seen and this may be the first time we have seen Superman in such a kick-ass mode. Like Star Trek Into Darkness, I advise going to see this on the biggest screen possible. I went to see it in the IMAX 3D format and would have to say it was worth every penny.

It is exciting to think of where the franchise can go from here and with DC planning to incorporate their characters into a universe that will lead to a Justice League movie to rival Marvel, it is interesting to think of how those characters such as Batman and Wonder Woman can fit in.

Overall I would say the film was very good. Not amazing as I had hoped but that may be because I was caught up in all the hype building up to the release. It's just the origin story that let it down. If that hadn't felt so rushed then I would have given this a 5.

A few months back I previewed a box-office battle between Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. I think Iron Man 3 will end up making more money but overall I thought Man of Steel was a better film. Still, for me, Star Trek Into Darkness is the film of the year so far.

Verdict: 4/5


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