Man of Steel review

Zack Snyder
Henry Cavill
Amy Adams
Michael Shannon
Russell Crowe
Kevin Costner
Laurence Fishburne
Rated: PG-13

Yes! Superman does more than throw an island into space! Hooray!

“Man of Steel” is another venture into a superhero universe for Director Zack Snyder who directed 2009’s “Watchmen.” The film is, at its heart, a superhero origin movie. However, Snyder manages to elevate it to a higher level than some of the other origin stories that have been done over the past few years. Instead of learning about the character through a standard a, b and c plot-line, Snyder instead uses multiple flashbacks to not only show the development of who Superman becomes but how he had to deal with his powers too.

The movie reaches the point where Clark Kent/Kal-El (Cavill) discovers who he really is, meeting a conscience hologram of his father Jor-El (Crowe) who explains why the alien is on Earth in the first place and what he should do for the planet and humanity. Jor-El’s enemy, Zod (Shannon) finds his way to Earth too, and seeks to wipe out humanity and restore the Krypton race. To stop Zod, Superman has to work together with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Adams) who is one of the first to discover his origins.

“Man of Steel” runs for well over two hours, and it is entertaining the entire way through.

The film tells the classic Superman origin story, but, using the flashbacks, it is able to put a different spin on things. The first half shows Clark before becoming the great hero we all know. He is a wanderer and feels conflicted about who he is and where he comes from. Through the usage of some really well placed flashbacks we begin to find out why, for example there is a fantastic flashback showing when Clark first discovered his x-ray vision.

The film doesn’t leave any real loose ends. From the beginning of the movie where Krypton is being destroyed and General Zod is exiled, to the end, which wraps things up nicely and sets up a good looking sequel. There aren’t scenes that leave you scratching your head because of a plot hole.

That being said there are things that could have been better fleshed out. Clark’s transition to Superman feels a little rushed. Before he becomes Superman, we see his conflict, after he becomes Superman, he acts like the hero we all know and love.

However, there is never really a fleshed out transition. We see a good interaction between him and his birth father Jor-El in which he finds out what his family intended him to do, but I would have enjoyed it just a bit more if they showed more of the light-bulb going off in Clark’s head with him thinking “this is something I really have to do.” Perhaps a few heroic moments in his costume.

The romance that is set up between Superman and Lois Lane also felt very rushed and because of that it came out as forced. The film should have held off on the romance until the sequel. There was already so much on this movie’s plate, from Superman’s whole ordeal to General Zod and his villain motives. Instead, they should have probably just introduced Lois Lane and had her work together with Superman and hint at a romance in the sequel.

The acting is a definite highlight of the film. Without a doubt, Russell Crowe is the best part of this film by far. He plays Jor-El with this calm, wise and mentoring presence that is just superb. Crowe really became the character and was very believable in the role. His speeches to Superman felt hopeful and heartfelt and a lot of his scenes helped keep things rolling.

The man of steel himself. Clark/Kal-El/Superman is well played here by Henry Cavill.

Cavill has the look of Superman down and he is able to play the good natured, Midwestern raised superhero very convincingly. There are parts where after he becomes Superman and he talks to military leaders and he comes off as being so cooperative, polite and straightforward. It feels exactly how Superman should be played. As Clark Kent in the first half, he has some good moments too, during his time wandering from place to place, we see his confliction and anger at not knowing the whole story, for example there is a great scene at a diner where we he wants to help a situation and fight somebody but can’t.

Also worthy of praise was Kevin Costner’s playing Jon Kent, Clark’s adoptive father.

Costner is great at portraying the man who raised Superman, and it lets the audience realize just how important it was that the alien landed near a farm with people who raised him the right way. There’s one flashback in particular where Jon is arguing with Clark however an emergency forces them to put that all aside and it really adds to Superman’s character, and part of the reason that flashback is so good is because of Costner.

I loved Terence Stamp in Superman II from the 1980s as Zod, but Michael Shannon does the character justice here. Shannon’s Zod has good motives that are explained and explored thoroughly here and he plays the character with this sly, menacing presence.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane worked to a point. As stated earlier, the romance between her and Superman doesn’t really work here, and the problem with that is it really consumes the second half of the movie. So, with that, Adams doesn’t really have much to do besides be involved with a romance that isn’t fleshed out. In the first half though, she really shows up as the strong, modern day reporter who stops at nothing.

The supporting cast is fine in the film. Clark’s adoptive mother Martha played by Diane Lane is given a stong performance and Laurence Fishburne as the Daily Planet Publisher Perry White is really solid. Also making an appearance is Christopher Meloni as a military commander who does the role justice.

One area that the film absolutely excels at are the special effects. The usage of CGI here is done well to show battles and Superman using his powers to the full extent. As a big fan of both “Justice League: Unlimited,” which showed off epic battles with Superman’s powers, and “Dragonball Z” which featured a lot of fights that involved flying, I can say that I was completely satisfied with seeing combat like that in this movie’s climax. The CGI is also backed up with some very nice cinematography and Zack Snyder’s directing style works.

I am and always will be a huge fan of the original score used in the 70s Superman films by John Williams. It is a great piece of music. However, the new score in this film works very well. When it needs to be dramatic, it works, when it needs to be triumphant it comes through. I wouldn’t say that Hans Zimmer’s new score is as good as Williams’, but it is still very enjoyable.

The new suit that Superman wears is a bit different, but it is different in a good way. The new suit has a modern, updated style and it looks fine. Unlike the live action “Green Lantern” film which changed the hero’s suit for the worse, “Man of Steel” changes the suit for the better.

There are so many things that “Man of Steel” excels at. Yes, it has its flaws. There are some things that could be better fleshed out, and the romance could have been subsided a bit. That being said, the plot explains things well, the acting is all above average, including a great performance by Crowe and Superman comes off as he should as the boy scout hero. Plus the score is very strong and the CGI is stunningly gorgeous and some of the changes they made with Superman’s suit are just fine.

It’s an entertaining summer blockbuster and it takes a good spin on the origin story by using flashbacks. It’s not perfect, but it is still really good. This one gets a high 4 out of 5. I’m looking forward to revisiting this Superman universe again in the sequel.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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