Review: Man of Steel (Chris Bumbray's take)
PLOT: With the planet Krypton on the verge of destruction, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) defies the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) and sends his son Kal-El to Earth. Thirty-three years later, Zod arrives on Earth, looking for the grown Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, or rather Superman (Henry Cavill) who's only recently begun to embrace his powers. Now, he must save his new home from imminent destruction by Zod, even though the humans aren't sure he can be trusted.
REVIEW: You gotta love it when a big tent-pole blockbuster that's been hyped and hyped for well over a year finally comes along and lives up to all your expectations. For me, that's exactly what MAN OF STEEL does. I've been anxious to see this new take on the Superman mythos ever since I heard Christopher Nolan was on-board as a producer. Anyone who's read my reviews knows I'm a big fan of his, although having seen this I suspect his name being so prominently attached to the film was more for marketing purposes and branding than anything else. That said, MAN OF STEEL is as bold a departure from the previous Superman movies as BATMAN BEGINS was compared to the eighties/nineties Batman series, in that this is not the light take on the character we grew up with. While a controversial move that's already dividing fans, to my way of thinking, this was really the only possible way Superman could have ever been made relevant to a generation that- with the reception to SUPERMAN RETURNS- already proved that they weren't interested in a light, traditional take on the character.
For all the hype about this being Nolan's Superman, his influence is really only felt in the darker tone, and I imagine he also had a lot to do getting Hans Zimmer to provide the incredible percussion-heavy score (itself as different from the John Williams soundtracks as this is from the Donner films). Make no mistake though, MAN OF STEEL is a full-on Zack Snyder film, and if the fans respond positively to this, he's the one who deserves a lot of the credit (as does writer David S. Goyer). While Snyder stumbled badly with SUCKER PUNCH, his filmography up to now has been pretty good, although to me this feels like the best thing he's ever done, even next to 300.
Right from an incredible action-heavy prologue on Krypton, that plunges Russell Crowe's Jor-El into a frantic battle to save his newborn son from Zod, it's clear MAN OF STEEL is going to be a roller-coaster ride you need to strap-yourself in for. Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Superman's Kryptonian parents make a perfect contrast to Kevin Costner and Diane Lane's earthier take on the Kents, and while his screen-time may be limited, Crowe's really at his best here, bringing the same gravitas to the part that he does in something like GLADIATOR, and seems surprisingly at home in full-on sci-fi fantasy mode, shooting laser guns, and riding flying creatures across Krypton (this whole part of the movie is like something out of HEAVY METAL- in a good way).
Once we get to Earth, the traditional way of telling Superman's origins is dropped, as we pick up on Henry Cavill's Clark Kent as an adult on the verge of discovering his roots, flashing back (LOST-style) to his picturesque upbringing in Smallville, under the nurturing guidance of his adoptive parents. Diane Lane exudes warmth as Ma Kent, while the ideally cast Kevin Costner gives a truly amazing, heartfelt performance as Jonathan Kent.
But what about Superman himself? While Christopher Reeve will always be Superman to me in the same way Sean Connery will always be James Bond, he really makes the role his own similar to how Christian Bale did in BATMAN BEGINS and Daniel Craig did for Bond in CASINO ROYALE. While a relatively fresh-face, Cavill carries MAN OF STEEL like a movie-star, and owns the screen every time he's on it. Physically, he's the perfect match for the part, with a strong jawline, jet black hair, and a truly super heroic physique. Even better, he perfectly conveys the compassion that defines the character, with Snyder getting a lot of mileage out of the Christ parallels that have always existed for the character (it's no coincidence he's 33 when he dons the cape, the same age as Jesus Christ at the crucifixion). Despite the fact that this is a much darker adventure for Superman than we're used to, the character is still portrayed as the altruistic, noble character we love. In other words, he's still recognizable, and while the movie may be dark and brooding, the character is not.
Meanwhile, Amy Adams' take on Lois Lane is the most modern the character's ever been, with her being the first actress to ever play the part that feels like she actually could be a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (here just back from being embedded in Iraq). Like Diane Lane, Adams exudes warmth, and while her romance with Superman is definitely put on the back-burner in favor of action, I imagine it will evolve over the course of the series. All in all, she feels like an excellent choice for the character. Ditto Laurence Fishburne as certainly the toughest Perry White of all time.
As for Michael Shannon, wow. He's absolutely one of the scariest superhero villains I've ever seen. While he's ferocious, Shannon doesn't play him as unhinged. In a huge departure from the power-mad take on the part by Terrence Stamp, Shannon's Zod was bred to be exactly what he is, so he's not played as some kind of raving maniac.He's a tyrant, but that's what he was made to be. The same goes for his right-hand woman, Antje Traue as Faora, who's not the psychotic Sarah Douglas/Ursa substitute we may have expected.
Of course, MAN OF STEEL will certainly divide fans. A lot of people may not like the fact that Superman's been made into such a dark film, but again I can't see any other way it would have worked. In some ways SUPERMAN RETUNRS proved that nowadays audiences are too cynical for the traditional approach to the character. Snyder's made a Superman movie that's absolutely jam-packed with action, and the set-pieces are breathtaking. The last hour of the movie is essentially all action, and yes, MAN OF STEEL is another blockbuster like THE AVENGERS/ TRANSFORMERS that has a body count that must be in the millions (the destruction heaped upon Metropolis is practically biblical) . The final battle between Zod and Superman is especially good, and surprisingly violent, pushing the boundaries of PG-13 in a way I would have never expected from a Superman movie. Also- don't expect any WATCHMEN/300-style undercranking. Snyder's approach here is more grounded.
My only real criticism for MAN OF STEEL is that once again, we have a 3D movie that doesn't feel the slightest bit three-dimensional. This could (and should) have been in 2D, and more often than not I forgot I was watching something in 3D, although I should note I saw the Real-D version, and not the IMAX 3D edition.
Otherwise, I absolutely loved MAN OF STEEL. While there's always room for improvement (I'd like more Clark/Lois in the next movie, and the scene where Superman first gets his super-suit is almost hilariously abrupt) this is remarkably assured for a first film in what's bound to be an incredibly successful series. Sure, the reaction to this is mixed so far. Folks will come around. Cavill is our generation's Superman, and he's here to stay.