Review: Man of Steel
Expectations can be a tricky thing for films like Man of Steel considering the hype surrounding it and even more so seeing how Superman is the most recognizable superhero of all-time. A lot can be said for the fact that among the United States the "S" symbol is the second most recognizable symbol, just barely behind the cross for Jesus. Superman and the stories that follow him are timeless. Everyone from any age or culture can empathize with him as we all have asked the most basic question that he suffers from every day, "Where do I belong?" Teenagers deal with it much more then others as they suffer from a sense of self more then others, but with Superman it is a constant struggle. He is an outcast in every sense of the word, and if he were alive in today's time we would most definitely view him as a terrorist and a threat to our way of life. There is a line in this film where they say, "We fear what we don't understand." which holds true. However, that is where Superman is different then the rest of his superhero counterparts. He has tremendous physical power that far outmatches any other hero, but with that much power it forces him to have stronger morals. People tend to have an issue with the character of Superman as they believe he is too powerful, but they fail to see how vulnerable he is and that is where the strength of his stories take place and this film excels at telling that story.
The film starts off just where you think it would, on a dying Krypton. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) pleads with the Council that runs the planet and explains to them that they need to rebuild elsewhere, otherwise they are doomed. They refuse to hear his pleads and the meeting is interrupted by General Zod (Micheal Shannon) and his people. Zod comes in guns blazing, literally, and agrees with Jor-El. Jor-El sees that his friend has become mad, as it goes against their ways to take up the sword against their own people. Zod's thinking is erratic as his mindset is purely on the good of his people, but by any means necessary. Anyone that gets in his way is a heretic and needs to be expunged immediately. Thus, the two old friends exchange blows, but before Jor-El bites the dust he and his wife are able to send their son, Kal-El to Earth. Before Krypton is destroyed, Zod and his people are overthrown by the Council. For their actions, the Council sees to it that they are punished and banished to the Phantom Zone.
Fast forward years later and we see Kal-El under the name of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as he crash landed near the Kent farm and parented by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane). It is here that he learned how to hone his skills but also how to control himself. Jonathan feared that people would fear him if they ever found out what he could do, so he becomes very much a ghost. He goes from place to place under different names and different occupations in every location. A story follows him from place to place of a heroic deed that he had carried out in every spot that reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) follows all the way up to the frozen tundra. It is her that she finally comes across the man she had traveled across the world searching for. Clark is also in the area of course, as he had been drawn to something buried within the ice which many fans of the character know as his Fortress of Solitude. Albeit, the Fortress is not by any means what fans have come to expect. Jor-El speaks to his son through the Fortress as it stores his consciousness and explains to him what had happened to his people and why he was sent to Earth.
General Zod on the other hand, of course escapes from the Phantom Zone and searches far and wide for the son of El. He eventually comes across Earth and sends a warning to everyone that they are harboring an alien and that if they peacefully hand him over they will be spared. Clark hands himself over to Zod, despite the fact that he knows he should not trust him. Upon realizing Zod's plan, the battle lines are drawn and Clark takes it upon himself to fight against Zod despite the fact that Zod and his people is his last line to his Kryptonian heritage. It becomes a personal vendetta for Clark as he does what he feels is right, while also putting his greatest fear on the line as he put himself out in front of the human race when he was always unsure of how they would embrace him.
Man of Steel is the best Superman film to date, honestly. That comes from a big Superman fan as well. Some people will have issues with how the slow beginning to the film as it is a bit slow, but that should be expected considering this is an origin film that helps create the iconic hero. It is necessary to the overall arch of the character, which some will forget, but Batman Begins was the same way and it paved the way to a terrific trilogy. This project however is much more ambitious as not only is it setting up an inevitable trilogy for the Man of Steel but also future films of a shared DC Cinematic Universe. Eagle eyed viewers will notice many references to other DC heroes throughout the film as the filmmakers have an eye towards bringing all of them together much like Marvel did.
The film is not perfect though as it does have some pacing issues but also tends to cut away from some of the more emotional scenes too quickly. Two scenes in particular really stand out in that regard that could have been really powerful, but instead fall a little short. Christopher Nolan is a producer on the film, but he does not take to the directing chair. He however brought with him from the Dark Knight trilogy his composer, Hanz Zimmer he composes a terrific score for this film. One that I am in fact listening to as I write this review. As for the casting, Henry Cavill is the best Superman to date. Hands down. It baffles me that other reviewers have chastised him for "not cracking jokes or a smile" when he does from time to time, but he is also not a narcissist like one fan favorite Tony Stark. Cavill is relatively new to audiences, but really has a tremendous presence to himself and completely understands his character which others have struggled with in the past. Surprisingly, at least to me, Amy Adams struggles in the role of Lois Lane. I thought she was a good casting choice for the role but her scenes frequently falls flat but for all we know she could excel in the role for the inevitable sequel. The biggest disappointment comes from Micheal Shannon in the role of Zod. Zod was portrayed perfectly in Richard Donner's Superman II by Terrance Stamp. Shannon struggles where Stamp made the role memorable. He is guilty of overacting throughout a majority of the film but his character luckily still is a good enough to make due. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe truly excel in their roles albeit smaller roles. Every scene they are in are oddly enough some of the best in the film. Zack Snyder to this point has been much maligned throughout Hollywood for being a director that creates great action sequences but lacks substance. However, this film has great action but plenty of substance. In fact, this film may just be one of the most thought provoking and compelling superhero films to date.