Man of Steel (***½)


man.of.steel.posterMan of Steel might be one of a long line of superhero reinventions, reboots, and re-imaginings, but it could also be called by another name, a great movie. It was a dicey proposition trying to re-establish a character whose sensibilities many argued were out of touch with today’s audiences, but in the capable hands of Zack Snyder, David Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan, Superman manages to fly high once again on-screen. Driven by fantastic performances and a confident script, Man of Steel manages to both capture the imagination and ground the character in the modern-day.

The movie kicks off with an extended sequence on Krypton that sets up the basics of the plot, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife have had the first natural birth on the planet in decades, just as the core becomes unstable. In a mad dash around Krypton, he locates the codex, the template for all Kryptonians, and downloads it into his son, much to the chagrin of General Zod (a bristling Michael Shannon). It’s not long before little Kal-El is shipped off, Zod and his cronies sent to the Phantom Zone, and the planet destroyed. Man of Steel then shifts to the present day where Clark Kent is now grown, but try to find his place in the world, using some strategically placed flashbacks to show us the man that Clark is going to become. The movie really takes off when Lois Lane enters the picture as a reporter tracking down the story of a lifetime meets the Man of Steel in less than ideal circumstances and Zod realizes that Superman is standing in his way to rebuild Krypton.

If there was any concern that Superman couldn’t work in today’s era those fears are quickly vanquished. The script is so reverential to what makes Superman a wonderful superhero while also stabilizing the storyline in the modern-day. I could have done without the flashbacks, which really only played like mini-sermons rather than making them essential to the story. There’s a unique way they work in things like the Fortress of Solitude which allow for more scenes with Crowe’s Jor-El. But what works so well with this movie is Lois Lane. It’s amazing how vibrant superhero films get when the love interests are given real agency, and the key to any Superman film is Lois. Man of Steel soars because it gives Lois something to do other than pining after Superman. In fact, though Cavill and Adams have ridiculous chemistry, they don’t even broach the subject of an attraction or love until well into the latter half of the movie. Released from that baggage we get a much more active Lois, one who leaks a story to a blogger when Perry White won’t run it, is resilient enough to overcome her fears and go toe to toe with Zod and Faora-Ul when Supes need help, and just holds her own against everything thrown at her.

manofsteelThe one glaring misstep the script makes is with General Zod. While it is always fun to see Michael Shannon yell and scream at people, we can view Funny or Die videos on our own time, and he wasn’t given many notes to play with here. The script makes it seem as if the audience is supposed to care about him but never gives us a reason to. It’s not that you have to give every villain a back-story, but Zod’s is particularly weak and there was just no there. He doesn’t detract from the film by any stretch (his fight/dramatic scenes late in the film are sensational) but he doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings.

Luckily we have the amazing duo of Henry Cavill and Amy Adams to guide us through the ride. I’ve showered much praise on the way Lois Lane is portrayed in this film, and while the script does work wonders with the character, it’s Adams who imbues her with the spirit she needs to work on-screen. She manages to make Lois seem larger than life but real at the same time, giving us fragments of the strong, independent woman who just happens to meet her match in Superman. Henry Cavill has long been on my radar since The Count of Monte Cristo and he’s clearly grown up since then, but it was a joy to watch him on-screen. He channels every amount of charm and golden boy goodness he can muster into this role without it seeming fake, a key element to making the character work on-screen. Cavil also isn’t afraid to mine the comedy out of the part, getting a laugh from both line readings and stoic facial expressions. The scenes with him and Adams were wonderful and you totally believe they would fall for each other.

Those performances wouldn’t have happened without Zack Snyder, who deserves a lot of praise for what makes this film successful. He manages to shrug off the past few years of bad movies and delivers a tightly directed film with a great sense of forward momentum. But this isn’t to say that he just compromised all of his abilities, allowing the story to dictate how he shot the film. I was so relieved that he left the slow everything down and then ramp up the action at home and instead let these super fast characters do that, making the action much easier to follow and allowing for some great character beats. My only qualm with his direction is there is some brutal destruction in this film and while it’s never repetitive, it’ just strikes a weird tone. At one point while watching the film I wondered if there would be any more buildings left or people alive. Even for the person who is able to suspend an epic amount of disbelief, there is a lot to take in and Snyder doesn’t necessarily make it easier on you, which is both good and bad.

There’s no shortage of things to like about this film and audiences, from the most ardent fans to the casual movie watcher, should find themselves having a good time while watching the movie.

Man of Steel arrives in theaters on June 14.