15th Jun2013

‘Man of Steel’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Traue, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni | Written by David S. Goyer | Directed by Zach Snyder

man-of-steel-cavill

Man of Steel sees the troubled cinematic journey of Superman take a rather bold new direction. After years of developments, 2006’s Superman Returns saw Bryan Singer unable to shoulder the burden of creating a Superman for our times, instead going for an overly reverential and somewhat dull film which unlike the previous year’s Batman Begins, made one of DC’s most celebrated characters big-screen journey stall once again. With the Batman films’ key creative spearhead Christopher Nolan on board for Superman this time and with notoriously love him or hate him director Zack Snyder in tow, film studio Warner Brothers are hoping Man of Steel will not only re-establish Superman’s success on the big-screen, but can also be seen as a statement of intent for where the studio wants to go with their own stable of comic characters.

Christopher Nolan and Zack Synder are two filmmakers who shouldn’t really work together but while there are moments where their styles seem to butt heads, for the most part the influence of each compliments nicely and makes for a film which for a large portion of the runtime works well. The first 20 minutes or so sees Synder take on one of the foundation elements of the Superman mythos but gives a new twist. With flying dragons, bizarre metallic floating systems which effectively work as Jor-El’s Personal Assistants and a genetic screening program which gives a slightly fascistic edge, Krypton is completely re-imagined and works well, thanks also to a towering performance from Russell Crowe who gets by far his best work in this section before eventually becoming a deus ex machina in a number of scenes. This is Synder working at full-speed and it’s thrillingly inventive stuff for sure.

The film then takes the approach suggested in the initial teaser trailer from last year, a quieter, more introspective approach where there is action but instead of being heralded as being incredible, is instead seen as disturbing to those around, the feel of Nolan’s work in Batman Begins self-evident here as Superman struggles with the fact that he is exceptional but those around him aren’t ready to see it. That this is the primary narrative thrust of essentially the whole film is a wonderful choice, this is a film which questions Superman’s place in the hierarchy of planet Earth and inquires as to whether we really deserve his help, an approach with Synder takes with care, easing back on the excesses he’s known for and instead letting handheld camerawork and a superbly measured performance from Henry Cavill, who does nail the role throughout, do the talking.

Where the film struggles though is when the two creative forces behind the film have to give us a third act full of action, explosions and noise, while still trying to satisfy the narrative set up in the first two. Michael Shannon’s General Zod is a supremely unnerving creation, all the more dangerous for having an ethos which makes complete sense given his character and when he and Superman are discussing their opposing points of view, the film is electrifying. However when the film consists of them throwing things each other it loses its edge.

The sheen is also taken off by the fact that there is just so much going on in the third act. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane who up to this point has had some nice groundwork laid with our relationship with Superman instead becomes a character who falls out of things a lot, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White has a plot thread which basically boils down to trying to pull someone out of a car, and Superman has to deal with dual threats in two completely different places. It’s all just too much and while the threat is epic, by the time it all finishes and with a final encounter between Zod and Superman which really is fantastic, the feeling conjured is less one of elation than one of being slightly worn out.

Man of Steel is not close to being one of the top comic book movies of all time, but as an exercise in attempting to establish a mythology in a relevant contemporary age is largely successful. With a future instalment sure to come, I hope the film learns more from the first two acts of this one and less of the disappointing last act. In all, a solid adventure but a somewhat qualified success.

***½ 3.5/5

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