It’s been years (seven, if you’re counting) since the movies gave us a man in tights with a kryptonite allergy. With the influx of superheroes lately, does the world need another Superman? All I can say is comic-book-movie-guru Zack Snyder is bringing him to town, and I’m glad he’s back. And that if this man of steel wanted to make a house call, I’d be just fine with that. Cape optional.
But enough of my daydreaming; I’ve been…attuned to the acting talents (yes) of Henry Cavill since he was Lord Brandon on The Tudors. Man of Steel is a gloriously fun joyride of a film that takes you from Krypton to Kansas. For almost two and a half hours viewers will be treated to amazing glimpses of worlds beyond our ken, amazing acts of heroics and knock down/drag out fights for Earth’s very existence. There’s a hell of a lot that Man of Steel covers, but what I was really hoping for amongst all that glorious spectacle with Superman was a bit more time with Clark the super-person. Snyder, whose work on 300 and Watchmen showed that he can take tricky material and boil it down to it’s essence, does good work here, bringing a real humanity (krypton-ity?) to Clark Kent. Hey, this is a Superman who gets ticked off if you mess with his Momma. I like that.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see more than passing glimpses of Clark’s humanity, because poor Clark gets so much thrown at him in this film that it’s tough to get to know anyone amid all the hullabaloo. For you number junkies out there, Man of Steel is about 75% style and 25% substance, which is fantastic for a blockbuster but not for a film that promised a new look at a familiar face. I do want to see this franchise take off, and there was enough in this film to earn the “new look” label, but I’m not sure if I want to see more of Clark/Superman because he’s been brilliantly drawn in the screenplay (by The Dark Knight’s David Goyer), or because I’m hoping the next film will give what’s really going on in that super-brain of his.
Trying to nutshell the plot of Man of Steel is a toughie, so why don’t I take the easy route and just say that it’s an origin tale. Who is Clark Kent? What drives him, and why? Snyder puts these questions out there, but only does a so-so job answering them. What he does do is give us more backstory on Krypton, including a real feeling for Clark/Kal-El’s biological parents, Jor-El and Faora-Ul. There’s such a focus on Krypton that at times it feels like the Jor-El Show, something I’m sure Russell Crowe didn’t mind when he took the part. Crowe does the character proud, mixing a bit of badassery in with the usual “oh, Krypton is doomed, we’ll just die” mentality often given to the character in other incarnations. German actress Antje Traue (Pandorum) plays Faora-Ul, a leader in the Krypton government who sees her planet’s doom. Oh, and Snyder does throw a bit of earth eco-consciousness our way; seems Krypton ceased to be because it was over-mined for natural resources, causing a fault in the planet’s core. So be good to our planet, y’all.
Michael Shannon, with his extreme Caligula buzz cut and eyes that bore into your soul, is a fantastic Genral Zod. And for once, I actually felt sorry for the guy; here’s someone who has been engineered to protect his home planet by any means necessary. How can he possibly do anything else? Shannon breathes life into what was a textbook baddie (though Terrence “Kneel Before ZOD!” Stamp did throw down in Superman II.) Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play the Kents, casting that I liked but didn’t think would work…but it does. I forgot who they are and believed their homey, Kansas farmbody characters. Amy Adams plays Lois Lane, the reporter that figures out who he is, and eventually wins his heart. Man of Steel makes Lois a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who isn’t afraid to head out anywhere to get a story. Of course, she’s got a heart of gold too, and Adams balances out the cardboard cut-out edges of this popular character and puts real emotion out there. The fact that Adams and Cavill have amazing on-screen chemistry doesn’t hurt.
But it’s the guy in tights everyone’s dying to know about, amirite? Henry Cavill does a fantastic job as Superman, with a combination of reserve, determination and humility that makes Superman feel like someone you could have a beer with, or at least talk to on the subway ride home. I liked the Clark scenes better than the Superman ones in Man of Steel; Snyder does love the sweeping, backlit views of male beauty in capes. And there’s plenty of that, even a scene in slow motion with Superman surrounded by clouds. That scene is a bit too much (and could have easily been edited out without sacrificing anything.) As the film progresses, one “climax” runs into another, and then another, seemingly ad infinitum. By a little more than halfway in (that’s about an hour and a half, people) Man of Steel starts to feel like a popcorn endurance test. But you do get your money’s worth, at least in time spent in-seat and amount of sheer spectacle. Save your money and go see the regular 2D though; 3D isn’t necessary to fully enjoy Man of Steel, and that extra money could be better spent on goodies to see you through the 2 hours and 24 minutes.
Comic book fanboys/fangirls will enjoy the nods to canon, which include Lana Lane in an elementary school roll call, Lexcorp signs in Metropolis and other cool bits here and there (check out the news whenever a TV is shown). Viewers hoping for an end credits “teaser” scene will be out of luck; though WB has more than hinted at their interest in a Justice League film ala Marvel’s The Avengers, nothing is in the pipeline. Yet. Man of Steel definitely whetted my appetite for more in the DC Universe, and it shows that this reboot/re-imagining is off to a good start. As long as there’s more of the inner workings of Clark Kent in sequels, this has the makings of a series that can stand next to The Dark Knight and not feel like a wimp.