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Man of Steel (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Man of Steel


Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne, Dylan Sprayberry, Cooper Timberline, Richard Cetrone, Mackenzie Gray, Julian Richings, Mary Black, Samantha Jo, Michael Kelly, Christina Wren, Jack Foley and Jadin Gould.

Screenplay by David S. Goyer.

Directed by Zack Snyder.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 143 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Perhaps we should look into group therapy for our superheroes. Once upon a time truth, justice and the American way was all the thanks that was needed. Having superpowers which allow them to foil crime, spare innocent lives and save little girls' cats stuck in a tree – it was all a privilege.

Somewhere along the line though, popular culture seems to have decided that the job of keeping the world safe from evil was a soul-crushing drag. Sure, he's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap a tall building in a single bound – but have you ever considered how difficult and conflicting it is to be Superman? The world needs him, but don't they ever consider his needs? It's enough to get a hero into a big harrumph.

Knowing that Man of Steel was coming from Dark Knight mastermind Christopher Nolan and 300 director Zach Snyder, it's no great surprise that the movie tries to give us a dark night of Superman's soul. Let's face it, both are very competent filmmakers, but neither is known for their light touch.

However Superman is arguably one of the most iconic characters in pop culture. (Yes, even more so than Batman.) Seventy-five years after the first Superman comic pretty much introduced the superhero genre, the Caped Crusader has appeared regularly on film (Superman: The Movie, Superman Returns, Superman vs. the Mole Men), on TV (The Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, Smallville) and graphic novels. I can even think of at least a dozen pop songs about the character. Superman has been in commercials and on Seinfeld's refrigerator. He is the epitome of American courage and spunk.

Not only that, the deluge of superhero films which have filled the multiplexes over the last 30 years are directly attributable to Supe. It's hard to imagine now, but it was a huge risk when Superman: The Movie was filmed in 1978. The quality and popularity of that movie and its even better sequel Superman II was a shock to the Hollywood system and changed the direction of filmmaking forever. (We'll forget Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just like the rest of the world.) The film made Christopher Reeve a star, and the stardom was deserved. Reeve played both Superman and his alter-ego of Clark Kent with a mixture of smart boyishness, extreme power and good humor. Imagine that, a superhero enjoying his work?

Still, it has been 33 years since a good Superman movie was released to the theaters. The 2006 attempt at rebooting the series – directed by The Usual Suspects scribe Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh – turned out to be an odd mishmash. Singer was obviously paying attention to the new comic movie rule that you have to have a dour hero (at points, it seemed like Superman was Lois Lane's creepy stalker), but he was also in love with the Reeve Superman movies, filming what was essentially a darker remake of the first two Reeve films.

Zack Snyder's take on the story is even darker – in fact, much darker – than Singer's reboot. And, for the one positive I can give him, Snyder and Nolan's vision of the film is nothing like any Superman you have seen before. Yes, it's still basically the same genesis story as ever and you have the same characters, but otherwise there is no similarity.

I just wish they had come up with something more to replace it with than depressed characters followed by 45 minutes of complete mindless mayhem. Seriously, if you ever wondered what it would look like if Michael Bay made a Superman movie, Man of Steel is as good a representation as you're likely to ever get.

One of many differences this time around is that Clark Kent is no longer a mild-mannered reporter. He's a stubbled loner drifting from job to job... sort of like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins or Bruce Banner in The Hulk. The problem is, by denying Superman his nerdy alter-ego, most of the comic possibilities in the character are snuffed out.

Not that this is a coincidence. In Nolan and Snyder's Metropolis (or Smallville), any lightness or joy is deliberately eschewed. For a movie about a man who can fly, the film is horribly earthbound, refusing to even consider that someone in the world might actually receive some enjoyment from super powers and doing good deeds.

The worries about hiding his secret identity are also thrown on the scrap heap - Lois Lane figures out Superman's background early on and it appears to become common knowledge that Clark Kent is Superman. (Though, honestly, he is only referred to by the name Superman once in the movie, and that is by a throwaway character who may have 10 lines in the whole film. Otherwise he is always either Clark Kent of Kal-El.)

British actor Henry Clavill certainly has the look to play Superman, but he plays the character as so cut off and tortured that it is nearly impossible to warm up to him. I hate to say it, but his Superman isn't even as memorable or charismatic as Brandon Routh's melodramatic take on the part in Superman Returns and certainly can't even hold a candle to Christopher Reeve's portrayal of the character.

The rest of the cast is populated with tremendous acting talents who generally are not given enough to do. Particularly let down in Amy Adams, who tries her damnedest to make Lois Lane more than the one-dimensional character that the script handed her. Michael Shannon is allowed to chew scenery mightily as General Zod. Though Shannon is terrific at over-the-top, you kind of wish that Snyder could have reined him in a bit.

The actors who come out looking the best are veterans who were brought in to play Kal-El's biological and adopted parents. Russell Crowe is quite good as Kryptonian martyr Jor-El, who gives up his only son to save his people. (Though, in another example of Man of Steel's sense of overkill, Jor-El must fight off a SFX-happy revolt on the same day that Krypton was dying, anyway.) Kevin Costner is solid and loving (if a bit too morose, like everyone else in this movie) as his Earth dad Jonathan Kent. And Diane Lane has some wonderful scenes as Martha Kent, his loving and understanding adopted mother.

But all of this just leads to a long climax of frighteningly haphazard and complete destruction, in which both Metropolis and Smallville are lain waste to. Literally, tens of thousands of innocent people must have died in this frenzied skirmish - a mortality rate which previous Supermen would have never stood for, but this Man of Steel seems to take in his stride. Then again, the filmmakers obviously didn't worry about the wanton destruction, since a matter of days after Metropolis has been flattened, the Daily Planet building seems to be miraculously rebuilt and fully functional.

It looks like Superman needs another reboot already.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: June 14, 2013.

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