Friday, June 14, 2013

A Reel Review: MAN OF STEEL

There are several ways the latest Superman film, MAN OF STEEL, can be looked at. It can be compared to its comic-book origins, or it can be stacked side-by-side with previous super-films which have come before it. But the way MAN OF STEEL should be judged is how it fares as an overall movie on its own.
Superman (Henry Cavill) is rocketed away from his doomed home planet of Krypton by his father (Russell Crowe), and his pursued by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Once on Earth, Superman is raised as Clark Kent by the couple who found him (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and as he struggles with his super-powers and identity, is pursued by reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

MAN OF STEEL is loaded with science fiction elements; spaceships, space-warping, planet-changing-devices and fantastic technology are everywhere. But ultimately the film is about Superman’s ongoing identity crisis. He is constantly faced with moral choices throughout the film, seemingly stuck in-between conflicting messages from his two, very different fathers. MAN OF STEEL works very well here because Superman for the first time is very relatable as he struggles to find his place. This is ultimately Superman’s coming-out story; bolstered by a fathers-and-sons theme.
Even with the many sci-fi elements, the film is grounded in reality. The movie doesn’t bother to romance you off your feet, entertain you with kids stuff, or insert a lovable, pudgy-character for laughs. Even when the action picks up, nothing is taken for granted and virtually every element of Superman lore is given a reason to exist. Everything from the “S” on his chest, to his importance on Earth is given a lot of time to explain. The reality-based approach may turn off audiences looking for waves of nostalgia, but MAN OF STEEL manages to take the old familiar elements and give them a fresh spin. There is a lot of familiar territory, but with new dressings that Superman fans will recognize, and should appreciate.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film is never at a loss for pretty things to look at. Large-scale set pieces and intimate memories are wonderfully shot and executed, and the non-linear editing makes for a pleasant surprise. The large, city-devastating action pieces get a bit repetitive as the last 45 minutes goes non-stop with little room to catch your breath. A lot of shaky-cam is used and makes it difficult to keep track of the many fights Superman has with his Kryptonian enemies, and the in-flight sequences, while neat to look at, lacks a real “wow” factor.
MAN OF STEEL packs a lot into its running time, and the vast amount of material could have easily filled two films. A lot of scenes seem like they were cut short as just when they pick up some good traction, they abruptly end without a real resolution. It seems like a lot of the emotion we were meant to feel was left on the cutting-room floor as the film is just in a rush to get places. The dialogue as scripted has no cringe-worthy moments and gets the job done, but lacks any memorable lines or any wit. Hans Zimmer’s pounding-score sounds great when it is given room to flex, but it feels like it is underused as it is often buried under all the other sonic-booms.

Henry Cavill makes a very good Superman, and alter-ego, Clark Kent. He gets the inner-conflict just right, buries his British accent, and looks very much like he just fell out of the comic-pages. Amy Adams performs just fine, even though her character is very much underdeveloped. Michael Shannon shines as General Zod, not just because he’s the bad guy with a few screws loose, but because his character isn’t really inherently evil and his motivations can easily be defended. Russell Crowe gets all the best lines and commands the screen when he pops in, while Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring fair amounts of emotion to story. Laurence Fishburne is nearly reduced to an extended-cameo as Daily Planet Editor Perry White, but does well, as he always does.
One’s enjoyment of MAN OF STEEL can only go as far as their willingness to put aside pre-conceptions, and much like its main character, let it be its own identity. It has a few faults but many more strengths, and the overall experience is a positive one as the style never buries its substance. This is an ambitious Superman with the courage to leap over what we couldn’t see before.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.