By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
If you take that God awful Green Lantern adaptation out of the picture, Warner Bros. has created a pretty sustainable reputation with superhero flicks. The golden nugget, of course, being The Dark Knight trilogy, the studio’s exclusive DC Comics license has procured a bunch of big hits along with the occasional well-received but under-performing box office snoozer. However, WB now has pure gold on their hands with a revitalized Superman series, starting off with Man of Steel. Embracing the “big” mentality that Superman brings, Henry Cavill breathes new life into the character in an action-packed thrill ride that, despite its numerous disadvantages and by-the-numbers approach, manages to successfully revive the franchise.
Sent to Earth upon the destruction of his planet Krypton, Kal-El is taken in by the Kent family of Kansas. As he grows up, Clark Kent learns of extraordinary abilities that he has been given. However, once General Zod of Krypton comes to Earth looking for Clark, Kent must decide whether or not to reveal himself to the world as a caped superhero named Superman and defeat this new threat to the planet.
For Man of Steel to work properly, everything had to be grand in scale. Especially following last year’s The Dark Knight Rises, the anticipation factor for this new series, produced by The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan and directed by 300’s Zack Snyder, was off the charts. The marketing entities at Warner Bros. did a great job keeping the great little nuggets in the film off the trailers, commercials and other advertisements under wraps until the film was within two to three weeks in release and it was for the best. Make no mistake; this is, by far, the grandest scale superhero film that Warner Bros. has put out.
From the first 15 minutes of the film, in which Krypton falls and General Zod attempts a coup on the government, to the absolutely electrifying final 30 minutes of the film, the action never stops and constantly attempts to surpass the previous sequence. As the specific points of Zod’s plan is revealed to Clark and the deadly ramifications of said plan drastically raise the stakes, the action really takes a turn for the better and the movie quickly catches its stride.
Of course, a key aspect of Man of Steel’s success was the performance of Henry Cavill in the main role. It’s impossible to displace Christopher Reeve as the Superman, but Cavill blows Brandon Routh from Superman Returns out of the water. Cavill brings a great deal of human dimension to the famous character, introducing an emotional, flawed Superman that is drastically different than the previous iterations of the character. The quickly up-and-coming actor injects new life into the character and truly helps make Man of Steel feel like an origin story.
Cavill is supported by a great cast, as the two father figures in his life, played by Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, each bring a great performance to the table and really helps push the movie. The opening scene on Krypton is dominated by Crowe, while the subsequent scenes on Earth are driven by the performance of Costner. The most powerful scene in the film, involving a storm on the Kansas highway, is a scene without much dialogue but easily contains the turning point of Clark’s perspective on his powers and an emotional foundation that dominates the film from that point forward.
Michael Shannon drives the second half of the film as General Zod, faithfully representing the madness inherent in the character while adding a great deal of human dimension to his persona. As the film moves on, Zod falls more and more into hysterics, leading to the controversial ending that makes complete sense for those paying close attention to the way that his character develops.
Snyder made a great decision with Man of Steel, following the great plot development thread established by Batman Begins and favoring interlaced flashbacks intertwined with the actual plot of the film. Not sitting stuck in Kent’s childhood helped the flow of the film, as the flashbacks provided a nice respite from the action.
The biggest problem with Man of Steel is simply escalation heading into the inevitable second installment in this new franchise. The final battle within the city of Metropolis literally tears the entire city apart. By the end of the final conflict between Superman and Zod, the city is literally left in ash as the two combatants have taken out buildings, bridges, parking garages, anything you can possibly imagine.
How can Man of Steel 2 possibly hope to raise the stakes or come close to replicating the large scale destruction we saw in this film? A safe prediction for the sequel, based on the small Easter eggs intelligently placed throughout the movie, is that Lex Luthor and Lexicorp is somehow going to be involved. With Luthor acting as more of a small-scale villain with worldwide intentions, how will he manage to match the Armageddon-centered plan Zod almost put into action?
Although the end of the film is absolutely outstanding, the first half of Man of Steel, despite some impressive action sequences, struggles to find its footing. Most of the beginning of the film shows Amy Smart’s Lois Lane struggle to find this mystery man who ends up being Kent, as most if not all of the characters are simply exposition-laden plot machines that help lay the foundation.
In short, Man of Steel just doesn’t seem to break any new ground as an origin film. With such a large-scale film, this is something almost impossible to avoid, especially in an origin story, but as new superhero origin stories are churned out almost every year now, seeing much of the same from Man of Steel’s opening 30 minutes comes as a slight disappointment.
Finally, the much talked about conclusion.
I’m likely in the minority, but I believe that Superman killing off Zod was the perfect end to this film. The direct objective of this movie is to establish Superman to a new audience that has come to appreciate and embrace the dark, gritty nature of The Dark Knight trilogy. Now, although Batman never killed in that specific trilogy, he came pretty damn close. It can easily be argued that if facing a situation like Superman’s, Batman would heavily consider the same action that Superman took.
As Jor-El told Clark in the film, “You can save all of them.” To Clark, every human life on the planet is worth saving. Zod’s actions forced Superman’s hand. That is the finite argument and it makes complete sense after what audiences have been experiencing for the last two hours. Although controversial and shocking to some, what happened at the end of Man of Steel is exactly what the series needed to start on the right foot, as the immediate results of murdering the last remaining Kryptonian will likely drive Clark’s character throughout the series.
*END SPOILER TERRITORY*
Man of Steel is a great start to a new franchise. It might not break new ground, it might be too big for its own good, but it is still the best Superman movie in a long, long time. Driven by an outstanding cast fronted by Henry Cavill, Man of Steel adds a great deal of dimension to the long-standing character. The action is second to none, but it’s going to be hard to surpass the large-scale destruction caused by Zod and his cohorts. Man of Steel breathes new life into this classic character, and although imperfect, it will be very interesting to see where they will take the character from here.