AN UNBALANCED BUT ENJOYABLE SUPERMAN ORIGIN STORY
To say that “Man of Steel” was one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters of the year would be a truly extreme understatement. For many huge Superman fans like myself, this wasn’t just a big-budget comic book action flick worth looking forward to seeing; it was a cinematic event all its own. The trailers alone gave me chills the first time I saw them. And the fact that it was being directed by Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”) and written by Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy) only made my sheer anticipation for the film that much higher. So when the time finally came when my friends and I were able to see one of the first showings on opening night, no bad reviews from any professional critics could possibly get in the way of our excitement. Luckily for us, we ended up having a great time, though I’ll admit that the movie is full of its fair share of problematic flaws that are often much more difficult to overlook than you’d think. Nonetheless, with its gritty visual style, engaging main characters, and invigoratingly massive action set pieces, this blockbuster easily stands above the rest in terms of spectacle, and just as well marks the start of a new era for Superman.
As the planet Krypton faces certain doom, scientist parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) pack their illicitly natural-born son Kal-El into a capsule and send him to Earth so that he may survive. This enrages the viciously tenacious General Zod (Michael Shannon), who spends an entire three decades searching for the child. Meanwhile, Kal-El (Henry Cavill) has been lovingly raised as Clark in Smalltown, Kansas by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), his adoptive parents who’ve always taught him to simply keep his powers in check. But when he activates a crashed Kryptonian spaceship in the Arctic, Kal-El unintentionally alerts Zod to his direct whereabouts in the process. And just as nosey Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) learns Clark’s secret, Zod and his ruthless henchmen arrive on Earth to launch a full-scale invasion, and an ultimate plan is to recreate Krypton from the ground up, even if it means wiping out all of humanity. Will our hero put a stop to this madman’s twisted actions and save the world just in time? Do I really even need to ask that question?
For me, one of the absolute best aspects of this movie is the great casting of its talented A-list actors. Everyone here truly seems to fit into their roles perfectly, and Henry Cavill as the titular “Man of Steel” truly couldn’t be a more better example, both emotionally and physically. He effortlessly slips into the character’s bold suit with a great balance of raw charm and unflinching sincerity. And while he may not consistently have as much dialogue as most of his co-stars, he makes up for it by convincingly portraying a younger, much more uncertain Clark Kent who’s just beginning to realize his calling as both a genuine superhero and a symbol for the human race to strive for. It may not compare to the remarkable performances Christopher Reeve gave in the first two “Superman” flicks, but Cavill still does grand justice to Kal-El while making the role all his own. As for the rest of the cast, they all deliver nicely authentic portrayals of their characters as well. Amy Adams is especially fantastic as Lois Lane, the plucky, no-nonsense love interest to our hero. Her offbeat personality easily shines in this movie, and it’s pretty refreshing to see her become more of an active member in the main story (even though she’s still essentially the damsel in distress). There’s also an unexpected twist here in the Clark and Lois dynamic that was once teased at in “Superman II,” but never really followed through on until now. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are naturally charming in their roles as Clark’s adoptive parents, while Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer add a great emotional touch to his birth parents. But it’s Michael Shannon as the villainous Zod who ends up stealing almost every scene with his hammy acting and over-the-top dialogue, simply proving why he’s one of the most entertaining character actors in Hollywood today. Acting aside, the visuals are also a great aspect the film fully delivers on. Everything from the sets to the costumes is incredibly elaborate, and the darkly atmospheric cinematography helps give each scene a rich Nolan-esque quality. But “Man of Steel” has its hugely distracting drawbacks as well. The story, for one, is intently focused on the larger-than-life melodrama of Superman’s personal life, so much so that it’s almost entirely devoid of any true heartfelt humor (or fun, for that matter). The use of flashbacks to tell Clark’s tale of growing up as an outsider is well-executed, but as the actual story moves along, it starts to feel more and more mechanical and predictable. And by the time we get to the cool-looking but mindless action sequences that cause destruction at each turn, it’s hard to keep focus on what’s happening anymore.
At the end of the day, I can understand why so many professional critics have been divided over their liking toward “Man of Steel.” On one hand, it’s an extremely ambitious and dramatically effective reboot that takes Superman into a completely new direction in terms of his inner character. But at the same time, the story feels entirely overstuffed and unbalanced to a near-claustrophobic degree, and its heavy focus on drama over lighthearted humor takes its toll in the long run. Still, despite its problems, I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderfully committed acting and adrenaline-pumped action sequences. Coupled with Hans Zimmer’s epic score and some visually astounding CGI, this was truly one of the most thrilling and memorable films I’ve seen this year. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re a dedicated fan of Superman, this epic origin adventure is worth your time.