by David Seaman | Echo
Three stars (out of four)
This was the Superman film that needed to happen - at least for Warner Bros.
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's family recaptured the hero's copyright in 2009. Warner Bros. owns DC Comics (which Superman is a character of), and the court ruling stated that the company did not owe the family royalties of the previous films. If they did not begin production on another Superman film by 2011, however, the family would be able to sue for lost revenue.
Thus was born "Man of Steel." The film doesn't exactly soar, but it offers enough thrills and philosophy to satisfy the average moviegoer.
Director Zack Snyder presents a version of Superman unlike any of the previous incarnations, while still respecting what came before. The film starts with the birth of Kal-El on the planet Krypton, the first natural birth in centuries. As civil war and destruction rain down on Krypton, Jor-El sends his son to Earth in order to survive. Jor-El has another agenda, however, one that ties in heavily with the film's plot.
Kal-El arrives in Kansas and is raised by the kindly Kents. Renamed Clark, he discovers he has extraordinary abilities. His adopted father tells him of his heritage, and Clark learns more when he discovers a Kryptonian ship in the Arctic. Burdened by the weight of his destiny to protect Earth and the choice to hide his powers, Clark must embrace being Superman and learn to be truly human when a threat from the past reappears.
Snyder seems to have taken cues from fellow directors Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, piling on the destruction with a dash of lens flare. It's nice to have Superman finally fight someone on his level, and "Man of Steel" delivers more action than all of the previous films combined. The final battle is an assault on the senses, but the other ones deliver enough intensity and danger to keep the audience hooked. A fight between Superman and fellow alien Faora allows for all the Kryptonian powers to be shown onscreen - super-speed in battle has never looked better. It's exciting and well-staged.
The special effects are spectacular. Krypton looks amazing and exciting compared to the icy planet of the first "Superman." The first few minutes on Krypton are actually some of the best of the entire film, with smooth action and storytelling. The score by Hans Zimmer is appropriately dramatic and tense. If there is any flaw in the technical production it is through the color of the picture. This is a darker Superman in more ways than one. The film seems to be shot with a strong filter, limiting bright colors.
The script could have used some sharp editing. There are some beautiful and poignant lines in the film that are forced into the dialogue. Lines such as "I can do things other people can't" do not flow naturally in the scenes in which they are spoken.
It's a shame the writing is off, because "Man of Steel" boasts an impressive cast: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne. Most of these actors are able to overcome the writing limitations. Crowe as Superman's bio-dad Jor-El brings intensity and wisdom to his role, and Costner is equally good as the more reserved father Jonathan Kent. These two experienced actors give conviction to their roles, making their presence sincere in Superman's journey of discovery.
Amy Adams starts out strong as Lois Lane but is unfortunately reduced to be another damsel-in-distress. More convincing is Michael Shannon as the villain General Zod. He's arrogant, cruel and remorseless, but he has reasonable motivations. Shannon plays him as a more three-dimensional character than most of the other cast members, save for Superman. The title hero himself, played by British actor Henry Cavill, doesn't have much to say. His Clark Kent needs a little work. But he's an authoritative presence as the Man of Steel, and that is enough for the more intense scenes in the film.
Besides the action, the film does take time to delve into the motivations of the characters. Superman really struggles with how to use his powers, and it's nice to see him develop throughout the movie. Zod is a good choice as the villain, as he is essentially what Superman could have become. They both have a destiny to fulfill: Superman to protect Earth and Zod to protect and restore his people. Both need to defend their worlds. But Superman has a choice, and Zod unfortunately does not. Their similarities and difference help drive the movie.
"Man of Steel"'s new spin on, and devotion to, the Superman mythology makes it rise above being a generic blockbuster, although it feels like one at times. It has great effects and thrilling fight scenes, and a willingness to explore serious themes. "Man of Steel" isn't super overall, but it is super entertaining.