Man of Steel Movie Review
When the credits started to roll, my friend sitting next to me was crying. She broke down, sobbing, truly emotional. I asked her what was wrong. She looked at me, face still bright red, and in a crackling voice said “This is my Superman. My entire childhood, everything I knew Superman to be is here. I… thought I’d never see it”.
“Man of Steel” will hit a lot of people very deeply. As for my audience, the audience went into riotous applause on at least three occasions in the film. It totally had us captivated. And, it isn’t because of the special effects, or the actions.
It’s simply because of Clark Kent aka Kal-El.
This is a thorough reimagining of the Superman mythos. The changes made to continuity are all bold & ballsy in ways that I wasn’t expecting. Superman has always had the stigma of being “overpowered”, or not relatable. And, maybe the outdated view of Superman in the past (the Richard Donner films) was in direct reaction to America needing a hero to believe in on the big screen.
To have a relatable Superman was on the backburner for those films. Flash forward to today, you have a Superman that feels strangely alien and foreign from us. Zack Snyder makes the interesting choice to make the alien & foreign nature of Kal-El a focal point of the entire film. And, miraculously that creates a Clark Kent/Kal-El that feels more human.
“Man of Steel” is an experience. Deeply emotional, surprisingly soulful, and ballsy. It is at once the biggest AND smallest Superman film ever made. It is a surprisingly intimate story. In fact, what impressed me was the fact that Clark Kent/Kal-El is essentially an introvert. He doesn’t do a lot of talking. But, Henry Cavill’s performance speaks volumes, and radiates a need to do good for the Earth.
However, what sparks an internal conflict is the relationship he has with Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) and Ma Kent (Diane Lane), the adoptive parents who found him as an infant. We get a view of Clark as a child, grappling with his newfound abilities. At one point, in a heartbreaking moment, he asks his mother “what’s wrong with me”. It’s those moments that invest us in the character of Superman. Had that not been there, all the visual effects in existence wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest.
What also makes this film so strong is how thoroughly it takes us through the journey of Krypton’s last days. We spend a good 20 minutes on Krypton at the very beginning of the film. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it had taken all these years to fully realize Krypton. We spend a lot of time with Superman’s biological parents, and seeing their struggle against General Zod. In fact, one of the strongest thematic threads in the film is how important Krypton’s existence is, and how torn Kal-El is about the plot at hand to ensure Krypton’s survival.
Of course, Lois Lane has a major hand in the events of this film. This is, I think, the single best screen-version of that character I’ve ever seen. Amy Adams brings intelligence to the role that I thought was refreshing for her character. She isn’t nearly the ditz that she was in previous versions. First & foremost, Lois Lane is an investigative journalist. We get a good bit of the film with her doing her job, chasing leads, and being fully capable (which is more than I can say for nearly any other blockbuster this year).
General Zod makes a convincing case for the central conflict. He’s a villain we understand, which makes the emotional gut punch of the film’s final fight scene that much stronger. It hits you. Hard. And, Michael Shannon brings so much to that performance that I’m almost certain didn’t originate from the page. However, as far as villains go, Faora steals the show.
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about the action sequences at all during this review. And, that’s because the action wouldn’t have mattered at all if the character work wasn’t as strong as it was. But, rest assured, the physicality of Superman has finally been displayed in all its wonder. Superman is unleashed here, and the scale of the action & destruction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a Superhero Film. Like, we talk about “The Avengers”, or “The Dark Knight Rises”… But, honestly in terms of the action & the scope of it, never has it ever been as fully realized as it is here.
It is, at once, exhilarating and exhausting. During the film’s final 45 minutes, my face was actually starting to hurt because I was smiling so much. The action here is f*cking awesome.
Now, I’ve read reviews that have complained about the film’s perceived lack of humor or levity. And, I can’t help but disagree with them. It’s not that the movie is humor or joyless, in fact, the film ends on such a beautifully hopeful note, I couldn’t help but smile. The truth is, I think most critics are still holding on to the Superman of the past. But this Superman is one that seems more palatable for our times and interests. We will always have Christopher Reeves, but this one is for a new generation. And, they’ve managed to perfectly update Superman as an entity for a totally new audience.
It’s not a perfect film, however. If you see this film in 3D, you might get a little dizzy from some of the shaky cam, especially during the first hour or so. The screenplay by David S. Goyer (co-written by Christopher Nolan) has some dialogue that can be perceived as hokey or corny. And, also the screenplay feels almost like, in the first half hour, the movie is on fast forward. It almost needs another 10 or 15 minutes to allow more of the film’s themes to play out a little more convincingly. And, there is A LOT of action in the last third. Maybe a little too much… Maybe.
But, those quibbles aside, this is first-rate majestic blockbuster filmmaking. It is a reintroduction into the Superman mythos, and a beautifully told story about identity, doubt, reconciliation with oneself, and making tough decisions. Simultaneous intimate and epic, this film is certainly one of the most deeply effective superhero films ever made. I loved it from top to bottom.
As my friend (at the beginning of the review) cried what I assumed were tears of joy, I couldn’t help but think that this is a film that will connect with people on a deeply emotional level. And, that (to me, at least) is what I will always take away from this film.
I honestly cannot wait to see it again.