Published on July 17th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Man of Steel 
Summary: Hollywood's latest Superman reboot goes for 'Dark Knight' aesthetics and leaves room for a series. The screenplay is overpacked but casting is spot-on.
PG-13 | 143 min.
Director: Zack Snyder | Screenplay: David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Studio: Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Entertainment | Distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…the guy from The Tudors?
We are fully submerged in the age where comic book superhero movies are Hollywood’s favorite genre. Every single year, three or four of these $200 million-plus blockbusters drop and each one of them (except Green Lantern) rakes in the dough. Back in the day, these films were nothing but fun and about as deep as a puddle but in the post-Dark Knight age, studios are demanding more serious thought be put into these tales of caped saviors.
Enter Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel which boasts an outstanding cast of A-listers, enough explosions to make Cody Underwood cream, and the world’s most-beloved superhero. The bigwigs at DC decided that it wasn’t good enough to watch Superman save the world with amazing ease anymore–we needed to get into his head and understand what it’s like to be the last son of Krypton.
Rather than tapping a well-known star (ala Christian Bale) to play the film’s hero, Snyder and company cast Henry Cavill in this life-changing role. Cavill is a strapping young lad who makes every lady in the audience faint upon removing his shirt–but that’s not all it takes to play Superman. He brings a calming presence to the screen in Man of Steel, which is a signature of the character’s charm because even though the world is ending, rest assured Kal-El is in charge.
As I mentioned, the rest of the cast is loaded with top talent including Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, Russell Crowe as Superman’s father Jor-El, also Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray his Smallville guardians Jonathan and Martha Kent. Arguably the most important character aside from the film’s namesake is his love interest Lois Lane, who was surprisingly re-imagined in this installment. Amy Adams steps into the role of the fearless reporter with great confidence and the pinch of attitude we’ve come to expect from her unassuming characters. Perhaps I’m not a fair critic of Adams because I’m a huge fan of every performance I’ve seen of hers–but her take on Lane provides the desperately-needed human element in Man of Steel‘s overblown presence.
The script to this movie felt way bloated as the narrative tries to encompass the destruction of Krypton and its inhabitants, the adolescence of Clark Kent as well as his transition into a superhero, and a villainous plot bent on Earth’s destruction…even at 2.5 hours, it felt like they tried to cram in too much information. There will be times when watching Man of Steel where you’re just trying to make sense of everyone’s names as the characters spit out long strings of dialogue about Krypton’s criminal justice system and its cultural heritage. The man responsible for most of these heavy-handed diatribes is our main antagonist General Zod, played by the always-intense Michael Shannon.
Shannon has made a career of playing menacing figures that carry a ton of mental baggage (see Revolutionary Road and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire for proof)–but his casting in this part is suspect. Of all the great actors in Man of Steel, I felt Shannon was most out of place. Zod is clearly a man with legions of ghosts in his past but he has such a confident, powerful demeanor that a more physically-imposing actor would have been more suited. He also just seems to go around yelling a lot, there weren’t many scenes that allowed him to tap into that quiet terror he inflicts so well.
The story and world of Superman is such a wacky one that a dead serious film version just felt odd. Obviously Batman was a character tailor-made for a dramatic, brooding screen adaptation. He’s just a rich man who’s had enough of his once-great city being overrun by filthy criminals–it’s not hard for audiences to connect with that idea. But an alien with Godlike powers, unbelievable looks and charm, and a skin-tight blue suit is slightly harder to take seriously in a straightforward approach. I wanted to have fun watching Man of Steel, like I did when seeing Joss Whedon’s The Avengers but instead I felt pummeled by doom and gloom for the first 90 minutes of this movie! Once you hit the final act of this movie however, it’s a blast to watch. As expected, the ending leaves Man of Steel set up for a strong series (characters like Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Doomsday, and Lex Luthor aren’t even mentioned in this first entry), with hopefully more fun to be had in those future sequels.
Snyder succeeded in making the finest Superman flick since Richard Donner’s 1978 classic and will hopefully stay on board through the duration of the series. In a time where gay people are still fighting for their rights and immigration is a hot-button issue in America, hopefully this great character can once again remind people that we’re all on the same team.
Near the end of the film, Superman is asked by a US Army General if they can trust him not to act against the country’s interests. The Kryptonian alien replies, “I grew up in Kansas, General. I’m about as American as it gets.”
The thud you probably heard after that line was Jan Brewer fainting on the cinema floor.