Man of Steel is epic in scale, operatic in bearing and dares to dazzle. It’s one of the biggest of the big super hero films and highly anticipated.
It is painted on a huge canvas spanning space, earth’s cities, rural farm homesteads, the North Pole, and a fiery planet on its way out. It has a big imagination. There is much to praise.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is likeable and admirable. The English actor with the off-the-charts chiseled good looks and Superman hero body radiates something we haven’t seen since the glory days of Christopher Reeve – warmth.
Superman is on Earth to do good, to help the humans and he gets a kick out of it. He likes the people.
He listens, weighs and speaks in measured tones, and always does the right thing, even fighting with everybody’s best interests at heart, and it’s never strained or ironic. He gets his sunny, can-do nature honestly, raised on a farm by wise and kind people, his adoptive parents the Kents (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner) who hoped he would go into farming. He was loved.
In contrast, Snyder’s adaptation of the comic book story is darker, stormier, unsettled, threatening. It’s relentlessly violent; the many battles between Superman and Commander Zod actually change the landscape through destructive force. The body count is mind-bending unending parade of battle sequences. There is reason to be somber.
Commander Zod (Michael Shannon), a megalomaniacal warrior, wants Earth. Superman was born Kal-El on Zod’s planet, Krypton, and was shot to Earth when it became clear life on Krypton was ending. His parents (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) died with their home planet. The treasonous Zod escaped and saw a chance to rebuild his home on Earth and rule it with an iron fist. He will sweep Earth clean of humans and start over with his army of bad guys and gals.
Superman knows his plan. He loves Earth and realizes the scale of Zod’s obsession and vows to keep Earth Zod free. That’s the kernel of the war between them that eventually includes every arm of US intelligence and warfare.
Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is watching all of this and getting to know Superman. She is overjoyed to have the scoop of the century and Superman’s eye. Together they repel Zod’s wrath; she uses her intuition and intelligence to survive.
The set pieces are magnificent – as in the polar ice cave where Kal-El landed inside his space ship. A Kansas tornado that killed Clarke’s father rips through the flat landscape snapping trees gives the sense of what it might be like to be inside a massive tornado.
The cityscapes are amazing, and somewhat shocking, recalling in detail the horrors of 9/11 as Zod attacks the humans. Skyscrapers implode and explode and populations die.
The film’s nearly overwhelming problems are apparent early – too much CGI, too loud, too dissonant, too much. There is little breathing room between jolts, the steady diet of violence and noise. The battle scenes rattle on interminably and meld into one another.
And yet we care for the characters, which are some kind of wizardry on Snyder’s part, considering the constant clang and distraction of war. Good and evil are completely themselves; there are no flashes of good in Zod or bad in Superman. After all this is a mythic tale in the modern sense. Subtlety and nuance are not required. But perhaps some editing is.
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Written by David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan based on character by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Directed by Zach Snyder
Opens June 14
Runtime: 143 minutes