1978's Superman made audiences believe a man could fly. 2013's Man of Steel made audiences believe a man could cause massive destruction to an entire city while trying to save mankind. Man of Steel isn't a bad movie, but it lacks the heart needed to make Superman one of the greatest superheroes ever created.The film trades the clunky laughs of the Clark Kent character (which brought true heart to Superman in the Christopher Reeve films) for a “Bruce Banner-like” character traveling to find himself and become the hero his father sent him to Earth to be. This journey manages to slowly build the character from the ground up and present a different take on Superman. It also squanders that development towards the last hour, where Man of Steel becomes one long action sequence that seems to be intent on just showing destruction on a massive scale.
Visually, the film is beautiful with director Zack Snyder making the most of the film's epic storyline (giving audiences a new futuristic take on Krypton and then filling the Earth scenes with as much traditional Americana as possible) and the screenplay/story from David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan attempting to ground the Superman mythos in as much realism (such as how our military reacts to the "alien" when he reveals himself) as possible. The film features a great cast including Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, and Laurence Fishburne.
The film opens on the dying planet of Krypton (which is now vividly rendered in CGI as opposed to cold crystals like Richard Donner’s Superman film) and gives a quick history of how the people of Krypton have been colonizing other planets and advancing their own genetics to the point where now each new child is grown to serve a certain class. It is their scientific achievements that have brought about the end of their planet.
As a leader of his people, Jor-El (Crowe) has attempted to make the other leaders see that the end is near, but he is too late and is interrupted by General Zod (Shannon) - who wants to issue military rule on the planet. Jor-El, whose wife has given birth to a son Kal-El who was conceived by natural means, disobeys the law and steals the key to his people's continued existence. At his home, he hides it in his newborn son, and sends the boy across the universe right as Zod attacks.
On Earth, the audience is told the backstory of how Kal-El came to the planet, was discovered and raised by Jonathan (Costner) Martha (Lane) Kent. Fearing the world's reaction to their son's alien origin, Jonathan and Martha taught Clark how to hide his amazing powers, focus them, and try to be as normal as possible. This upbringing (Jonathan even scolded him for saving a bus filled with kids who would have drowned in a river) has led Clark (Cavill) to wander the road from job to job and place to place.
The audience sees a bearded Clark working on a fishing boat before he is once again forced to risk revealing himself by saving a group of men on a burning oil platform. Next he is up north working as a dishwasher when he learns of the military discovering something frozen in the ice. Remembering a piece of Kryptonian technology Jonathon gave him, Clark heads to the site. There he discovers his true origin, meets his real dad, and is surprised by reporter Lois Lane (Adams). Despite her paper not backing her and the military trying to silence her, Lois is convinced Clark is proof of alien life in the world and wants to track him down. Clark wants to be left alone and keep his secret hidden from the world. His hand is forced with the arrival of Zod and his ultimatum that the Earth hands over Kal-El.
The movie then shifts into overdrive as Clark steps into the role of hero, faces Zod, and still has time to fall for Lane. It is also the point of the movie where the plot goes out the window and the entire film becomes a lesson in massive destruction.
Given the wealth of talent involved, Man of Steel is not as good as it should have been, but it is still a solid reboot for the Superman franchise. Unlike Bryan Singer's 2006 attempt at returning the franchise to greatness in Superman Returns, Snyder and company are intent to give the audience a new version of the hero many of us have known since we were small children.
This Superman is a tad darker than what has come before and yes somewhat grounded in the same kind of reality that Christopher Nolan brought to the Batman franchise. Some of the changes made to the hero work (I liked the slow pace they used to show Clark's struggle to find his place in this world), and some of them do not work (I didn't like how Jonathon scolds Clark for saving the kids or the whole genic engineering of Kryptonians storyline).
As Superman, Cavill brings a seriousness to the role and makes it his own. It is a more somber take on the hero and the actor does an excellent job showing how the Superman character is an alien in a strange world where he truly doesn’t fit in with mankind. As I already said, it seems the writers borrowed certain aspects to how the Bruce Banner/Hulk character has been perceived on the screen, but it works for this film. I am interested to see how Cavill makes Clark more human through his reporter persona (something this film lacked) in future films.
As villains go, Shannon nails Zod. He is no Terence Stamp, but his Zod is every bit as deadly and just as much of an egomaniac. Shannon also infuses Zod with a sense of right. The character truly believes he is trying to save Krypton and his race. The fact that he is doing it by destroying the Earth and the human race is just collateral damage to him. He would be happy to see Kal-El rejoin his own people, but doesn't think twice about killing him when Superman decides the people of Earth are more important than Krypton's rebirth.
On Blu-ray, Man of Steel looks simply incredible. The film is beautifully shot and Snyder’s use of CGI (while heavy-handed towards the end) makes the film feel truly epic. The Blu-ray also comes loaded with more than four hours of bonus material that take you deep into the making of the film, and its journey to the screen.
Even with its many faults, it is great to see Superman return to the big screen. The film presents a new take on the Superman mythos, and is solid starting place for a new franchise. It will be interesting to see where the hero goes next.