Recent Marvel movies have found success with crafting a fully cohesive universe of all their heroes. DC Comics is now trying their hand at bringing all their characters into one world and while Marvel is crafting a more lighthearted, humor injected cinematic universe, DC has been going the grim and realistic route with their fantastic Dark Knight films. In an effort to bring Superman under the same banner, Man of Steel shapes a decidedly darker and grittier version of the Superman we’ve come to know and love. The results are a hero who is somewhat more relateable than in past films, but it also results in a movie that is a bit disjointed and overly hectic.
In all fairness, I should admit that I am a much bigger Batman fan than I am a Superman fan. I grew up reading Batman comics and watching Batman the Animated Series, but I never really took much of an interest in Superman. It’s for this reason that I went into Man of Steel with few expectations. I didn’t figure that director Zack Snyder could really damage my image of Superman because I didn’t really have much of one built up in the first place. As far as the character goes, I had no problem with the way he was treated. Sure, a few things seemed a little out of character for him but he was Superman through and through. Most of that credit goes to Henry Cavill’s performance in that he made Superman seem incredibly human and at the same time, a really powerful butt-kicker… even in tights. Speaking of performances, everyone involved turned in an impressive show. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as Lois Lane and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane give Jonathan and Martha Kent the conflicted yet loving touch that was required as Superman’s adopted parents. Russel Crowe as Jor-El is also a high point as his presence in the film has been greatly expanded from that of past Superman films. The real highlight of the entire film, however, is Michael Shannon as the heavy: General Zod. Shannon’s performance gives Zod all the cruelty and evil that the role demands but he also brings a sense of humanity to the role that almost makes you feel sorry for him, especially near the end of the film.
While acting is solid across the board, the faults with the film lie in the actual film-making and story. Superman has always been an alien, everyone knows that. None of the past movies or comics have ever shied away from this, but Man of Steel dials up the sci-fi to a point to where it often seems as if you are watching a Star Trek film instead of a comic book film. Sci-fi isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but much of the more extravagant space alien moments seemed at odds with the realistic, gritty tone the film was aiming for. Being a reboot, however, I can appreciate the fact that Superman’s origins need to be established and sci-fi and alien elements are just a natural part of that, so hopefully the inevitable sequels won’t feel the need to be so over the top with the Deep Space 9 stuff.
Man of Steel is also incredibly hectic and disjointed at some points. I don’t know whether to blame direction or editing for this, but the film seemed to jump around a little too much for my taste. There are a fair amount of flashback scenes chronicling Superman’s upbringing in Kansas and these jumps are nicely done and appreciated, but when it takes place throughout the main story line to extent that it does, it’s easy to think that you missed something.
Another conflicting aspect that the film seems to struggle with is the tonal change that takes place in the last forty-five minutes. Up until that point most of the movie is spent building up Superman’s humanity and his struggle to fit into the human race. It’s often touching and very interesting to watch unfold on the screen, but when the third act rolls around you get a big, fat face-punch full of crazy CG effects. The effects are well done but there is so much frantic flying about and destruction that it easily crosses the line of sensory overload. It is, of course, cool to see Superman kick so much butt, but the way it’s presented will hurt your eyes and is jarringly different from most of the other film. Admittedly, Superman Returns could have definitely done with some more action, but Man of Steel would have benefited from a bit less.
All things considered though, Man of Steel is a good movie and is a fitting inclusion into DC comics film resume. There are no red tights or kryptonite and Clark Kent isn’t a reporter, but you get the sense that these elements will find their way into the world as the sequels roll out in the coming years. Except the red tights. Let’s not bring those back. If you want to watch a movie where Superman beats up a bunch of bad guys and widespread destruction reigns supreme, then you will enjoy your time with Man of Steel, I certainly did, but I couldn’t help but leave the theater thinking that it could have been so much more. Oh well… there’s always the inevitable Justice League movie to look forward to.
Worth the watch? Better than Superman Returns? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.