Movie Review: Man of Steel
By Matthew Huntley
June 20, 2013
Superman’s story is told in flashback, which was a fresh approach to the material. When we meet the grown-up Kal-El (Henry Caville), he’s a lonely vagabond, wandering from one odd job - fisherman, busboy, etc. - to another and trying to keep a low profile at the advice of his Kansas parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who found him when he was a baby and named him Clark. Clark always knew he was different, possessing superpowers and senses, but Jonathan and Martha taught him to channel them, even though they also said to keep them a secret. Jonathan tells him his abilities would disrupt the course of mankind and the world would view him as a threat (“People are afraid of what they don’t understand”).
But as we all know, Clark feels inclined to utilize his powers for good, whether it’s saving schoolchildren from a sinking bus; or oil workers trapped on a burning rig; or the nosy Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a Pulitzer-Prize Winning journalist, who goes snooping around in the Arctic when the military finds an unidentified spacecraft covered in ice that’s over 18,000 years-old. This turns out to be a lost ship from Krypton and Clark, sensing its presence, explores it and finally meets his true father, who appears in hologram form and tells him who he is and what he must do.
Lois, of course, wants the inside scoop on her savior and goes digging for Clark’s backstory, although she has a change of heart to print it when she realizes the type of damage it could do. Her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), doesn’t believe her when she says her sources have gone sour, and her discovery of the truth coincides with an invasion from Zod, who broadcasts a signal to the people of Earth telling them bring forth Kal-El, whom they start to refer to as Superman (and not just because the symbol on his chest resembles an “S”).
The story of Man of Steel, from David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy), doesn’t tell us a whole lot we don’t already know about the titular character, but then how could it, given how many different versions of Superman there have been since his inception back in 1933? How it tells it, though, in a raw, less romantic and colorful style, feels new, and that makes the movie engaging. It also contains strong performances, with Henry Cavill and Kevin Costner being especially memorable, and I liked how Amy Adams was free to make her Lois Lane strong, resourceful and daring (she’s more than just a helpless damsel in need of rescuing). It’s a neat twist that she knows Superman’s true identity from the get-go, although why anybody else doesn’t recognize him just because he puts on a pair of glasses still goes unexplained.
The first two-thirds of Man of Steel are the best part of it, in which the movie goes back and forth between the present and past as we learn about Superman’s origins and childhood. There’s genuine emotion and character development that’s heartfelt and effective. When it reaches its climax, though, Snyder more or less hands his movie over to the second unit and we get an overlong and exhausting battle sequence in which many, many, many buildings explode and fall down, and this seems to go on and on until we’re simply numb to the special effects. And the whole time we can’t help but wonder how many people are dying as a result of Superman and Zod duking it out.
Nevertheless, as the start of what will likely be another Superman franchise, Man of Steel is a worthy first chapter. It’s different enough from the original series in that it feels like its own adaptation, which is what I was hoping for, because it didn’t prompt me to question why they were making it in the first place. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a good one for sure, and just like the symbol on Superman’s chest, it hopefully serves as a sign there are good, if not better, things to come.