Sunday 30 June 2013

Film Review: Man of Steel

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner
Running time: 143 minutes

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the obligatory bird/plane reference that any movie reviewer feels the need to cram into a review of Man of Steel. Now, with that out of the way, let's get on with it shall we?

Amy Adams as Lois Lane
After Superman Returns divided critics back in 2006, the audience has been patiently awaiting this; the big-screen return of the Man of Steel with the comic-book film aficionados behind the Dark Knight trilogy (writers Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer), 300 and Watchmen (director Zack Snyder). With a washed out colour palette, a fresh cast and 'darker' tone, Man of Steel should be the definitive Superman film for the 21st Century; down-to-earth (pun?), straight-faced and inspirational. An instant classic.


Erm, no, not quite. Man of Steel is not flawless, not even close. Hell, to some audience members, it might not even be the best Superman film released this side of the year 2000.

First of all, let's deal with some of the positives. Man of Steel has a cracking cast. Henry Cavill is fantastic as Clark Kent/Kal-El; he looks, sounds and is like Superman. Likewise, Amy Adams is brilliant as Lois Lane. She's defiant and feisty and still an attractive and likeable character which is good.

Also, the way in which Goyer, Nolan and Snyder paced the first half of the movie was done brilliantly. An opening prelude that charts the downfall of Krypton is awesome; the film spends a lot more time on Krypton than I had expected and that is a good thing. This opening prelude was, in my opinion, one of the best parts. It was like something torn straight from one of the Star Wars prequels and then improved upon

With the planet is collapsing in on itself and General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup to save his people before being outwitted by Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and sent to the Phantom Zone. Whilst Russell Crowe is great as Jor-El (he brings the necessary gravitas the role needs), I found that Michael Shannon's depiction of General Zod to be amusing rather than terrifying.

Admittedly, it would take a special breed of actor to make prancing around a space station with a cape yelling things like "Unleash the World Engine!" and "Open the Genesis Chamber!" sound anything other than a absurdly funny. I felt that Shannon overacted Zod to the point where he was so batshit crazy that is wasn't threatening, just silly.

Antje Traue stole the show as Faora
It was almost as if a cartoon version of Zod had somehow found himself in a more grounded version of a Superman movie. He snarled maliciously, he spat dialogue and he generally had the "crazed villain" dial cranked up to 11.

Instead, I found that Zod's second-in-command, Faora (Antje Traue) pretty much stole the show. She's a much better and more badass villain.

Anyway, the film soon settles down and is all about Clark Kent keeping himself out of trouble with numerous different jobs. He never stays in the one place and lives a solitary life. It's a nice introduction to the 'human' side of the character. One scene in particular where Clark is taunted by a trucker in a diner and walks away instead of beating him was a nice touch. It makes him relatable and likeable.

Clark childhood (and the troubles he faced) were told through a series of flashbacks. These flashbacks were spaced throughout the first half of the film and I liked the way in which Snyder see-sawed between the past and present. One flashback in which Clark's human father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), was killed was stupid  (as it messed with the lore a little too much) but other than that, the way in which Snyder told Clark's past in several key chapters rather than one solid block was good.

Clark soon discovers an ancient Kryptonian scout ship in the Arctic and the truth about his powers, his heritage and his home-world; he realises that he must make the choice between defending his adoptive planet from Zod or embracing his Kryptonian counterparts.

Clark Kent and his mother, Martha
From this point on however, things start to go downhill. I liked the sequence in which Kal-El played around with his powers and flew for the first time (the way in which Snyder envisions Kal-El flying was very visceral and exciting), but once battle commences between Kal-El and Zod, Snyder abandons all pretence of this being anything more than a bombastic summer blockbuster with more brawn than brains.

For the next hour, Snyder bombards the audience with more destruction than you'll see this side of a Michael Bay movie. Kal-El and Zod tear at each other endlessly, ripping trucks, girders and entire buildings apart in their climatic duel across Smallville and Metropolis.

And whilst you can't fault Man of Steel on the sheer scale of the action (at one point, the duo take their fight into space), I found that I tired very quickly of the two (seemingly immortal) enemies tearing Metropolis a new one. The battle just rolls on, and on, and on and on. Not only this, but surely in the process of throwing Zod through several skyscrapers, Kal-El is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. Isn't Superman supposed to protect humanity?

When the credits finally began to roll, I found myself thinking that less would have been more when it came to the final hour of Man of Steel. It felt as though the writers got halfway through the script and went "Oh crap, we've written a Superman film and so far no buildings have fallen down! Quick, add loads so people woop and punch the air in excitement! Screw the plot, let's just throw in lots of Zod and Kal-El punching the crap out of each other!"

The end result was a film of two distinct halves; one well-paced, well-written and well-acted. The other, CGI heavy, lacking in plot and overly long and repetitive. Man of Steel is a disjointed and underwhelming attempt at rebooting the Superman franchise as a result. It's got all the right ideas in place but is executed poorly by assuming the audience craved action and explosions.

I give Man of Steel: 6/10

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