Man of Steel Review by George Bell


I’ve been a Zack Snyder fan ever since Dawn of the Dead. His style is what first attracted me, but each consecutive movie brought with it more and more substance. I’m aware that a lot of people think he’s a one-trick, gimmicky director who doesn’t handle multi-dimensional stories very well, but I disagree. And if there’s ever going to be something to point toward when having that discussion with someone, Man of Steel is it.

My first observation is an obvious one: Henry Cavill absolutely embodies what I know to be the character of Superman.  I can imagine some people getting up in arms about certain aspects of the story, but I don’t care if it’s different than past portrayals. In Richard Donner’s Superman, Christopher Reeve played the character as a man with a rock-solid understanding of who he is. Cavill gives glimpses of that attitude, but it’s tempered by the fact that Man of Steel shows him before his will or ethics are ever tested. In fact, the first hour of the movie is almost all about character building, and Clark Kent doesn’t transform into Superman until quite a way’s in. Instead, Clark’s journey toward eventually saving the world is mostly filled with him working odd jobs as he tries to figure out what his purpose is.

Speaking of purpose, Man of Steel deals with questions about predestination and genetic tampering. On the planet Krypton, every living person was manufactured, Matrix style, to perform specific societal functions. In the case of General Zod (Michael Shannon), was engineered to be the protector of Krypton. His ends-justify-the-means way of doing things led to the death of Kent’s real father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe). But Jor-El’s wife secretly gave birth naturally and sent their son to Earth before Krypton exploded. At the same time, Zod was sentenced to a living hell in the phantom zone for his war crimes. Unfortunately, Krypton’s demise released him from his prison, compelling him to hunt down Jor-El’s heir and target Earth as a starting point for a new Krypton.

It’s a great premise on paper, but focusing the first twenty or so minutes of the movie on heavy action sequences isn’t as good in practice. It felt like the end to a different movie, and while it was visually captivating, all of the information contained in these sequences could have been handled better and more concisely. Sometimes, less is more, and as a point of contrast, the beginning of Donner’s Supermanshows that to be true. Still, Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon set up their characters well, and the high stakes are evident right off the bat.

There are some flashback scenes, and in them, Clark’s human father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner), instills in him most of what allows him to become the man we all know and love. It takes a while for Clark to realize how and why he should reveal himself to the world, but once he does, his character traits are firmly grounded in his father’s teachings. I absolutely love how Snyder takes the time to explore the uncertainty of a young man looking for answers to wholly burdensome questions. Gone is the campy (but awesome) past of Superman movies that came before, and in their place is a story that actually resonates with the world around us.

All of this is important in determining Man of Steel’s quality, but let’s not forget about the kick-ass action. Once the shit hits the fan, it also careens into a nearby gas tanker; explodes a power plant or two; obliterates an entire cityscape; and causes unimaginable chaos and destruction. If you’re of the opinion that Superman II would have been much, much better if it was made in modern times, well, here you go. The trifecta of evil from that movie is intact in Man of Steel, only minus all the flying around on wires in front of an obvious green screen. Without giving too much away in context, gravity is literally defied as buildings and cars alternately fly in the air and collapse while near-indestructible titans fight for the fate of Earth. It’s like the end of The Avengers, only arguably better.

If all that was on offer was a brief setup and loads of action, Man of Steel would still deliver as great escapist entertainment. Thankfully, Zack Snyder injected the right dose of humanity and convincing drama to elevate it above the title of just another summer blockbuster. Even if you don’t have any particular history with the character, older movies, or the comics, you still owe it to yourself to check out Man of Steel.
George Bell
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Twitter: @moviefiednyc
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