REVIEW: “Man of Steel”

Man of Steel Poster

Perhaps no 2013 movie has been more hyped or more scrutinized prior to its release than “Man of Steel”. Maybe it’s the talent that’s been assembled both in front of and behind the camera. Maybe it’s the heartfelt desire of fanboys like me for a good quality Superman movie during this current age of superhero cinema. Whatever it is, “Man of Steel” seems destined to disappoint on some levels for some. Well it’s finally arrived and for me it didn’t disappoint even though its a film that I needed to digest first.

This is certainly a different Superman movie than any of the others that we’ve seen which means it will definitely have to dodge its share of criticisms. Some will surely have issues with the different tone of this film and others will struggle with the creative liberties that do strip the picture of some of the things that the other Superman movies leaned heavily on. But when looked at as a clearly distinct Superman picture I feel it holds up quite strongly on its on. I certainly don’t want to discount the problems others may have with the film, but I think it’s a movie that offers a unique vision laced with fun summer action while also showing a level of respect for the source material.

David Goyer and Christopher Nolan put together the story and the directing reigns were handed to Zack Snyder. Their Superman universe starts by placing us into a crumbling planet Krypton. It’s a vision of the planet unlike any we’ve seen before and we get some interesting doses of their society, political structure, and more importantly the danger they’re facing. Due to some ill-advised planetary resourcing, Krypton is on the verge of destruction. Understanding his planet’s fate, Jor-El (wonderfully played by Russell Crowe) and wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) shoot their infant son Kal off the planet destined for Earth. With him is a codex which will ensure the survival of the Kryptonian race. We also meet the megalomaniacal rebel General Zod (Michael Shannon), an old friend of Jor-El’s whose more violent solutions for survival seriously clash with the society.

man of steel 3

From there the movie jumps ahead 30 Earth years or so. Kal-El (Henry Cavill) now named Clark, is a wanderer who works as everything from a crab fisherman to a truck stop waiter. Along the way he has left behind numerous stories of his superhuman heroism. Now the tale of his arrival on Earth is familiar enough and the film doesn’t waste a lot of time going back over it. As a baby he’s found by Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) and raised on their farm in Kansas. We see glimpses of his childhood through a series of very effect flashbacks. I have to say I loved this approach and each jump back into Clark’s past offered an interesting look at the different struggles and hardships he faced. Costner and Lane both give fabulous performances and inject some real emotion into the story.

As you probably guessed Zod and his followers track Kal to Earth and seek him out hoping to regain the codex and restore Krypton in their own genocidal way. It’s here that Clark must either embrace the destiny set before him and protect his new home or watch the human race be destroyed at the hands of his fellow Kryptonians. Through this we get a lot of mulling and conversation about whether or not the human race is ready to accept a super alien species. That’s soon tested after Clark saves the life of the spunky Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who insists on finding out more about her hero.

This Lois Lane is quite different than the versions we’ve come to know and this leads to one issue that I know some will have with the film. There’s a wild inversion of events that takes place in “Man of Steel” than definitely effects the relationship between Lois and Clark. For me, their romance has always been a crucial function that makes his whole story work. Because of the chronological tinkering, I found their romance to be lacking. But it isn’t completely ineffective. Adams gives a nice performance. It’s just that her Lois feels so different than others. She’s also much more out of the element that we’re used to seeing her in. Overall it didn’t seriously bother me but it didn’t always feel right.

la_ca_0416_man_of_steel

While the Lois character may have raised questions, I had none when it came to Michael Shannon’s Zod. From his first moments on screen he comes across as unstable and menacing. Shannon goes after it and I never doubted him for a second. I also really liked Antje Traue as Faora, Zod’s loyal second in command. She’s dry and super serious and she perfectly compliments Shannon’s performance. In movies like this it’s crucial to have a strong villain and Shannon brings that. Many of my favorite scenes feature him and none are better than when he makes his first appearance on Earth.

I’ve mentioned many of the performances but the real question mark for me was Henry Cavill. Could he capture the man of steel in a convincing way? The answer is yes. I liked Cavill here. I do think he’s helped by the screenplay which rarely asks him to do too much. But during the small scenes where he’s needed to exhibit some range he succeeds. This was a big deal because a poor performance from him could have derailed the entire production. Cavill has the look, the physicality, and the commitment to sell the character.

There’s no denying that “Man of Steel” sports a much more serious tone and it lacks the lighthearted playfulness of the other movies. This has proven to be a hurdle that some just can’t get over. In many ways I welcome it. “Man of Steel” gives us a much more serious Superman story but it’s not without its share of funny moments. It just chooses to spend its time delving into some things we’ve rarely seen in the other films. I appreciated that and it’s one of the key things that keeps this from feeling exactly like every other Superman movie we’ve been given.

Man of Steel 1

And of course you can’t talk about “Man of Steel” without getting into the action sequences and special effects. This is where Zack Snyder’s fingerprints really show up. The film looks fantastic and it features some really fun science fiction. Everything including the space ships, Zod and his crew’s wicked armor and air mask apparatus, the destruction of buildings and vehicles, it all is beautifully crafted and realized by Snyder’s keen stylistic eye. And we see that eye at work a lot in this film. There is a ton of action here but most of it is pulled off to great effect. Snyder shows off his effects with skill except for in the big finale. It’s here that about 5 minutes of crumbling buildings alone could have been left on the cutting room floor and the movie would have been better for it.

So how do I summarize all of this? Amid “Man of Steel’s” booming action sequences and sky-high expectations lies a very good Superman reboot that I think shines in its uniqueness. Yes, a few of its directional choices don’t work as well as I would have liked and the final action sequence can be a bit numbing. But this has all the ingredients of being a franchise I can latch onto. I also appreciate that it steered the material away from cartoony and ventured to give us a more stern and grounded story. And I like that it brings the character back from the waste that Bryan Singer left him in. “Man of Steel” gives us someone bound by morals and committed to truth and justice. In other words, “Man of Steel” gives us Superman. All if this led to an experience that I found most satisfying and I’m anxious to see what lies ahead for this franchise.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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63 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Man of Steel”

  1. Fair and balanced review. I think it was quite brave in many respects to take some of the liberties it took at time the better for it. Glad you liked it and good to see you picked out zods right hand woman, she was very good and that cavill didn’t get too much to say but got enough across. Nice one Keith!

  2. Good review Keith. I had a good time with this flick, but I will admit that I left more cold than hot. Still, I look forward to seeing what they can do with the rest of this franchise, aka, the sequels.

  3. Terrific post, I’m so happy you enjoyed it as much as I did. I really feel it doesn’t deserve all the flack it’s getting. Sure the balance could have been better, but like you said, it really lays a strong foundation for the future of the franchise.

  4. Just gave this a quick skim Keith as I’m not seeing this until tomorrow night, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Even though a lot of reviews have actually been a bit mixed, I’m really looking forward to checking it out.

    • Yep, a lot of mixed reviews out there. Many just can’t seem to get onboard with this films more serious tone. Personally I loved that they did something different. I do wish a few things had been done a little better but I still think this is a really good film.

  5. I’m glad you liked it. I loved it. I haven’t looked at many opinions on the movie yet, but whoever knocks it for being different than other Superman movies isn’t making valid criticism, IMO. The one thing I’ll say about the beginning of the movie is that it feels like the end of another one. It’s a little disjointed. Still, the rest is fantastic. I’m ready for the sequel.

    • Glad we agree. I think much of the criticism from critics has been unfair. I still think the end becomes a bit numbing. That’s where Snyder just runs wild for several minutes. But that didn’t kill the movie for me.

      • I can see that, and maybe I’ll feel the same after another viewing. Maybe there had been enough fighting by the time Zod decided to join in. I love love love how the super speed looked, though.

      • Super speed, yes! Snyder does a lot of cool trickery which makes many of the flying scenes and effects shots work. I really liked that.

  6. Excellent post Keith, and I’m right there with you. I loved the film and could see right through some of it’s pretty obvious weaknesses. It was just too enjoyable of a very grand type of experience to let minor flaws bring me down. I agree with almost everything you discuss here.

    • Exactly! The fun factor was sky high for me. That makes it easy to forgive some of its flaws. I was really close to giving this a 4.5 because I liked it that much.

  7. Nice review, Keith! I think the romance is necessary between Lois and Superman to balance out the coldness of Zod and the fight scenes. I agree the balance was off, but a fun film to watch anyway!

    • Thanks Cindy. I guess I just wanted the romance to blossom a little more. The timeline tinkering didn’t really allow for it. But that didn’t ruin everything for me. I still really responded to this. Fun movie!

  8. I agree, Lois and Supes love was a little forced, I didn’t see how they built a connection amongst the chaos. All the characters lacked emotion (aside from the relationship between Clark and Ma Kent) but who cares right? This film was insane, the action sequences from beginning to end were unreal. Great review Keith and I think we’re on the same page with this one.

  9. Many have told me to stay away, but yet, I am intrigued and may just catch it in the theaters. I have been thinking about skipping the 3-D, as I have been warned it is quite overwhelming, so that may be the version to avoid, but not the 2-D

    • It’s definitely worth seeing. I skipped the 3-D. In fact I always do unless I hear something profoundly positive about it and how its used in a movie. Definitely check it out. It’s a solid movie.

      • OK, will do. I just hate seeing 3-D movies in non-3-D and then noticing things they do in the frame that obviously seems aware of the 3-D that’s not there.

  10. Wahoo!! We even agree on the rating Keith. I wish I could give it a 5/5 but I have to knock points off the CGI-action overload. I probably could’ve given it an extra half points for Cavill though 😉 I love what you said about him here “Cavill has the look, the physicality, and the commitment to sell the character.” Yes and from the interviews it sounds like he’s got the dedication as well as talent to pull off the impossible, which is to make a compelling Superman without resorting to simply channeling Christopher Reeve. I can’t wait to see the sequels for this.

    • I really flirted with giving this a 4.5 due to how much fun I had with it. I really thought the performances were solid and I loved the seriousness it used in its approach to the story. I think a lot of the criticisms thrown at this film are unfair although it does have some issues (especially the ones you mentioned). I can’t wait to see this again and like you I’m excited for what’s next.

  11. Great Review Keith. I gave it the exact same rating as you.
    http://www.blankpagebeatdown.com/movie-review-man-of-steel-2013/

    I’m glad that you also pointed out the fact that Cavill isn’t asked to do much. Unlike you though, I thought that was a shame, given that he did show a lot of awesome acting abilities during the some of the intensely emotional scenes. (You know…)
    Although, I guess one can argue that those scenes had move impact because of his more restraint performance throughout.

    Very well written.

    • Thanks man. Appreciate it. I do think Cavill was used just right although you bring up a good point. He did show some range in a couple of pretty emotional sequences.

      I’m just surprised this film is getting so many mixed reviews. I think it’s a lot better than some are giving it credit for.

      • Although I agree it’s a great film, I do think there are some issues with it, as I mention in my Review.

        Some scenes seemed shorter than they were intended to be, like the Church scene. “I’m who they want.” Then he leaves without it seeming like the Priest’s advise did anything for him. Felt like there was meant to be more there.

        I feel like most of the negative criticism is because it’s such a BIG movie, in terms of scale and impact to Superhero movies… that a lot of people are judging unfairly because loving it would be ‘too conventional’.

      • You may be into something. My biggest beefs lie in the overly bombastic finale and some personal uncertainty with how the tinkered with the timeline of things (I’m trying to stay spoiler-free). Lois and Clark’s romance suffers because of this decision. It’s not that’s it’s terrible. I just thing it could have been handled better. That’s a pretty vague gripe isn’t it? 🙂

  12. Good job, Keith. We are mostly in agreement about the film’s problem’s, but it was a solid reboot nonetheless. I don’t say this often, but I can’t wait for a sequel!

  13. The only aspect that really sells me to see this is the fact that Shannon and Crowe are in this. I’m not too wild about super hero franchises, but the cast is pretty solid, so I may check it out for that reason. Good review, Keith!

  14. Great review! I was torn with this one–my post title is… I want to love it more than I do AND I want to hate it more than I do… 😀 Really. Right down the middle–for every praise I could find a criticism. Yet, it does give me hope for the future because they have enough good stuff to have a solid foundation. (Please, please make a Justice League! 😉 )

    The serious tone is different–but I think it added to the action fatigue…you need to balance the intensity, otherwise you feel beat up at the end. I, too did not believe the romance between Clark and Lois–too forced? No chemistry? Something was indeed off.

    I will look forward to hear what you think about my take. Later, Keith! 😀

    • Great thoughts. I felt there was just enough humor spread through it to keep it from being draining. For me it was similar to the Batman films in terms of tone. Not as dark but serious. Like TDK trilogy it worked really well for me.

      I thought the chemistry between Lois and Clark was fine. I just think the story doesn’t offer them enough opportunities to flesh it out and let us latch onto it. It’s such a big part of the story but it was really underplayed here.

      But like you, I REALLY want a Justice League flick. My fingers are crossed!

  15. I appreciate that we are being offered a more serious film with some grand ideas buried inside. The look of the film at times simply feels depressing. It’s as if the sun never shines in Kansas when Costner is on screen. Clark/Kal-el only shows up in the most dreary landscapes possible. The final battle is fought in a haze of soot and ash, because every Damon building in Metropolis is being destroyed. This movie is grim. Look, Batman is the Dark Knight, I get that, but Superman is the symbol for truth, justice and the American way. He is a product of our Sun’s effect on his molecular make up, but he comes across like a little black rain cloud. I liked the film but I felt abandoned by the need to update so many aspects of the story. I thought the film portrayed hopelessness more than hope. You mentioned some funny moments by I can’t recall one. Great, we get a comic book that isn’t cartoony, that’s like a comedy that isn’t funny. I felt tension and anxiety, but not the fun kind in a traditional action film. It is well made but emotionally hollow where it should be ripe. I agree with your rating, but the more I think about it the less I enjoyed it. The movie was fine, it was not fun. I sound more down on it than I want to, I wanted to love it, I just didn’t.

    • Fair enough but I couldn’t disagree more with some of your assessments. I never felt it was emotionally hollow. Quite the opposite in fact. And I welcome a darker take because Superman’s initial story is depressing. A doomed planet and the death of millions. An alienated boy trying to cope with otherworldly powers. An earthly father fearing what the world we do to his son if they found him out. A young adult with a strong moral compass discovering himself in the light of a great evil. His choice to do the right thing in light of the uncertainty. I suppose we could get another movie hamming it up in the Daily Planet offices. Personally I loved the treatment. And at the end I really responded to how it turned out. I didn’t feel depressed at all.

      As for cartoony I think you missed my point. It’s far from being like a comedy without humor. Comic books have many examples of being far above cartoony both in terms of art and story. My point was that it didn’t automatically fall into the same lightweight pattern of the other Superman movies. Now I liked some of them but this sought to be different and I really appreciated it for that.

  16. Keith I have yet to see the other two guys portions of our Man of Steel review. However, It sounds like you liked this a bit more than I did. I was enjoying this film till about the point that Zod showed up on Earth. I know this is going to be hard to believe coming from me but I thought there was too much action and not enough story after that point in the film. Moreover, I found the pace of the action to be a distraction.

    • I can see that. Believe it or not Zod’s first appearance on earth may be my favorite scene in the movie. I loved the way they built up the threat. The action didn’t bother me until the end. It seems Snyder just didn’t know when to let up!

  17. Good review, Keith. You’re right in that there are some creative liberties that long-time fans have to cope with. That’s part of what had me waffling between three and four stars on this; decided on the latter because, as you say, it leaves the franchise in a better place than Superman Returns did.

    • ” it leaves the franchise in a better place than Superman Returns did.” – Exactly! I 100% agree with you.

      As a long-time comic fan I’m always conscience of movies and the creative liberties. Some have done it really well and others have screwed it up. This film definitely changed some things but it respected the character and his history. I can handle that.

  18. Only a few more days and I’m seeing this puppy!! It doesn’t open until the 27th here in Australia, and the wait is killing me!!! I’ve skimmed this review, Keith, if only to find what your rating for it was. Glad to see it scored highly!!!

  19. Nice review, Keith, although I’ve rated it lower on my site, mainly for the stuff you outlined in your review, like the last part of the film going a bit OTT. The action overload kind of makes a mockery of that big decision Superman has to make. Ultimately, I was disappointed.

    Cavill is good as Superman though. I think they’ve got better actors in place than Superman Returns, so I’m interested to see what they do with a sequel.

    • They do kind of make a mockery of that, I can see what you’re saying. I guess I would say he is trying to save them all. Maybe x-ray vision showed him the buildings and streets below we’re empty! 😀

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