Transported to Earth years ago from Krypton, an advanced alien planet, Kal-El struggles with the ultimate question – Why am I here? Shaped by the values of his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent, Kal-El soon discovers that having super abilities means making very difficult decisions. But when the world needs stability the most, it comes under attack. Will his abilities be used to maintain peace or ultimately used to divide and conquer? Kal must become the hero known as “Superman,” not only to shine as the world’s last beacon of hope but to protect the ones he loves.
Zack Snyder brings us his vision of Superman with ‘Man of Steel’, alongside writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan whose names you will no doubt recognise from the recently concluded Dark Knight trilogy.
‘Man of Steel’ represents a new beginning not just for Superman but for the future onscreen presence of the Detective Comics Universe. Bringing in some talent from the recent Batman films and allocating a production budget of approximately $225 million ‘Man of Steel’ was high on the priority list at Warner Bros, but does it deliver?
The film takes Superman in an all new direction, Richard Donner’s influence on the character has been left aside, Bryan Singer’s attempted continuation of the Donner films also kept out of this new instalment. Snyder’s distinct vision is instantly noticeable, with this film playing much more as a science fiction film about an alien trying to find his place on his adopted world, than a super hero film.
Drawing on Mark Waid’s ‘Superman: Birthright’, Nolan and Goyer’s story seeks to immerse itself in origin elements of Superman’s tale that are less familiar from all the films to come before, finding new ground to explore after he leaves Smallville, but before he becomes known to the world. As much as this is a Superman’s story, it is also a story of Krypton and Jor-El, and it was heartening to see the influences of John Byre’s post-Crisis Superman work in the film with regard to Krypton’s societal de-evolution.
Taking a fractured approach to the narrative ‘Man of Steel’ simultaneously progresses its main plot while using flashbacks to capture the formative events of Kal-El’s youth. This approach is effective and ‘Man of Steel’ hits all the right emotional beats early on in the film, it draws the audience in and conveys the guiding influences of Kal-El’s two fathers in preparing him for adulthood and shaping the man he becomes.
The portrayal of Jor-El and Jonathan Kent by Russel Crow and Kevin Costner respectively are excellent, though in a writing sense Jor-El was given more material to work with, leaving Jonathan Kent simply as a moral compass for Kal, though at times this was handled a little clunky at times.
While ‘Man of Steel’ is far a Lois and Clark story (in fact Clark barely appears in this film), Lois Lane is used in an effective and meaningful way. Other characters are merely left rounding out the cast (Jenny Olsen for instance), it seems the intention is to populate the universe while settings things up for a persistent world across future films (which are already confirmed and in development).
Taking a darker tone than ever before this Superman story is heavily blended with a number of extravagant action sequences throughout and as events continue to build momentum towards the climatic act there’s little stopping the action from expanding exponentially. This all results in an exhilarating visual spectacular and will prove hugely entertaining to audiences without a doubt.
Snyder really shines in these sections of the film with fantastic visual sequences delivering a strong sense of physicality and tension. The film’s use of super speed is excellent and looks fantastic on screen, and we finally see a modern day Superman film where he gets to flex his muscles, and throw some punches against onscreen against villains that can take it.
Michael Shannon takes on the iconic role of Zod , and does so with an intensity deserving of the character. Without much depth in the script Shannon portrays an unhinged General with a single purpose and naturally fits into the context of the film. Henry Cavill takes on his responsibility of Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman with an unassuming and likeable nature, but without any of the quirkiness brought to the role by Brandon Routh and Christopher Reeves. Cavill manages to win the audience over with seemingly little effort, though delivers a far more morose version of the character with just a shred of dry humour threatening to break his conflicted demeanour on occasion.
As the film progresses and Snyder’s take on the character settles into its rhythm, it never quite manages to capture the inspiration that is synonymous with the character. In this film Jor-El speaks of Superman effectively becoming the moral guidance of humanity, serving as a guiding light for us to “join in the sun”, however this incarnation of Superman simply doesn’t achieve this notion, and in fact barely seems to want to become this beacon of hope.
There’s an omission of the inspiration Superman should serve, the moral compass instilled in him by his two fathers appears vacant in much of the film and instead, we witness a morally ambiguous Superman which for me, didn’t work. Irrespective of any loss in translating the spirit of the character on this occasion, ‘Man of Steel’ is an entertaining film packed the great visuals but a somewhat disjointed flow, and a straight forward plot that still manages to hit some of the key points for Kal’s youth, even if it misses them in his adulthood.
I’m giving ‘Man of Steel’ 7 out of 10 stars, it’s in cinemas Australia wide from Thursday 27th June 2013.