It is with great difficulty that I attempt to review Man of Steel. This one wasn’t easy to make judgments and criticisms about. There are many things I love about this film, and there are several things I didn’t like. Also, I read other reviews and spoke to as many of my friends, family members, and others who are overly critical so that I could gain some perspective and stay objective for you, Bat-fans. As I write this, Christopher Reeve is in the background, as Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II plays. Needless to say folks, there’s a great deal to take into account when you’re reviewing a Superman, or a Batman, film. Everyone expects a lot, so now let us see how Zack Snyder and his team did. Please be warned, MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU’RE UNPREPARED!
Alright, let’s get down to business, shall we? I won’t bore you with every detail of the plot because whether you agree with my opinion of the film or not, you should still see it and make up your own minds. Let us first examine Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the big blue boy scout. The film is mixed with several flashback moments and a rather long prologue that takes place on Krypton. I will go ahead and praise Cavill for the fact that he did in fact read as many Superman comics as he could in order to better understand the soul of Superman and who he is as a person not just as the superhero. In my opinion, Cavill captures certain aspects of Clark/Kal/Superman, but others not so much.
However, some of these things are due to the choice of Zack Snyder and his effects team. They decided that during most of his brawls, that wanton violence and destruction were fair game. I disagree entirely. It doesn’t matter that Clark is brand new to the superhero game in this film, because believe me he is. What matters is that Superman has always and will always attempt to stop unnecessary destruction and will protect civilians from such destruction whenever he can. In this film, that is rarely the case. At several points in the film, and especially during his final throw down with Zod, Clark is just letting buildings topple, allowing tons of shards of glass to fall on innocent bystanders, and isn’t whipping around trying to save every single person that he can. The only way this can be redeemed would be to demonstrate this in future films. To compare, this is exactly the way Clark/Supes is in the comics, in the Christopher Reeve films, in Brandon Routh’s stint in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, and even in animated form. Superman attempts to literally save everyone, always. That’s his obligation, his curse, his duty, his job.
Yet, this does nothing to help what Clark does to Zod. He breaks his neck. Yeah. He kills him. Now, I will give Cavill every positive point here only because in this particular moment in the film he lets out an incredible scream upon ending the life of the Kryptonian general. He hates what he has done. He didn’t want to do it, but I understand that he felt it was the only way to stop him. Especially considering Zod is in a headlock and letting loose with his heat vision on innocent bystanders at that moment. Clark knows in that instant, and when Zod begins the fight by saying that at the end of it that only one of them can be left standing. Remember, the character of Zod actually buys into all of the crap that he spews to others. He’s on a mission to save Krytpon, he does every violent act for the greater good. Blah blah blah. Zod is a maniac, and even Russell Crowe’s Jor-El acknowledges that he was once a good man, but now a monster.
Anyway, there are still many things Cavill does well. He brings something new to the role of Clark Kent/Kal-El. He plays him with a bit of a Dr. Manhattan-esque look at Earth. He’s not sure he can trust humanity yet. In fact, he knows it. From the military deciding to fire on him and the other Kryptonians invading with Zod, to being offered up to Zod to save the planet by the U.S. military. However, given the ideas about how the real world would react to a superhuman alien being, who looks like us and passes for one of us, I feel his reaction to our judgment of him is appropriate. He jumps around the globe throughout the film taking on many different false identities (which I would love to know how faked such information without any real skill in such areas of expertise) and saves people. He saves people like Pete Ross as a kid when their school bus crashes. Yet, the most heartbreaking moment (and also the most random and unnecessary death in the film) is when Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent puts his arm up, a tornado behind him, to tell his son not to save him because people will see him. The reason he doesn’t want them to see him is because he knows humanity is still not ready to accept Clark. In using this moment as a reason why he’s waited so long to come forward, and to deal with such issues as I’ve pointed out, I accept Pa Kent’s death but I still felt it wasn’t a great way to send him off.
Overall, I like Henry Cavill in this role. He generally wants to help people and to trust them. His use of his powers is good, but not over the top which I enjoyed. This is his first film as the boy in blue. He shouldn’t show everything he can do just yet in a movie. Also, on the topic of powers, I loved that the other Kryptonians did several things:
1) They required breathers to walk in Earth’s atmosphere, as Krypton’s atmosphere is totally different.
2) They did not instantly know what powers they had, how to use them, nor how to control them.
3) None of them could fly yet. They could leap really high, but not fly. Only Clark, and for about five minutes Zod as well, could fly. That's how it should be since he’s been on Earth for 33 years (according to the film). As far as Zod is concerned, he explains he has been bred for war and combat and that honing his senses is something he's done all his life.
In terms of everyone else, Kevin Costner plays an endearing Jonathan Kent taken too soon. Russell Crowe honestly puts Marlon Brando to shame as Jor-El, donning armor and joining in a fistfight with Zod. (By the way, did no one else notice that both of Superman’s fathers in this movie have both played Robin Hood? We’ve all seen the meme by now, but just in case some of you haven’t, I thought I’d point it out.) Diane Lane, though barely in the film, holds her own and guides Cavill down the right path in absence of his father. Amy Adams is excellent as Lois, embodying all of the things that make her the tenacious reporter and eventual love interest of Clark. Though their story in this film is a bit unexplained, especially how in the heck Clark just lands a job at the Daily Planet after no buildup to his journalistic skills, her understanding of him and why he’s here and what he wants to do with his abilities makes her terrific. Also, she’s never the damsel in distress. She saves him at least once in the film, and is key in helping take down Zod’s minions. Michael Shannon is brilliant as Zod. He is evil, driven, misguided, and overzealous in his desire to create a new Kryptonian empire in his image. One of the best Superman villains captured on screen to date. And yes, he gives Terrence Stamp a huge run for his money. And no, he doesn’t ask Kal to kneel before him. He’d rather him die at his feet than kneel.
Man of Steel:
Reviewed by Chris Gering