Man of Steel

© 2013 Ray Wong

Do we need another Superman movie? Apparently DC Comics and Hollywood think so, but this time producer Chris Nolan and director Zack Snyder (both no strangers to superheroes) want to take a different approach than in the past.

Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) has always feel different from the time he was a child. After growing being ridiculed and for learning to control his super powers, Clark sets out on a long self-discover journey to find himself and, most important, who he really is and where he came from. His search leads him to Alaska where spaceship has been hidden under the ice for millennia. There he finds out the truth about himself, that he is Kal-El, the son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe), chief scientist of Krypton. The planet, due to its unstable core, was destroyed years ago with the rest of its citizens including Kal-El's parents. They tried their best to save their people but after they failed, they found a way to send Kal-El to Earth, one of Krypton's old outposts.

What Clark/Kal-El does know is that Jor-El's nemesis General Zod and his minions were exiled from Krypton because of treason. But the planet's destruction set them free, and they are tracking Jor-El's son to Earth. They also discovered that Jor-El has injected the genetic imprints of the entire Kryptonite population into Kal-El, and through him, Zod will be able to revive their race and take over Earth as their new home.

Feeling ostracized by people of Earth, Clark has to make a decision which side he is on. Should he continue to hide his superpower as his adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) once told him that humans are not ready for him? Or should he embrace his power to protect Earth and humans against his own kind? Where does he loyalty lie? And is Earth ready for him as one of its own?

Lots of existential questions for a summer popcorn superhero movie as universal and well-known as Superman. What writer David S. Goyer did was giving Superman a darker, more complex personality and backstory. Clark's struggle as a child and young man ring true as an outcast. Gone is the cockeyed optimism of yesteryear's Superman universe, where Superman is revered and worshipped. Instead, Superman is feared, misunderstood, ridiculed, and marginalized as nothing more than a threat to mankind. 

In Goyer's version, Clark Kent's life purpose is more murky, and the character himself is more ambivalent and confused. Even though Kal-El is all Kryptonite, Clark Kent remains very human after all. He struggles with his conflicting feelings about himself, his purpose, his place in a world he's called home since he was a child. He struggles between his true identity and his new identity as a human. He struggles between his feelings for Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and his duty as the world's ultimate protector against things and people like General Zod.

On many levels, this darkened version of Superman works, even though some may feel uncomfortable with the amount of changes the filmmakers have made to the original characters and cannon. Let's face it, Superman is not the Dark Knight. By making Clark more brooding and complex, Goyer has deepened the characterization and given the story and characters more layers, and yet he's somehow stripped out some of the defining characteristic of Superman. The truth is Superman is NOT the Dark Knight. Superman has always been the light and God-figure, the super boy scout of the universe. So this change fundamentally changes how we see Clark Kent/Superman, which can be good or bad depending on how attached you are to the Superman you know.

Henry Cavill (Immortals) has done a good job portraying this new Superman. He is incredibly good-looking and chiseled, definitely super fit for the role. What's impressive is that he also brings sensitivity and complexity that we really haven't seen since Christophe Reeves, and Cavill's portrayal is more in line with Christian Bale than Reeves.

Amy Adams (Trouble with the Curve) is amiable as the iconic Lois Lane, but I feel that she is somewhat miscast. That's not to say her performance is bad; it's just that I don't see her as Lois Lane and after seeing the movie, I still don't see it. There's just something off. Michael Shannon (Premium Rush) plays General Zod with all the villainy he can muster but to me, he lacks the subtlety and sublime layers of Terence Stamp, who remains the definitive General Zod for many fans.

Diane Lane (Secretariat) and Kevin Costner (The Company Man) are both excellent as the Kents, given the over-the-top production some needed down-to-earth quality. And Russell Crowe (Les Miserables) brings great dignity to the role of Jor-El, which surprisingly has a much bigger role in this version.

Zack Synder is no stranger to big budget superhero extravaganzas, and by and large he delivers. Maybe a bit too well. The movie's quieter moments (the flashbacks, the introspection, Clark's solitude, etc.) are very well handled. The action sequences, however, are topnotch Hollywood stuff. Unfortunately, eventually the actions feel drawn out and overlong. One battle after another, we can't help but feel exhausted. The movie is at least 30 minutes too long, and much of the subplots could have been cut. The problem is that Synder and Goyer tried to put both the origin story and a revamped Superman II plot into one movie, and that's just too much. It simply feels like two separate movies being stitched together into one and the over the top actions, and there are many, become distractions instead.

Granted, Man of Steel is still superbly watchable, entertaining, and popcorn worthy. With the added layers of characterizations and the darker aspects, this could have been outstanding like the Dark Knight trilogy. Unfortunately, Goyer and Snyder have bitten more than they could chew and the result is an overlong, over-complicated mash-up of two different movies. It would have been better if they had made this a two-part series instead.

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language
Running Time: 143 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 9

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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