Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Release Date: June 14, 2013
Running Time: 143 minutes
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe
Who to see it with: Anyone who likes comic book movies but wants some more drama / realism in it.


I think Man of Steel is going to be a polarizing movie. Similar to Batman Begins--but with a slower pace and more emotion--it is an attempt to reboot a DC Comics franchise by telling a more realistic, dramatic origin story. I know it's kind of odd to say a comic book movie is realistic, but Zack Snyder takes a more grounded approach to your typical superhero movie. There is no campiness and very little overt humor. It's essentially the opposite approach taken by the Marvel movies, and I love the contrast. I think a lot of people are going to dislike this change, but I thought it was a fresh take on the comic book genre. The acting is mostly great. Henry Cavill is hit or miss. He's amazing in the most important parts of the movie and is a little off in others. But Amy Adams is perfect and Michael Shannon is phenomenal. I also loved Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Russell Crowe as Superman's dad. 

The storytelling is wonderfully done. Superman's origin is not told linearly, but through flashbacks that give snippets of Superman's past. You see bits of his childhood and what drives and motivates him. It could be confusing but I thought it was very well done and easy to follow. Some pieces of the story have been changed and might anger purists, but I didn't mind the liberties they took. It's slower paced than your typical comic book movie, but like I said, I loved the contrast  to some of the other superhero films coming out now. The cinematography is simply stunning and helps to sell the dramatic direction of the franchise. There are plenty of beautiful shots of the American heartland that Superman grew up in. I thought it helped ground some of the scenes and inspire a more emotional superhero movie. And, being a comic book movie, it is an understandably CG heavy film  And although the CG is obvious, it's also beautiful.  The rendering of Superman's homeworld is a comic book nerd's fantasy. The fights are over the top (as you would expect from a Superman movie) and some of them go on for a little too long, but you're enjoying them because of how amazing it looks.

The Superman film franchise has a storied past but has recently fallen into disarray. Man of Steel is a fitting and worthy reboot to one of the most beloved comic book heroes. It continues the recent DC direction of more dramatic and realistic superheroes and provides a nice contrast to the Marvel franchises. It is a beautifully-done, slower-paced, but more emotional take on the superhero genre. 

See it.


I mostly enjoyed Man of Steel. It avoided several common superhero film issues. Most origin stories start slowly by focusing on the hero's awkward adolescence. This opens with a gorgeous sequence at Superman's home planet, saving Superman's formative years for brief flashbacks of important milestones. Dramatic superhero films often fail at being consistently engaging or feature silly scenarios that clash with the relative seriousness of their stories. (Ang Lee's Hulk and Superman Returns immediately come to mind.) MoS pairs effective drama with big action sequences without being boring or feeling oddly constructed. It also looks and sounds amazing, with a score that's subtler and darker than those of the previous films.

I have a few issues with the plot. A certain character sometimes feels like a plot device, conveniently appearing to offer unattainable information. I really felt this during a climactic moment near the film's middle that is resolved way too easily. I wish this sequence weren't present at all. Its exposition could have been presented outside of that lame scenario. Like most superhero films, the ending is a long CG fest. It looks sort of cool and is expected because of the superpowered characters but feels a little drawn out and, like that earlier scene, ends in a manner that seems a bit too easy. These problems are relatively minor. Man of Steel mostly succeeds at placing an extraordinary character within believable drama. It's obviously more colorful and fantastic than the coldly realistic Dark Knight trilogy, but has more weight than the cartoon-like Marvel films.

See it.