Director Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” has a lot riding on its very broad muscular shoulders.
Besides being the relaunch of the much-loved Superman franchise, it is also the first film in a new combined DC Comics film universe (Green Lantern, you’re not invited).
Those are some big expectations, but “Man of Steel” carries them with strength and character.
The film makes no secret of Clark Kent/Kal-El’s (Henry Cavill) alien roots, and opens with the last days of his home planet, Krypton. This Utopian society’s quest for perfection has led to its demise, and allowed for anarchist Emperor Zod (Michael Shannon) to overthrow the reigning council.
It’s a heavy way to start an action flick, but despite its big budget and action scenes, this isn’t your typical summer blockbuster.
From there, the film slows down (just a bit) and takes a different look at a story that we all know quite well.
We explore Clark’s childhood through flashbacks, while the grown up Clark looks for answers about his past. He’s portrayed as a lonely child with a big secret, who grows into a pensive loner with a very strong moral compass.
As the man of steel, Henry Cavill is spot on. Of course, it helps that he looks the part, but he also manages to transition flawlessly from the loner, Clark Kent, into the pensive superhero. It’s a simple, but powerful performance.
The biggest and best change to the series comes in the form of Lois Lane, played by the talented Amy Adams. Everyone’s favorite Daily Planet reporter finally gets some brains in Snyder’s version of Superman. Those of you who don’t want any spoilers, skip to the next paragraph now. She not only knows that Clark Kent is Superman, but is also the first person to discover the superhuman from Kansas, even before he dons the big “S” and the cape. It’s such an obvious choice, but still a surprise.
Of course, any decent superhero movie is only as good as its villain, and Michael Shannon as Emperor Zod, the exile with a personal vendetta against Kal-El, is up to the task. Zod is an interesting choice for the first villain, as Kal-El’s forced to choose between his home planet of Krypton and his adopted home, Earth. He’s not an overly complex character. He is a soldier, and fighting is what he knows, and he makes no secret of it. The character could have come across as incredibly thuggish and boring, but Shannon manages to make Zod more complex without losing his inherent evilness.
“Man of Steel” is by no means a perfect film. The script could have used a once (or twice) over in a few spots. To quote Emperor Zod, “This can only end one way, either you die or I do.” Apparently they have a different method of counting on Krypton.
Numbers aside, it’s a thoughtful film that takes a different and introspective look at Superman’s origin story. It never gets bogged down by overly long action sequences, but still remembers what it is (a comic book movie) and doesn’t get too philosophical and preachy.
Most importantly, it’s a strong start to a new DC Comics universe, that leaves you looking forward to what comes next.
…just for fun: