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Man of Steel (2013)

June 12, 2013

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written by: David S. Goyer (screenplay/story) with Christopher Nolan (story)

produced by: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Deborah Snyder

directed by: Zack Snyder

rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language) 

runtime: 143 min.

U.S. release date: June 14, 2013

 

As the years have gone by, it’s become more and more difficult to make superheroes meaningful to modern audiences.  In a world dominated by war, terrorism, and ecological disasters, how can a simple all-American hero like Superman be relevant anymore?  The 1978 Richard Donner directed “Superman: the Movie” succeeded largely on the charisma and looks of star Christopher Reeves and turned the franchise into a relatively popular series that went into the 80’s.  When those films fizzled out, the character remained dormant until Bryan Singer attempted a resurrection with 2006’s “Superman Returns.  Taking a gamble by casting unknown actor Brandon Routh as the lead, the movie failed to gain traction with moviegoers, and despite a $200 million haul, was considered a failure both with critics and at the box office. Once again, Warner Bros. and DC Comics are trying to find a hit in their Superman character with the mega-budgeted “Man of Steel“.  Produced by Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight” trilogy), who also gets a story credit, written by David S. Goyer (who co-scripted Nolan’s trilogy, as well as the “Blade” movies), and directed by Zack Synder (“300”, “Watchmen“), they have assembled an all-star team of comic book move veterans to turn Superman in a profitable character again.

Based loosely on Richard Donner and Geoff Johns’ “Last Son of Krypton” storyline in Action Comics, “Man of Steel” opens on the planet Krypton, where Faora-Ul (Antje Traue, “Pandorum”) is giving birth under the supervision of her husband Jor-El (Russell Crowe).  This is a “natural birth”, outlawed on the planet where governmental genetic guidelines oversee the population.  In an astonishing, action-packed sequence, General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his cohorts attempt a coup on the Kryptonian government, while Jor-El steals a genetic codex full of their DNA profiles.  See, the planet is set to self-destruct after overzealous mining of the core, and Jor-El is secreting the codex in an escape pod with his newborn son, Kal-El.  After Zod and his group are captured, they are sentenced to banishment in the Phantom Zone, and soon afterwards, the planet explodes, with Kal’s pod racing through space towards Earth, a planet Jor-El has previously researched and deemed to be “reasonably intelligent”.

 

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Flash forward to the present day on an isolated oil rig in the middle of the ocean.  A fire breaks out and a bearded loner springs into action, saving the crew members and averting disaster.  This is Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), who has left the quiet confines of Smallville, Kansas on a soul-searching journey for his true roots.  The movie takes time to flashback to various moments in Clark’s life and his upbringing with his loving parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Pa Kent teaches his son to hide his powers from the public, but also to use his abilities to help people whenever possible.  It is this contradiction that Clark is struggling with when he hears of a government scientific installation at the North Pole that is investigating a mysterious craft buried under the ice. Heading there, he befriends Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is on the scene to check it out.  Meanwhile, an alien ship enters the atmosphere, takes over all global communication systems, and demands that unless Earth hands over its rogue Kryptonian and the codex that he is hiding, it will destroy the planet.  Clark is now torn between revealing his powers and protecting his adopted planet, or submitting to the sinister demands of General Zod and his crew.

Once Zod comes to Earth, “Man of Steel” really kicks into high gear, and what had been an evenly-paced, introspective look into Clark Kent’s life turns into a non-stop action extravaganza, filled with unrelenting violence, carnage and destruction.  The sequences of super-powered fistfights are some of the best ever committed to film, and almost frightening in their intensity.

 

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Man of Steel  is heavy, brooding, and brutally violent, similar to the modernizing dark take that producer Christopher Nolan gave Batman in his “Dark Knight” trilogy.  As usual, a Superman movie seems to live or die based on the lead actor, and in this regard, Cavill delivers.  His take on Superman is serious and intense, yet cautious as he discovers the limitations of his powers.  His Kent is not as strong as Reeve’s, but still solid overall and helped greatly in scenes by the tender and touching performances of Costner and Lane.

It’s the Kryptonians that steal the show however.  Shannon brings his signature smoldering rage and explosive intensity to his portrayal of Zod, while Crowe lends the perfect amount of gravitas and respect to the role of Superman’s father, Jor-El.  The only casting misstep seems to be the usually reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She basically just wanders around the movie bewildered and/or in danger the whole time, and abandons the fearless nature and quick wit of the character as we know her.

Technically, the movie wins on all levels.  The visual effects are generally impressive, from the POV shots of Superman whizzing through a maze of buildings in Metropolis to complicated space battles over Krypton to the almost biblical level of destruction during the fight scenes.  Accompanying all this is the excellent score by composer Hans Zimmer, which combines the pomp and bombastic nature of a superhero flick with the heavier overtones of a serious drama.  And Superman’s costume is…fine.  The cape is a rich dark red, though I didn’t care for the muddier blue and de-emphasized “S” symbol on his uniform.

“Man of Steel” will win over comic book fans with its darker storyline, realistic superhero violence and nerdy references to “genesis chambers” and “world engines”.  But these same things might turn off audiences looking for a more traditional or lighter take on the Superman mythos.  The film offers up fresh takes on the Superman standards (i.e. the Fortress of Solitude) without losing the core values and appeal of the character.  A very dark moment towards the end will send some fans in endless debate, but what is  certain is that we have a new Superman and a new franchise.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
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