"Man of Steel" Spoiler-Free Review by Shawn Morrissey[Date: June 13, 2013]
By Scotty V
Worry not about the critics who currently can't wrap their heads around the new Superman. Man of Steel is, no holds barred, the best comic book film I have ever seen. When the film ended, I sat silently for several minutes, before announcing that it may be the best film I have ever seen. Granted, this is from a standpoint of being the huge Superman fan that I am and my having waited my whole life to see a Superman film where the character, and the world around him is taken completely seriously. While there are humorous moments... moments of comedic relief, Man of Steel is a complete tour de force of super-powered action that hasn't been seen on film for any character, Superman or otherwise. The jaw-dropping action scenes are nothing short of awe-inspiring at every turn. The character depth in even characters with the shortest arcs keeps the viewer feeling interested in every scene from start to finish. I was on the edge of my seat, feeling intense emotion from the moment the opening began. Man of Steel grabs you from it's first fade-in and doesn't let go until the credits roll.
On Monday, June tenth, I had the absolute joy of my life in being invited to the World Premiere of Man of Steel in New York City. Due to my involvement with the Superman Homepage, the greatest and most comprehensive Superman site on the web, and the only one Henry Cavill himself says he frequents, and my affiliation with people like Steve Younis and Jeffrey Taylor, I was able to take part in this incredible event. Now, the current crop of band-wagon, sheep-lemmings out there who don't seem able to form their own opinion, but would rather go with the flow, would have you believe that Man of Steel simply doesn't measure up, that this film doesn't do Superman justice. I'm here to tell you they are wrong.
In 1978, I, like many of those judging Man of Steel, saw Christopher Reeve in Superman the Movie, and my four year old self was absolutely riveted. I credit the classic film with helping to foster in me a lifelong love of the character which has developed into a desire to see him represented in a completely straightforward and serious way for almost thirty-five years. In the late 70's, before there were any feature length superhero films, Superman The Movie was a benchmark. It was the first time anyone had seen any superhero on the big screen presented in a somewhat realistic way and taken somewhat seriously, at times. For decades, fans and critics alike praised the film, and still do, for what it was able to accomplish and for how it presented the subject matter. It is so beloved, in fact, that in 2006 Warner Brothers even released a pseudo-sequel to the four film franchise, directed by Bryan Singer, and called it Superman Returns. Returns wasn't well received and has since fallen by the wayside, the On Her Majesty's Secret Service of the Superman films, if you will.
Seven years later, it seems to me that Warner Brothers and DC have learned from their previous decisions and have really gone about doing things right. While Superman Returns was much heavier than the more lighthearted Christopher Reeve films, it still didn't register well enough with fans or critics. Man of Steel is a completely different animal all together. While there are homages to many different incarnations of the character, things we've all come to know and expect, it is in no way connected to the "Woah Jim, that's a bad outfit" pimp on the street telephone booth changing 70's. To some, this is a change difficult to embrace and others have placed an embargo on even going to the theater to see Man of Steel. Others though, viewers like myself, see this is a welcome and much needed breath of fresh air that has been long overdue. While I enjoyed Superman Returns and the Christopher Reeve films have a special place in the nostalgia of my heart, Man of Steel is the Superman film I've always wanted to see.
From the opening montage of Zack Snyder's film, the viewer is entranced and involved with the characters. Characters whom, in the past, were given cursory introductions and developed briefly for the sake of plot are here given full bore and have a depth and completeness never before seen. Questions sometimes arise as to the hows and whys, but then the action and adventure overtakes you and you're back in the moment. While Man of Steel is an origin story, as the story progresses, you begin to realize you're being shown parts of the Superman story you've never seen before. There are some subtle changes to some of the things most viewers know and there are some major mythology differences that may have the most staunch fans wishing they hadn't been altered. Some of those alterations are vaguely familiar to viewers of other Superman iterations while others are completely fresh for this take.
Krypton, for instance, is a fully realized, completely living planet, complete with wildlife, technology, architecture and people that feels more urgently in need of enlightenment but is at the same time more advanced than anything we've seen. Russel Crowe's Jor-El is more a complete character in his first moments on screen than he has been in 35 years of Superman on film. We know Jor-El as the genius scientist who sends his infant son away in a rocket in order to save him from eminent destruction. In Man of Steel, he is presented as a concerned husband and father, but also a pro-active citizen and is pretty capable of self-defense too. While it is unfair to compare two completely different portrayals, I feel confident in saying this is the best on-screen Jor-El I have ever witnessed. Crowe is perfect in the role and embodies the father of Kal-El with a regal aura and a gravitas that is befitting a character of Jor-El's massive importance to the mythology. Ayelet Zurer presents us with a Lara that is at once like a queen ready to send people to their duty but also a desperate, heart-broken mother who knows what must be done.
On Earth, there is so much emotion and depth of character that the viewer never needs to hope one scene rushes in order to get to another part of the story. Every scene and every character is present for a reason and moves the story along in an interesting way. Diane Lane is very down to Earth and wise as Martha Kent. She is clearly filled with love for her son and has taught him so much throughout his life. The toughness and understanding Lane brings to the role are a perfect match for the adoptive mother of Superman. If there is any type of acting nod or nomination given to this film, the person I'd likely predict would be Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. Embodying Kent with a simple, yet emotional core and causing the viewer to realize almost from the beginning why Clark has grown into the man he is, Costner's performance is sublime. Every scene Jonathan Kent appears in crackles with electricity and oozes realism. When Costner was announced as being cast I was certain he would be the perfect Pa Kent and the highly experienced actor has proven me right.
There are some interesting secondary characters in the film that serve to bridge the gap between ordinary every day people and non-powered heroes who do everything they can to save the day. For instance, Michael Kelly plays a character never embodied on screen before, but one that will be nice for fans to see. Rebecca Buller, who many fans feared was to be Jimmy Olsen in female form, plays the character Jenny as an eager, yet frightened young intern and Richard Schiff fits perfectly as another well-known to fans Superman character, while Harry Lennix embodies a military leader with the protection of his country at all costs his clear motivation. One thing all these characters have in common is that they feel real. By that I mean they feel authentic. These characters seem to have desires and duties and emotions and they seem to matter. Kelly's newsroom character still feels like a type of person someone could really work with, while Jenny is any number of young girls we could all know.
Christopher Meloni is one of the most interesting characters to watch and his Colonel Nathan Hardy has a complete story arc. Meloni plays a man of duty who knows he must protect his country with urgency and in his portrayal we truly believe he will do what needs to be done. What I love about the military in this film, as opposed to other action films they've been used in is that these soldiers and leaders seem logical, realistic and are not played for laughs or as baffoons. Lawrence Fishburne is Perry White. There was some concern over his casting as being against type and I can tell you that all of that concern is completely unwarranted. Fishburne's White is the embodiement of an experienced newsman who runs his establishment with dignity and honesty. Though I myself was concerned, after seeing a picture of Perry with an earring in still shots from the film, Fishburne's portrayal is spot on and I truly can't wait to see it again to watch him in action.
Many people were dubious when it was announced that Michael Shannon would be playing General Zod in the film. Fans complained that with Superman Returns we were served a retelling of Superman the Movie, and that now we'd be getting Superman II. I said, at the time, that there was no reason we couldn't see a new version of Zod, a more menacing version of Zod, a version of Zod that wasn't just evil for evil's sake, but a fully fleshed out character whose motives might even be understandable even if his methods were extreme. With Shannon's Zod, that's exactly what we get. Screenwriter David Goyer has done a splendid job with making Zod somebody we both fear and also understand and Michael Shannon's portrayal of Krypton's military leader is frightening, intimidating and extremely entertaining to watch. Antje Traue as Commander Faora, Zod's second in command, is incredible and a joy to watch as a soldier loyal to her General and more than ready to kill when necessary.
There was quite an uproar when Amy Adams was cast as Lois Lane. People were confused because it was thought that Lois should have dark hair. Well I'm here to say that in this film Lois has red hair and that it's just fine. Amy Adams is an Academy Award nominated actress who has played so many varied roles over the course of her career that I was certain she'd be perfect for the role, and she is. Adams' hair color is of no consequence as she plays Lois with a feisty, stong-willed determination to get her story and to uncover any secret. Adams also brings a strongly emotional and understanding protective side to Lois and her perky, energetic demeanor made me smile many times while watching her performance.
Many of the early, pre-release reviews are complaining of too much action and not enough character or saying that while the film is action packed it lacks any emotion. To this I can only say that I didn't feel that way at all. There is certainly a lot of action, and the handheld camera Snyder settled on using to shoot the entire film makes you feel part of that action from beginning to end. The effects in this film are among the best I've ever seen and I'm somewhat an aficionado when it comes to superhero cinema. Clearly we all know there are a great many times we're witnessing a CGI effect when Superman flies or is battling Zod and yet, there was no point where I was ever taken out of the film by a noticeable effect. Even one still shot I'd previously made a joke about where Jor-El is looking out over a war-ravaged Krypton looked breathtaking in action. There has never been another superhero film where the powers, battles and action looked so good.
While Hans Zimmer's overall score hasn't so far been memorable to me, I will say that the main three note theme with the rousing drums has been soaring through my head for months. Most will compare to John Williams' legendary Superman score, and it's certainly no where near as memorable, but it suits the movie rather well. The gathering of some of the most prolific drummers in the world was a rather genius idea, and for some of the flight and action scenes it is the perfect companion. The score actually sits rather well as an accompaniment to most of the scenes. It's often hardly noticeable as being there, but then it surges at appropriate moments and helps bring out the emotion of the story. I was lucky enough to arrive at the World Premiere After Party just as Zimmer and a group of young, talented musicians began to play the main theme. I can't tell you what it's actually called yet, as I don't yet have my soundtrack, but it was very stirring to hear it live at the party.
Finally, Henry Cavill, Superman himself is the heart of this film. Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as the hidden hero trying to do the right thing. When we meet him he's a bit of a loner by necessity, but throughout the film we experience with him as he learns who he is and what he needs to do. When he soars for the first time we soar with him and we feel the same sense of exhileration that Clark must be feeling bolting through the clouds. Cavill has somewhat limited dialogue, a complaint about the aforementioned "Superman Returns" and Brandon Routh, but he delivers his lines with such passion and feeling that we never doubt his intent for a second. His sense of determination as both a son and a hero are palpable, and when he suffers set backs or a has a harrowing experience, Henry Cavill makes us worry and care and often hold our breath. Those who weren't sure what to expect from this film may ask "where's the hope?" I tell you the hope is embodied by Cavill's Clark, by Superman's drive to always do the right thing, to lift up and rescue humanity when humanity needs it most. While Crowe's Jor-El informs us and is integral to the Kal-El backstory, and Jonathan Kent always instills values and life lessons in our hero, Superman is the guy we came to see and Cavill does him truth and justice.