15 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel


On a planet nearing its end, plagued by military coups and an oncoming apocalypse, a father (Russell Crowe) makes a choice to give his race a second chance and sends Earth his only son. Despite the pleas from most to ignore the origins of a man whose tale is known by all, a lot of the character is lost in only having him walk out of the phone booth in red, yellow and blue. Clark Kent could literally go anywhere and do anything, why would he devote his life to helping others? Especially when he is expected to protect those who treat him as an outcast.

The previous exploits of Superman have been covered many times by many people, more successfully by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeves than by Bryan Singer and Brandon Routh. With Superman Returns lukewarm reception in 2005, the kabosh was put on the character only to watch Batman's meteoric rise under the steady gaze of Christopher Nolan. It seems no small coincidence that Warner Bros. tasked Nolan with producing their most iconic character: the Man of Steel.

Superman is a tough sell for a postmodern audience: Too many superheroes now aren't quite fully-functional human beings, their development arrested by narcissism, rage, or curses. With all of these heroes around, the concept of a superbeing doing good just for the sake of others seems a little out-of-touch now. David Goyer sought to set Superman in a more realistic, post 9/11 world, and he succeeds in doing so in tinkering with the origins of the character (actual conflicts rather than conveniently placed Kryptonite).

Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Jor-El and Pa Kent bring big doses of gravitas to their respective characters and ground what could be considered silly concerns in a very real way. In a world where a child with Clark's gifts could wind up in a government research facility, he has to be hidden in plain sight. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his exiled fellow Kryptonians arrive on Earth, Clark is freed from the hiding and all that anger built up inside him finally has a purpose. He finally has a outlet for the years of frustration. The release is a cathartic one and how couldn't not be when not living up to your true potential causes so much suffering?

In a spectacular sequence of some of the most visually compelling combat ever filmed, most of Metropolis is destroyed and we're subjected to ten minutes of two ridiculously powered beings fighting for the survival of their own.

Henry Cavill is an unknown to most, but the silver lining in that allows him to be Superman. The earnestness of that boy raised in a small town in Kansas blended with the man with the weight of the world on his shoulders is exactly what Superman should be. Cavill gets to play with the character as a well-intentioned loner who defines himself along the way.

The men aren't the only ones given decent material in this Superman either, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is fortunate enough this go around to actually get something to do with her time onscreen. Her back and forth with Cavill is organic and a far cry from the constant rescuing that ends up onscreen too often.

It is interesting to see Zack Snyder, the man who deconstructed the superhero genre with Watchmen, given the reins to bring Superman back to the public eye. There is none of the cynicism from that film and for that I am grateful. Snyder has evolved with each film he has made, but the visual composition of several Man of Steel set-pieces is something that must be seen on IMAX.

The wonder has finally been brought back to the man faster than a speeding bullet and he will have his time in the sun.