Man of Steel (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
During Krypton’s final convulsions due to the planet’s increasingly unstable core, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Antje Traue) rush to get their son, Kal-El, into a pod so he alone can escape the doomed planet and prevent the Kryptonian race from reaching extinction. This task is not made any easier by General Zod (Michael Shannon) as he and and his henchmen stage a coup d’état against the planet’s leaders. Zod wants the codex in his possession because it holds the genetic information of his people. Having it will allow him to recolonize another planet. But the codex is in the pod–located inside the infant to be exact–and Jor-El will not allow his son to be harmed.
To claim that “Man of Steel,” based on the screenplay by David S. Goyer and directed by Zack Snyder, is visually spectacular and consistently thrilling is not an understatement. Propelled by a confident execution and an above average script, when the film reaches emotional apices, especially in the first half, it makes for a compelling watch. It drags a bit toward the end, favoring ostentatiously grandiose action sequences over substance, but it is far from similar to the incomprehensible cling-clanging denouement of Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”
One of the wisest techniques employed is the non-linear storytelling. While this is not new to the superhero sub-genre, it is effective here. By choosing only the important moments of Kal-El, named Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline, Dylan Sprayberry in his younger years and Henry Cavill as an adult) by his adoptive family (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane), learning to control his powers, keeping a cool temper, and trying to keep his abilities and identity a secret, the small lessons are contained and to the point so they do not disrupt the rhythm of Clark’s journey toward discovering his origins.
I enjoyed the casting of Lois Lane. She is played by Amy Adams who, in my eyes, is not conventionally pretty. I think she is beautiful but her beauty comes with an edge. For me to be convinced that Lois is a serious journalist, one who can go toe-to-toe with the sharks in the Daily Planet and among its competitors, the actor playing her has to have the look as well as the capability to evoke conviction and intelligence. Adams is ace casting because she embodies these qualities.
However, the romance between Superman and Lois Lane is not handled with grace. There is a kiss that occurs near the end that felt like a knife to my stomach. Even when they stand from each other, silent, only a couple of inches apart, I cringed a little bit. The intimacy is not earned. Their relationship, one that is romantic in nature, is far from fully developed. And yet it is forced. A kiss between the two leads does not deserve a place in this movie. Perhaps a hug would have been acceptable–but only as a symbol of thanks.
The smashing of and crashing against buildings, helicopters, and alien ships are impressive. The first few big action pieces, especially the battle in Smallville between Superman against Faora (Antje Traue) and a robotic but very intimidating minion, offer genuine thrills. It is good that our hero is not made out to be invincible; he can feel pain and exhaustion–without being exposed to Kryptonite, an ore infamous for being Superman’s ultimate weakness. To circumvent the expected, the writer is forced to be a little more creative and I appreciated that.
Still, the explosions, skyscrapers crashing onto each other, and flying debris wear out their welcome eventually. Because it runs for longer than is necessary, I began to consider that perhaps the film might have been better off as having a hard R rating. Though it is implied, not one human death that includes all of its ugliness is shown. For example, when a structure is about to crash onto a group of panicking people desperate for escape, it quickly cuts onto another scene. If human casualty is shown once in a while, it might have made a stronger statement, one that is relevant to Superman’s journey of becoming a symbol of the human race. It would have shown that death of the innocent is a part of the story’s universe and that not even Superman can save everybody.
Despite a handful of missteps, “Man of Steel” is an action sci-fi fantasy that has more than enough gravitational pull in its marrow to keep us wondering about what will happen–within its story as well as a potential franchise. I want a sequel–one that is leaner, maybe laced with more humor, clever ones, but certainly one that does not flinch away from the uncomfortable.