Thursday, June 20, 2013

Man of Steel

The character of Superman, from the DC line of comic books and graphic novels, has had a bit of a rough history in the last few decades when it comes to translating him and his story to film. Superman Returns was a decent outing directed by Bryan Singer back in 2006, but it wasn’t quite satisfying to Superman fans and seemed more of a love letter to Richard Donner and his 1978 classic than a diving board for ongoing sequels to come. Movements were made here and there, from Kevin Smith’s treatment to the almost certain depravity Tim Burton was planning, which, thankfully, never came to fruition.

Ever since I had watched that final scene in The Matrix, where Neo takes off in flight, I knew the special effects were there and just waiting for a good Superman script to allow it life. But, alas, it seemed as if it was never meant to be.

Enter Christopher Nolan, giving Batman new life with his Dark Knight trilogy and cementing his roots into the filmmaking ground while making tons of money for Warner Bros. in the process. He could do no wrong in the eyes of the WB execs and was allowed free reign with any project of his choosing.  So when it was announced that he would “godfather” a new Superman film as a producer, I had some small hope starting to grow inside me. Little by little, over the last couple of years, we heard tidbits of info, a not-too-interesting teaser trailer that had risen doubt in my mind, and finally a full-fledged trailer that made me curious, until Man of Steel was released to us…

Yes, after over 30 years of a Superman drought, we get Zack Snyder and David Goyer’s vision—or shall I say reimagining—of the DC superhero that may be setting the upcoming Justice League movie on its way to us.

But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, let’s get into Man of Steel

…without spoilers, I promise.

To synopsize, the film is a complete reboot, starting with the origin of Superman/Kal-El, as he’s born on the alien world of Krypton. As war begins on the planet, his parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), knowing that their planet is doomed—because of the pending destruction that led to the war initiated by Genral Zod (Michael Shannon) and his soldiers—they send their son off into space to reach the planet of Earth for a chance to live out his life. As General Zod, along with his remaining soldiers, is arrested and tried for his crimes, he’s sentenced to the Phantom Zone. On Earth, the adult Kal-El (Henry Cavill), not knowing his origin and identifying himself as Clark Kent, raised by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), is on a journey, taking odd jobs around the country, to find out who he really is. As his journey comes to an end and he finds out who he is, he then finds himself at odds with our country’s military and a returning threat that found its way from Krypton: General Zod.

I didn’t want to give away too much about this film, which is why I went with a quick plot summary and didn’t give away too much detail on the story. But going into this movie, I was completely mesmerized from start to finish.

The beginning scenes on Krypton was spectacular and I’m glad they went with changing it up, going away from the crystal/ice look of the 1978 film to this Star Wars-esque landscape that they feature here. Rather than wanting the film to move on and get to Kal-El’s life on our world, I wanted to stay on Krypton to see more of it. The clothing and armor worn throughout the scenes on Krypton had an old renaissance feel to it, seeming like the planet was in the dark ages. But the technology, looking primitive and insect-like, was surprisingly fresh and was its own, not seeming like a Star Wars rip-off.

I felt there was a good balance while the story played out and moving to Kal-El/Clark’s adult years as he travels the country, trying to find his way on earth. I mention balance, because there are equal parts of present-day story, as well as flashback scenes to Clark growing up in Smallville.

Once we see Cavill take the reins and become the character of Superman, the movie takes on a bewildering feel and takes us on a believable, yet effects-laden, rollercoaster ride that never lets up. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie is not exciting before that, but if you want…the last third of this film delivers.

Now I have to admit, at first, Henry Cavill, as Superman, was a concern for me going into this. When I found out the character—being such an American icon—was being played by a British actor, it sort of bothered me. But by the time we see him play out the first heroic act in the film, I was totally okay with him and his portrayal, looking forward to upcoming sequels and the planned Justice League movie.

The second concern was Michael Shannon playing General Zod. I mean, after seeing Terence Stamp make that role his own in 1980’s Superman II, I felt like nobody should ever attempt to fill his shoes. Surprisingly, Shannon nails it and even adds a little more heart and soul to the character, even making us see his side of his argument in the story.

Kevin Costner really turns in a great performance as Jonathan Kent and I actually wish we had more of his character interacting with the actors playing the 9-year-old and 13-year-old Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry respectively). But the flashback scenes we get from him were stellar accomplishments and made us understand how he—as well as Diane Lane as Martha Kent—was a key character in Clark’s upbringing.

Finally, Amy Adams as Lois Lane was really interesting and the character arc was something we’ve never seen in any Superman incarnation on television or film. The chemistry between Adams and Cavill was
believable and enjoyable to watch. Thankfully, there was no “Can You Read My Mind” scenes between them and I never felt that she was unneeded in the story.

Rounding out the cast in Man of Steel: Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Antje Traue as Zod’s right-hand woman Faora-Ul, Harry Lennix as General Swanwick, Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton, and Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Man of Steel?

While the film doesn’t have the epic feel of its 1978 counterpart, I think it was done on purpose, perhaps preparing for the DC universe to open up and making way for the forthcoming Justice League project. The plot had a different twist that we’re used to (if you know a bit about the Superman lore), yet stayed pretty true to its source. The film contains enough heroic feats and battle scenes for any action fan to enjoy, giving us the best Superman film to date, by special effects standards anyway. By the end of this film, Superman has believably solidified himself in this DC universe of films and leaving us to wonder what’s next. Man of Steel is definitely what Warner Bros. needed to jump start their superhero franchises back into film, opening a doorway for more…and I can’t wait. I’m planning to see this again, so that should tell you how good this flick is (I rarely see a movie more than once when it’s making its theatrical run).

Watch out, Marvel…DC is making a comeback!

Thanks for reading!
You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits

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