Review: Man of Steel


Man of SteelAt long last the highly anticipated return of America's favorite (and first) superhero has arrived. Scripted by David S. Goyer from a concept he developed with Christopher Nolan, the movie Man of Steel is a retelling of Superman's origin story that draws familiar elements from a number of the comic's modern print storylines. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) is no stranger to comic-book adaptations, but this is by far his best work and will prove to be the summer film to beat.

Henry Cavill dons the tights this time around, but not before a couple of steamy scenes showing off a physique that is nothing short of... well, super. Though Snyder's film is in many ways the strongest adaptation of the comic books, Cavill is the most realistic portrayal of Supes as a young man, torn with indecision, largely directionless, and unsure of his potential.  He still has the unerring moral compass, but his invulnerable skin can't protect his psyche from the emotional pain every time he is ridiculed for being different.  

And there is no question he is different. Rather than the perfectly anonymous Clark Kent that might have grown up in 1950s Smallville, the realistic take in Man of Steel shows there are some things just too difficult to hide completely. Everyone knows he's different, but nobody suspects the true story. His early years are played out in nostalgic, contemplative trips he takes down memory lane whenever he is knocked out. Snyder uses this technique to bookend his action sets and provide insight on Clark's mood.

Into this world pops Lois Lane (Amy Adams), likely the strongest example of female empowerment in all comic-book filmdom. Already a Pulitzer Prize winner, the character is an investigative reporter who will put herself in harm's way to get a good story. Finally, we have a Lois who is in character every bit as strong as Superman, a woman who knows the danger she faces and still volunteers for the mission, and who is pivotal in the outcome of the movie's plot. There should be some kind of award for Lois Lane in this movie. Adams is strong but never hard, capable but not forced to fight for recognition. She never has to trade on her looks to get what she wants, and there is never a hint that she would need to.

Aside from Lois, a few other things distinguish the writing in Man of Steel.  It captures the essence of Superman's internal struggle much like Nolan (who also produced this movie) captured Batman's in his Dark Knight trilogy. This is not the dark gritty world of Gotham, but it is just as strongly Nolan's vision. This is no Avengers Initiative, and the studio hasn't made an effort to bring characters together from different series of films, but the Superman and Batman worlds are so grounded in reality they naturally fit well together, and if you watch carefully, you will see familiar names like Lexcorp and Wayne Enterprises appear once or twice.

Snyder's visual take is a mixed bag. The Kryptonian technology is novel and cool, but some of his establishing shots are strongly reminiscent of visuals from John Carter. Aside from that, the action is hyperbolic.  Buildings are shattered, people are tossed around, and things move so fast the action can be difficult to follow, especially in 3D.

But for each of the very few things that I didn't like, there are a dozen things that I loved about Man of Steel.  I enjoyed the interactions between Superman and the military and the frank sense of humor he displays. I enjoyed seeing Superman interact more with Kryptonian technology, something that is common in the comics but never heavily explored in previous films, and that includes the interaction with the stored personality of his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe), who is a much stronger presence and influence than previously seen.

The best comic-book adaptation since at least last year's The Avengers, Man of Steel is also a love story with elements of good drama. As an action film, the movie faces some competition later this summer from films like Pacific Rim, but there is a strong chance it will be the top film of the summer.