By Vincent Abbatecola
Lately, outside of the Batman films, DC Comics hasn’t had the success that Marvel has had in making favorable adaptations of their superheroes for the big screen. Its attempt two years ago with “Green Lantern” had the movie turn out to have a more childish and humorous tone than it should have. 2010’s “Jonah Hex” was a complete failure, and 2006’s “Superman Returns” didn’t have nearly as thrilling of a homecoming as his character deserved.
It also seems like no matter how long Hollywood has attempted to replicate the achievement of Marvel’s “The Avengers” by bringing the Justice League to the cinema, they always hit a roadblock. It does look like, however, that the newest adventure for Superman will help the DC universe take a step in the right direction to get closer to that possibility.
In director Zack Snyder’s vision of the epic hero in “Man of Steel,” he crafts an interpretation of this famous character in American mythology that’s much livelier than Bryan Singer’s film from seven years ago. Although the movie sometimes falls into Snyder’s effects-heavy tendencies, it nonetheless provides enough attention to establishing the characters and their world in this origin story.
The planet of Krypton is on the verge of destruction due to a damaged core as a result of trying to gather the planet’s natural resources. Before Krypton is destroyed, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) decide to launch their infant son Kal-El to Earth, having mixed his cells with the codex, a genetic device that will allow for the preservation Krypton’s race. Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his followers are arrested and sent to the Phantom Zone as punishment for murdering council officials.
Kal-El is renamed as Clark Kent by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Later as an adult, Clark travels to various places to keep off the grid and have his true self remain a secret. As events unfold, however, Clark must make the decision whether to stay as normal as possible, or assume his responsibility on Earth as something greater.
Henry Cavill appears as a rugged and more worldly individual when the viewer is first introduced to him as an adult. Having a full beard and various jobs, both dangerous and low key, Cavill’s version of Clark is significantly more interesting than that of Brandon Routh’s in “Superman Returns.” Routh’s was more of a somewhat awkward Clark who reported for the “Daily Planet” newspaper, whereas Cavill’s is more of a traveler. Although this is to be expected because this all happens before he becomes a reporter, it still makes for a more detailed story that’s bigger in scope.
The way Cavill portrays Clark Kent and Superman is fairly understated, in a positive manner, and is not overly showy, despite portraying one of pop culture’s most iconic superheroes. He has the attitude and appearance of a world-weary traveler who is trying to find his place and purpose in the universe, which works to great effect because that’s what the story is mainly about.
Amy Adams proves to be a tougher and more spirited Lois Lane than Kate Bosworth in the 2006 film. Of course, given Adams’ acting caliber, there wasn’t any doubt towards her version of Lane. Her considerable screen presence perfectly pairs with her strong-willed character, one who isn’t the typical superhero-movie female lead who needs saving.
Michael Shannon first creates a worry that he’s going to go over-the-top with his villainous portrayal of General Zod, but he is able to keep himself tame, yet sinister, bottling up his fury and saving it for the big showdown near the end.
As Clark’s birth father, Russell Crowe channels wisdom and provides support for an older Clark, a mentor-mentee relationship that’s similar to that of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. For a Zack Snyder movie, there are also a few surprisingly tender moments involving Jonathan and Martha Kent trying to help their son come to terms with who he is.
It’s appropriate that David S. Goyer wrote the screenplay for Superman’s origin story, seeing as he was also one of the writers for “Batman Begins,” which was as superhero origin story directed by Christopher Nolan, who acted as one of the producers for “Man of Steel.” The film’s 20-minute opening sequence boasts some of Snyder’s usual impressive visuals, but it brings the concern that the film will be just another one of Snyder’s CGI-driven spectacles, however, this isn’t entirely the case. There are lengthy stretches of the narrative that focus on Clark’s character where the director, thankfully, restrains himself from using an overload of visual effects.
The downside to that, however, is that Snyder then seems to want to compensate by throwing in his booming, and expected, big-budget scenes in the later half, and it becomes a little excessive by the time the climactic fight between Superman and Zod in Metropolis comes around. By then, it nearly turns into one of Snyder’s typical effects-heavy films during the last hour. There are also a few plot holes that appear throughout the film that become bothersome.
Although Snyder is the director, the viewer can sense how Nolan offered him some guidance as to where the story should go. Snyder presents a darker tone to the film, much akin to Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, contributes an adequate amount of time to developing Clark as he grows and becomes Superman, and is able to get performances out of his cast that aren’t too comic-booky and are in sync with the tone. As far as the sequel goes, Snyder is reported to come back and direct, and Goyer will write the screenplay. If they can space out the action scenes more evenly to not have it cluttered in the end, but still give enough attention to the performances, then they can have a Superman movie that truly flies high.
Final grade: B