Movie review: ‘Man of Steel’ a darkly epic reboot

289321 KS_New_steelAlthough we like to think of ourselves as the architects of our own destinies, many times the choices others make for us do more to define us than we care to admit. We’re forced to solve problems we didn’t cause, and we’re called to rise to meet challenges we never asked for.

This is the dilemma faced by Kal-El, better known as “Superman” in classic comic book lore. Born on a dying planet called Krypton, Kal-El is placed in a ship that is sent to the planet Earth. His parents hope that by sending their infant son to another planet, he’ll be saved from the catastrophic destruction of Krypton and continue their race. Though baby Kal-El is found by a loving farm family in Kansas (and is renamed “Clark Kent”), life isn’t easy. Earth’s climate is different from Krypton, and as a result, Kent has gained superpowers. He has to decide whether to hide these powers and try to live as a normal human, or use his powers to save people. It’s a difficult choice, especially since he doesn’t know whether the people of Earth will ultimately accept or reject a being like him. He didn’t choose to be a hero, but he may be forced to become one.

Although most superhero fans are already familiar with Superman’s origin story, director Zack Snyder gives us a new, grittier perspective on the legend with his film “Man of Steel,” released June 14. One of the summer’s most anticipated films and also one of its biggest gambles, “Man of Steel” needed to be a success in order to launch DC Comics and Warner Bros. superhero mash-up movie about the Justice League. “Man of Steel” opened to an impressive $129 million over the weekend, and it’s a darkly epic reboot that should give DC Comics the push it needs to make the Justice League movie finally happen.

“Man of Steel” begins with an extended prologue on the planet Krypton, then spends the rest of the film following Kent (Henry Cavill) on his journey to become Superman. Kent has been working a series of odd jobs, drifting from place to place and having a hard time fitting in. He meets a reporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is investigating a mystery object found buried in ice. The object is actually a ship from Krypton, a discovery that escalates into a war involving the people of Earth and General Zod (Michael Shannon), the enemy of Kent’s father Jor-El. There’s no doubt the world needs Superman — but is it really ready to accept him?

Warner Bros. made a smart choice to bring in Christopher Nolan, who famously rebooted Batman, to serve as a producer and writer for the movie. It’s easy to see his influence throughout the film, and I think the film is better for it. Like Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” “Man of Steel” relies heavily on flashbacks. Although this keeps viewers on their toes, the audience is rewarded in the end with a portrait of how Kent becomes the man he is.

I liked the extended opening sequence on the planet Krypton; it gives the film a definite space opera flavor, and I’m glad Snyder chose to emphasize the science fiction aspects of the story. The visuals are impressive and you don’t even need to see it in 3D to feel as though you really are a part of the action. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s score, especially Superman’s main theme, which ranks among the best pieces of movie music Zimmer has composed.

Russell Crowe brings a nice sense of gravity and nobility to his role as Jor-El, Superman’s father, and Henry Cavill strikes just the right tone as Clark Kent, a man who feels the weight of his destiny but is still reluctant to embrace it. Kevin Costner also gives a strong performance as Superman’s adoptive father Jonathan Kent. Jonathan Kent has to help his son grapple with the issue of when he should reveal his superpowers to the people of Earth. And even though Michael Shannon was receiving quite a bit of buzz before the film’s release for his role as General Zod, I think German actress Antje Traue actually steals the show as his icy second-in-command, Faora-Ul.

mos_glyph_hiresThe film definitely is a darker take on Superman than we’ve seen before — a fact that has generated some discussion and debate amongst fans — but I think this is the tone they had to take in our post 9/11 world. Superhero films are popular now because people are drawn to the concept of a hero who is capable of swooping in at the last possible second and saving the world from a seemingly unconquerable evil. It’s a powerful — and comforting — symbol. However, on the flip side, people also don’t want those superheroes to be too perfect or too flawless. That squeaky-clean concept perhaps doesn’t resonate as much in a world where war offers us more and more ethical dilemmas. Soldiers are given seconds to decide whether the person walking towards them is a suicide bomber, and who’s bad and who’s good isn’t always clear. We appreciate superheroes who are conflicted and who struggle to come to grips with the responsibility that accompanies their powers.

In the sequel, I would like to see more screen time and character development for Amy Adams’ character, Lois Lane, as well as more involvement for the Daily Planet. I’m also very curious to see how DC Comics responds to the success of “Man of Steel.” I’ve heard they may try to fast-track a “Man of Steel” sequel for 2014 and the Justice League movie for 2015, but I hope they end up taking their time and don’t rush the process. It would be great to see Christopher Nolan as the producer on several more origin stories, such as Wonder Woman.

While “Star Trek: Into Darkness” remains my favorite movie of the summer so far, “Man of Steel” — even with a few flaws — accomplishes exactly what it needed to for DC Comics: making audiences excited about Superman again.

So, what did you think? Did you like the darker take on the Superman story? What do you hope to see in the sequel?

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12 thoughts on “Movie review: ‘Man of Steel’ a darkly epic reboot

  1. This dark take on Supes did not really impress me. I think this imitation of The Dark Knight Trilogy resulted in a movie without humor and heart.

    I am glad that you enjoyed the movie. I would take the Chris Reeve movies over Man of Steel any day.

    B2B.

    • Sorry to hear you weren’t a fan of this one, but I can understand where you’re coming from. The movie did have a dark tone, and I do hope to see some lighter moments in the sequel.

  2. I grew up with the old B&W George Reeves Superman. The story was about Clark Kent. Superman was just his alter ego. Superman has always been a love story. He was an investigator, a reporter, a detective (Like Batman), a hopeless romantic and his arch-villain was Lex Luther. But always having to hide his identity was his Kryptonite.

    Then there was The Richard Donner/Lester films.Superman was a “boy scout”. He was the good guy. So good, that having to always do the right thing was his Kryptonite, more than Kryptonite. Still a love story but on a bigger scale. The secret identity. Lex Luther was still the villain. The fact that he could knock Lex out with his little finger was never the point because it wouldn’t be the “right” thing.

    On TV Lois & Clark was a romantic adventure. Smallville was a coming of age story with a huge romantic subplot. Secret identity problems and still the need to do the right thing and the girl… having to save the girl was his Kryptonite.

    Man of Steel is not a Superman movie. If you take away the S on his chest and change the characters names and locations. This is a Godzilla movie. Our monster vs their monster. Amd Metropolis is Tokyo. DC comics wouldn’t even win a lawsuit trying to prove that it was loosely based on Superman.

    I would love to see what Christopher Nolan’s script looked like before the rewrite. What they were left with was hardly recognizable as Superman. I hated it. Except for Amy Adams and the Kryptonian prologue, which were both awesome, I hated it. I’m sorry but paying 28 dollars to see a bad comic book movie is my Kryptonite.

    • This was a pretty dramatic reboot of the Superman mythology, and the film makers did take a risk with the darker, grittier tone. I’m sorry you had to pay $28 for a movie you didn’t enjoy — that’s no fun! 😦 It’s $16 for a 3-D IMAX ticket where I live, and I used to complain about that, but I won’t anymore! 😉

  3. I enjoyed Man of Steel, and I hope it is the start of another Superman movie franchise. You are right that Warner Bros and DC are keeping their fingers crossed with this movie; it has to make big bucks for a Justice League movie to happen.
    And that’s not going to be an easy task since any superhero movie that doesn’t make a billion dollars is considered a disappointment.
    Still, I think the reviews are positive enough that they will push forward with more Superman movies and a Justice League movie. At least I hope so.

    • It’s interesting how much pressure is on superhero movies these days. You’re right — pretty much anything less than a billion is considered a letdown. The Avengers definitely upped the stakes!

      • Warner Brothers is probably anxious to reboot Batman, so introducing a new actor in the Batsuit would be a great way too kick off the Justice League franchise with Henry Cavill leading the movie as Superman. I think the Justice League movie will be green lit this time.

      • I do too. I’m curious to see what they do with Batman. I wouldn’t mind seeing a new series of films with Joseph Gordon-Levitt taking over this time, as a spin-off from Dark Knight Rises.

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