Man of Steel Review
by Robert Hass
Man of Steel retells the Superman origin story in an admirably new and ambitious way, has an appealing cast with Cavill at the helm, and is fairly entertaining. But it also suffers from slack character development, an unnecessarily serious tone, and distractingly overproduced direction/action sequences. See it if you want to watch Superman kicking some Kryptonian butt for the first time in a while, but you can also rent it.
The story: After the generally perceived disappointment that was 2006's Superman Returns, the red-caped franchise needed some juice. DC Comics claim to fame film franchise, The Dark Knight Trilogy, was coming to its end, and they needed to make a move. So the team understandably decided to boot up the Superman story again, hire visionary director Zack Snyder, producer Chris Nolan, new lead Henry Cavill, and aim to please. The plot, if you haven't seen any of the films or read the comics, is about a baby that is sent by his parents from the dying alien planet of Krypton to Earth to survive. But this is no normal baby; he soon will discover that he can bend cars, laser fry buildings with his eyes, and of course, fly. The now grown up boy, Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman (Cavill) wanders around our planet in the shadows from job to job trying to conceal his powers. We see flashbacks of the two loving farm hands who raised him as a "normal" boy, and the many experiences that shaped him to the man he is today. After making many discoveries about his true identity, our protagonist also learns that a vengeful survivor from Krypton, General Zod (Michael Shannon), and friends are on their way to Earth to put our planet in jeopardy and ultimately destroy him. Can the Man of Steel save his newfound love, life, and world?
The good: The film does have a great opening that is both creative and exciting. It also, in my opinion, contains probably the best action sequence in the movie altogether. The first half as well tells the familiar story in an interesting fashion, as the chronological order of events is mixed. The pacing is fluid, and there is a nice unraveling of answers that invest us into the story even further. The cast is solid, and Cavill, while not highly captivating, portrays a more conserved hero; One that we can understand in his moments of quiet restraint, but also root for in moments of body slamming. The best performances actually in the film are the two father figures; Russel Crowe is awesome as Kal-El's noble father and is the most intriguing character in the film. Kevin Costner, while unfairly not given enough time and material, also subtly shines as our protagonists caring and wise Earth-father. He also is the star of, for me, one of the film's more powerful yet annoyingly abrupt moments. Shannon isn't as memorable as he should be, but uniquely has a moral and understandable reason for his anarchy that does drop an unexpected question on the viewers. Amy Adams and Diane Lane also aren't given full justice to bring out their full charm/skills but still are serviceable. The action for a while is very cool and surprisingly gains a gigantic scale as it escalates into mass, building crumbling destruction. The special effects are strong and add a large level of realism to the film. Also the score, while overbearing and loud, is catchy and has an epic aspect to it that fits in well with the movie's tone.
The bad: I understand that Snyder wants to deliver the super-smashing thrills that fans have been wishing for, but to quote another reviewer, less could have been more. He spends WAY too much time over bloating each battle, and soon after a while it becomes repetitive and almost an assault on the senses. It doesn't help that the cinematography is annoyingly off-grounded and almost entirely handheld. It actually helps point out what the film needed more of; it should have been more earthed and taken a few steps back. Due to the zippy action, shots, zooms, and effects, the movie feels more like an alien or other worldly film that doesn't have a firm center. Also the large-scale carnage takes too much time away from the character development and actual story that it should have focused more on. We get a general sense of the characters, but there are many pivotal moments in the film that are supposed to have traction, but ultimately aren't emotionally resonant enough due to their incomplete setups. Also the levity of the horrific destruction towards the end of the film never seems to be taken in, and one brief sequence is so overdone and arbitrary that it ends up looking like a video game. I also hate to say it, but some 9/11 imagery pops up and it is slightly unsettling. For the script, I again wanted more time to be used to set up our connections with the characters so that their choices and consequences that happen to them would be more significant to the audience. There also was some quick but very odd lines of dialogue that were completely out of place. You'll know what I'm talking about once you see it. I also wish that its tone wasn't so somber. There are barley any moments of comedic relief and I feel like if it lightened up, also visually with its color palette, it could have benefited the picture significantly. The 3D effects don't add anything to the movie and in fact might make you wish that you could view it in 2D again.
My take: Man of Steel isn't as bad as it could have been, but it also isn't as good as it could have been either. It aims at being serious and epic in scale, but could have used more moments of charm or character growth. Because it focuses so much on the action, it consequently leaves us wanting more story. I will say that it is a step in the right direction though, and makes me intrigued for new adventures to come.
I don't want to give anything away, but be sure to look out for a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual easter eggs in the movie that may make the fanboy in you chuckle.
V/H/S 2 (rental and in theaters)
White House Down
Redemption (rental and in theaters)
World War Z
Man of Steel
Fast and Furious 6
The Great Gatsby
Iron Man 3
Dead Man Down
Europa Report (rental and in theaters 8/2)
Redemption (On rental and in theaters)
GI: Joe Retaliation (available 7/30)
V/H/S 2 (rental and in theaters)
Oz: The Great and Powerful
The Last Stand
The goal for this blog is for me to deliver more direct movie summaries that skip more of the fluff and deliver the goods. The story, the good, the bad, and my overall take on it. For those of you who just want to know if you should see it or not, read the ratings and headlines of the films. Click read more if you want to see the details about the reviews.
My name is Robert, but friends call me Vern. I'm a proud cinefile (not as creepy as it sounds...) I write, direct and edit movies. When I'm not doing that, I'm watching movies -- as many as I can -- and reviewing them here for you. I've found that my tastes are unpredictable; conventional to bizarre, formulaic to abstract, old-school to ahead of the curve. I've seen enough to have perspective but am still young enough to need a lift to the theater. Let me know what you think.