The epic and beautiful Man of Steel returns Superman to the big screen and settles a long-standing debate.
If you've a fan of the online series Honest Trailers, you know their finest effort (The Avengers) laughingly tells audiences that as a result of Marvel's command of the box office, competitor DC has been placed on 'suicide watch.' Who could blame them: after a commercially successful but disappointing Dark Knight Rises and still stinging from the awful Green Lantern, the studio that first brought comic book heroes into the modern era seemed adrift and down for the count. Luckily the release of Man of Steel proves DC still has some fight in them, producing a beautifully-shot and thoroughly-enjoyable effort, even if some character development is lacking.
The story of Kal-El/Superman begins on the distant planet of Krypton, which is embroiled in a civil war between the established leadership and the war hero-turned-traitor General Zod (Michael Shannon, Premium Rush). The reasons for this unnecessary conflict stem from the debate about whether Krypton's core will soon explode, or if the calculations of Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) are incorrect. As the civil war is put down, Zod and his fellow conspirators are sentenced to an eternity in a black hole called the Phantom Zone, while Krypton implodes under a depleted core. In a desperate effort to continue their planet's heritage, Jor-El and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, Angels and Demons) send their newborn son to Earth. There, he is raised in the town of Smallville by Martha (Diane Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams), who try unsuccessfully to keep his powers a secret. As the son Clark (Henry Cavill, Immortals) grows into manhood, he drifts from job to job while searching for his true identity, but is ultimately drawn to saving people along the way. Enter the journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams, The Muppets), who's been tracking Kal-El and his super-human feats of wonder. As he learns of his planet's history, Kal soon dons the famous red cape, and just in time. Zod arrives at Earth along with his contingent of convicts to destroy Superman and begin a new Krypton on Earth. As the two square off in a series of land, air, sea, and space battles, Superman must defend the people of Earth, while fighting the urge to commit the one act he's promised never to do.
Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) weaves a beautifully epic production with a keen eye on Superman's past. He clearly respects every aspect of the Caped Crusader, from the majesty of flight, to his strength and heat vision. Snyder gets Superman. But it's also the terrific work of Writer David S. Goyer (Dark Knight series), who produces a deep and powerful script about a alien struggling to find his sense of self while keeping his new home safe from terribly destructive people. Goyer also throws enough DC tips-of-the-hat to keep hardcore fans interested, even if some of the purists may walk away feeling unconvinced. Going in to this picture, my most pressing concern was whether a hero created not to kill could in fact do what was necessary, if forced to do so; if not, our new world order of ultra-violence could reject his story outright, and the franchise would again suffer a period of indignity. Goyer presents a powerful remedy that effectively solves the matter. We're left in the moments afterwards with our mouths open in shock, but it's this kind of resolution that our hero needs and one the audience relishes when it arrives.
Cavill plays a very likeable Supes, but it's his stellar supporting cast of Oscar winners and exceptional new talent around him that help tell the whole story so effectively. Many times we witness ensemble pieces that struggle to tell everyone's story. This is the only knock against Man of Steel, for there's just not enough time to weave thorough tales for everyone. Goyer chooses the Kents, Zod, and Jor-El, while the Daily Planet's Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix) and Lane are probably left for future films. In the end, we love the whole and immense roles of the previous, and look with anticipation to seeing more of the latter. This is not just an origin story for Superman, fixated on a single event that may or may not succeed, but for the entire human universe connected with this iconic character - I can give them a pass for not covering everyone to our expectations. To leave the theater with such a satisfying feeling is rare even for Marvel, who's made a name for itself by doing what Man of Steel achieves so well. A Hollywood where two excellent superhero universes thrive is better for fans and for the genre as a whole. Who knows where this new one will take us, but it's clear that co-Writer/Producer Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight series), Snyder, and Goyer have things well in hand.
Man of Steel is a sweeping effort to be sure. Goyer and Snyder shine in bringing Superman into the 21st Century, leading the impressive cast through the best comic book movie of the year so far, and perhaps one of the best films of 2013. In many ways, Man of Steel proves that a boy-scout superhero born to defend American values can survive and even thrive in today's deadlier, more subjective society. Whether purists like what's in store for them is anyone's guess; but for now, DC is back on the map and off suicide watch. Man of Steel is rated PG-13 for violence and has a runtime of 143 minutes.
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