Zack Snyder loves action.
The director of other rollicking films, like 300 and SUCKER PUNCH, has honed his passion in MAN OF STEEL, the newest reboot of the Superman Franchise. Here, he plies his trade with incredible ambition and gives us possibly the biggest and most destructive fight ever put on film. However, the massive action sequence dominates the movie and leaves us wanting more from the story and more connection to the would-be Superman.
The film starts on Planet Krypton with the natural birth of son, Kal-El, to Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife. The birth constitutes a violation of the law on the planet, which uses genetically engineered births to further their political and societal motives. The planet itself is in peril, due to the mining of their natural resources at the planet's core. Jor-El advises Krypton's Council to abandon the planet and take with them a "Codex" containing the history and genetic information necessary to re-engineering their species if need be.
General Zod (Michael Shannon) of the planet's military forces, who along with Jor-El, also advocated against the resource mining, uses his command to stage a coup. He wants the Codex for his own motives and will stop at nothing to build a new and better Krypton. With the planet facing certain doom and now the possible loss of it's salvation, Jor-El sends the Codex along with his newborn son to Earth, where he hopes he will choose his own path and become something special. Zod and his rebels are stopped and sentenced to banishment, but Kal-El has certainly made his first enemy, as Zod vows to find him.
I was pleased that when we first get to see Kal-El on Earth that he is fully grown (and played well by Henry Cavill) and has use of some of his powers. MAN OF STEEL avoided a classic origin story trap of a linear plot. Instead of having to wait an hour for our hero to become our hero, we get to see him use his abilities right away. Of course we want to see how he grew up and his struggle to understand what/who he is, but this is done through the use of flashbacks throughout the film, as his past and present stories are interwoven.
Kal-El, Earth name Clark Kent, has learned that the world can be a cruel place when you are different and has taken to living a nomadic lifestyle. However, the "something special" in him compels him to do various good deeds that are so out of the ordinary he can never stay in one place very long. The whole enterprise is darker and more serious than the superhero movies with which we are now very familiar. There is not much in the way of Tony Stark-like snark or the youthful joy of the young Spider-Man.
Kal-El/Clark is truly struggling because he is Superman, whether he fully understands it or not. Other heroes, like Spidey and Iron Man grew up normal. Clark never got that opportunity and has seen the fear and anger caused by his unique gifts. However, one person who is not scared of Clark's abilities is reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). After they have a brief but important encounter, Clark disappears and Lois goes on the hunt to track him down and try understand what she has seen.
I really enjoyed the interactions between Cavill and Adams and the fresh take on the Clark and Lois relationship. In past Superman films, Clark always had to hide the fact that he is Superman, for Lois' safety. The secrecy led to weird love triangle between only two people. Every time you think Lois is falling for Clark she gets wowed by Superman and forgets about the nerd with glasses. In STEEL, Lois is the only person who knows that Kal-El is Clark Kent from Kansas and that Clark Kent is Superman. We want more of them on-screen together, but the film is building towards the big Zod-Superman showdown, and as you can probably tell, has lots of exposition to get through before it all goes down. And boy, does it ever.
The fight between Zod and Superman is bigger and longer than necessary, but it has a wow factor that makes you understand this was probably how and why Zack Snyder got the job. Superhero movies have always had the ability to go beyond movies like DIE HARD, when it comes to large-scale action. However, if bullets and rockets have no effect on our hero, is he even in danger?
MAN OF STEEL goes to great lengths to put Superman in peril but it takes a lot of time and convoluted dialogue to get there. Especially when the audience has been preconditioned to know that the green substance known as Kryptonite is the only thing that can hurt Superman. Here, the glowing green rock is never seen or even alluded to and Snyder chooses other means to take Superman's abilities down a notch. The results are mixed, but we still get one hell of a fight.
The damage done to the City of Metropolis is staggering. The scale of the destruction is more reminiscent of disaster films like DEEP IMPACT. We do not simply have a few buildings getting toppled. There are blocks and miles of the city that are completely disintegrated. The film is rated PG-13, so we do not see blood or the scores of fatalities that are surely occurring but if you had to give STEEL and off-screen body count it would have to be in the tens of thousands.
There has been much made of this "collateral damage" and if it is acceptable to show such atrocities in a film without ever really acknowledging them. While it was shocking to witness, I still firmly believe that this practice is acceptable, has not changed and will not change. I recently watched SUPERMAN II, which is over thirty years old and a lot of people died during the sequence when Zod comes to Earth. And if they could have shown full sky scrapers toppling over in slow motion and crushing the masses below they probably would have done it.
CGI and special effects have made made such incredible leaps and bounds that you could argue MAN OF STEEL's action is actually more realistic than past Superman films. No, we don't see thousands of dead bodies, but this is not a War film, it's a Summer Blockbuster aimed at a wide audience. As always, parents will still have to make the decisions on what is appropriate for their children to watch. I just don't believe that horror and destruction always have to be done in a visceral way. Looking at the bigger picture, if the entire planet is in jeopardy, one city getting leveled is probably the best case scenario. At least MAN OF STEEL tried to be epic on a scale that is rarely, if ever, even attempted. It may not have completely succeeded, but it does show what can happen when you tug on the big guy's cape (and heartstrings).
Overall, MAN OF STEEL gives a good theater experience, but is forced to retell a lot of what the audience, presumably, already knows. I expected as much going in, especially because this is supposedly the film that will launch the long-discussed, Justice League Franchise. Zack Snyder tries his best to outdo the action in films that has become overly predictable and is mostly successful. He may have sacrificed a lot of material (both story and source), but he stayed true to who he is as a director and has caused a stir with a franchise many had presumed dead. Therefore, I give MAN OF STEEL a solid 3.5 out of 5 and recommend that you find the biggest 3D screen around, and enjoy.
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