Man of Steel (***)
Directed by Zack Snyder
Running time: 143 minutes
Starring: Henry Cavill, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne.
(Movie House Dublin Road Preview 10/06/2013)
SUPERMAN lives again, seven years after Bryan Singer’s attempt to kick-start the franchise with Superman Returns failed to take flight with fans, Zack Snyder under the guidance of producer Chris Nolan brings audiences his vision of the Kryptonian superhero to the big screen.
Originally conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, DC Comic’s creation became a defining character in comic book history. Despite unprecedented success on the comic book page his cinematic outings have been rather hit and miss affairs. Richard Donner’s 1978 original was a hugely successful feature with its tagline ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’. It was a solid superhero origin movie that featured ground-breaking special effects which wowed audiences at the time.
The 1980 sequel firmly built upon the foundations of its predecessor, but the third and fourth instalments were flops at the box-office resulting in the series being put on indefinite hold. Bryan Singer’s attempted reboot wasn’t a flop by any means, but it was deemed to have hugely under-performed with many critics claiming its downfall was its nostalgia for the 1978 original.
With plans for any potential sequel shelved British director Chris Nolan was brought on-board as a creative consultant on any possible series reboot due to his success at restarting the Batman franchise. With David S. Goyer set the task of penning the film’s story and after much screening of directorial candidates, Zack Snyder was finally chosen as the man to take helm of the project.
Snyder is no stranger to comic book adaptions for the big screen, having directed both 300 and Watchmen which were both iconic graphic novels. Often seen as a style over substance director, many fans hoped that Nolan’s involvement would help rein the American’s visual extravagance on the feature.
Despite only being involved in a producing capacity the influences from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy are clearly evident throughout the feature. Similarly to his work on the Batman movies, Goyer’s story sees super-heroism once again seen as a burden by its central character.
Gone is Christopher Reeve’s interpretation of Superman as an all-American Boy Scout, with British actor Henry Cavill giving a much sterner and brooding performance as the Kryptonian super-hero. Overall he’s solid enough as the film’s central protagonist, but at times he’s a little too serious and humorless in the role.
The film plays out like an amalgamation of the plots from Superman one and two, with an infant Clark Kent crash landing on Earth and raised with the values of his adoptive parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane). Over the years he has learnt to hide his abilities from the world, but now in his early thirties Kent has become increasingly alienated from humanity, uncertain of his place in society. When Earth is attacked by a group of rebellious Kryptonians lead by the ruthless General Zod (Michael Shannon), Clark is forced to finally reveal himself to the world and attempt to protect his adopted home planet from certain destruction.
Special effects have come a long way since Richard Donner’s original, from the wondrous opening sequence on the planet of Krypton to the stunningly over the top finale Snyder is able to finally bring to the big screen the over the top spectacle that the series has always needed and a feature that finally showcases Superman’s super-abilities. But at times he lets the special effects run rampant onscreen, sacrificing narrative for an endless barrage of set-piece after set-piece.
Where the film truly excels is showing the two people that have sculpted Clark’s identity, his Kryptonian father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his adopted father Jonathan Kent. One believes his son can achieve marvellous things on Earth, while the other is terrified that the boy’s abilities will cause him to be shunned by mankind.
Unlike Marlon Brando in the original Crowe gets considerable more screen-time, with much more of a back story built up between Jor-El and Michael Shannon’s Zod. But For me Costner steals the show as Clark’s overprotective foster parent, with some wonderfully touching moments onscreen between father and son.
Sadly though the same can’t be said for the other central character in Superman’s story, Lois Lane. Amy Adams seemed like a great choice to play the Daily Planet’s top investigative journalist, but here her character is given very little to do other than being the damsel in distress. While it’s true that Goyer’s screenplay slightly twists the dynamic of the two’s relationship, but it felt like too much was happening too quickly between the duo.
Shannon’s General Zod is a very different beast from Terrance Stamp’s original performance in Superman 2. Shannon’s version of the character shows him as an unwaveringly and fiercely patriotic warrior in comparison to Stamp’s portrayal of Zod as nothing more than a deranged, power-craving tyrant. He makes a great foil for Cavill’s Superman, but the real surprise was Israeli actress Antje Traue’s character Faora, Zod’s ruthless lieutenant. She’s has a much stronger female presence within the feature than Adams’ rather weak Lois Lane character.
The obvious cinematic comparison for this film to is Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins, which firmly rebooted the series and gave the director a platform to build upon. Sadly I can’t say the same for Snyder’s Man of Steel, It’s a solid enough superhero feature, but by no means is it spectacular. A strong first half is let down by an over-bloated second half that sacrifices narrative for CGI action.
For many viewers like myself Christopher Reeves will always be the one true Superman, but Cavill and Snyder have done just enough to give viewers and fans alike a Superman for a new era, and the strong foundations for a possible new super-franchise.
Review by William McClean