It would be wrong of me to start this review without a little bit of history. Mostly because it has become a habit of mine over the course of these Superman film reviews. So here it is. Man of Steel was originally the title for the sequel to Superman Returns. Right, that’s out the way, now onto the review. Click the link to find out what I thought of Man of Steel!
Let us get stuck right in with the plot shall we? Superman is the baby Moses and his daddy sent him down the river that is space to Earth. He grows up with a bunch of super powers he learns to control whilst also being instilled with a strong sense of morals by his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). They tell him to do his best to keep his identity a secret for fear of how the people of Earth would react to him should they find a practical God living in their midst. Personally, I’d kneel before him for fear of my brain being fried by heat vision. Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) pretty much spends most of his life jumping from job to job doing good deeds and then disappearing. Eventually his secretive hand is forced to be played when General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives in Earth’s orbit demanding the last son of Krypton, that’s Clark by the way, be handed over to him. There’s a Macguffin in the form of a device called the Codex that Zod wants but, whatever… right? For the last hour stuff blows up.
What I am essentially saying is that Man of Steel is not a particularly strong story driven film. What it is instead in one hell of an origin and action spectacular. The film does wrestle with themes such as what it would mean for a God to be living among us, how people react with fear to things they don’t understand and so on but it isn’t a smart film by any standard. Hell, they explain terraforming at least 3 times. I actually chuckled when one of the military captains, who looks about 14, asked “what’s that?” when we had already been told twice. One of these explanations of terraforming comes in a dream sequence. This is stupid because it essentially means that Superman dreamt up Zod’s scheme whilst passed out and was just lucky that he was right. Like I said, not a smart film.
It is really, really satisfyingly action packed though. I’m pretty sure super powers have never been depicted to this sort of extreme before now. It’s the sort of powers you caught glimpses of in the Superman and Justice League animated series and then some. Director Zach Snyder doesn’t use much slow mo at all, I only recall one shot to be honest, but instead he has something far more dynamic in its place. He uses the full speed of the characters involved in the fights to have them snap in a blur from one comic book action pose to another as they land and trade blows. I don’t want to ruin the last hour of the film but the word apocalyptic comes to mind when you see the scale of the destruction going on here. The scary part is that it is made clear that Superman is still learning how to fully use his powers. To add to that, Zod and his army haven’t adjusted to Earth’s super power giving yellow Sun and so they are not near full power. They are more ruthless, aggressive and better trained than Supes, so the fight evens out a little.,
The scale that the powers are depicted with almost makes the very muted colour tone seem at odds with the sort of action depicted. The film’s tone is very drab and what some directors would call “real world” visually. Snyder even utilises a lot of that dreaded hand-held documentary style camera work one his peers probably told him was a good idea to use. Unless you’re making Kids or Spinal Tap hand held shaky camera work for dialogue scenes is not going to convince anyone of any real world aspirations. Especially when your lead is clad head to toe in blue rubber.
Oh, about that suit… The red (under/over)pants on Superman’s costume from the comics are a design choice to break up the flow of the suit an make it more visually interesting to look at. There’s plenty of ways to accomplish this sort of aesthetic in a film with this visual tone but Snyder decided not to. The result is that Superman looks like he is wearing a rubber onesie. Which is only a few steps away from bondage. There are the traditional elements needed, such as the emblem and one awesome looking cape, but I just can’t help but feel that the suit looks off. Something a little more like the Evil Superman costume from Injustice: Gods Among Us could have worked. The suit does look its best during the daytime scenes, where it can be lit up nice and bright with the sun reflecting off the musculature of the design.
Performance wise the film is pretty solid. I’m not sure I buy Amy Adams as the Lois Lane we all know but, that said, this is quite a different Superman world. There is one major difference in the relationship between Superman and Lois (that I won’t spoil) that would mean he usual attitude towards Clark Kent wouldn’t fly in future films. Michael Shannon plays Zod as a far more deranged villain than Terence Stamp ever did. This isn’t a man that just walks calmly into the oval office and demand the world be put under his control. He’s come to F everyone in the A and he’s gonna do it. Kevin Costner shows that, when he isn’t being self indulgent, he can be one compelling actor. That said, I hated what they did with his death. Again, I won’t spoil it but it was ridiculous when you consider how bad Clark had been at hiding his powers. Cavill is a fine Superman. He’s a little less boy scout and more just a general caring guy struggling with holding himself back all the time. When he flies for the first time, though, the joy on his face as he realises he may not need to hide anymore is magical. Jesus does Snyder know how to depict flying. And hovering for that matter. He makes Cavill look like an icon just by having him float in front of an army.
A special mention must go to Hans Zimmer’s score. It is monumentally epic in every sense of the words. It may lack a little subtlety but it accompanies the action, themes and mood of each scene exceptionally. It doesn’t have anything that’s as instantly hum-able as the John Williams classic but it does a fine job of sticking with you after the film is done. If anything the score to Man of Steel proves that Hans Zimmer is one versatile composer. You might say that you’d be able to tell a Han Zimmer score from the first few notes but go look at his imdb page and tell me The Ring had a score that sounded anything like this. He doesn’t just do action adventure.
Overall you could do a hell of a lot worse than going to see Man of Steel. It may not be as much fun, in the traditional sense of the word, as say Iron man 3 but so far I can safely say it’s been the best of the summer movies. It is epic scale Superman unchained from the shackles of visual technology like never before. Forget believing a man can fly. You’ll believe he can level a mountain in a single punch by the time you’re done with this film. Actually you’ll believe that about an hour in because he kind takes the top off a mountain in one scene. It was an accident though. If it was on purpose the whole thing would have gone.