RELEASED: June 14th 2013
DIRECTED BY: Zack Snyder
WRITTEN BY: David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
PRODUCED BY: Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder
MUSIC BY: Hans Zimmer
STARRING: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane & Laurence Fishburne
I remember when this film came out, I had no real interest in seeing it. I wasn’t really all that big on Superman, and much preferred the heroes over at Marvel, and the films that had begun spinning out of their series. An exception, of course, was Batman, and as such I had loved The Dark Knight series (there was a point during my teenage years where I would even watch Dark Knight every Saturday evening after bringing food home from the takeaway I worked at).
But then my friends invited me along to see it, and I instantly fell in love. And not only did I fall in love with the film, but I also began to fall in love with the character of Superman.
The film sees an updated origin for the Man of Steel, following Clark Kent’s life through his birth, the fall of Krypton, his childhood life, his years travelling and finally his discovery of the remenants of his destroyed world. However, before Clark can fully embrace his Kryptonian heritage, he is called out by fellow Kryptonian survivor and military leader General Zod and his army, who have designs on terraforming Earth into a new Krypton.
I think the reason this film resonates with me so much is because it doesn’t necessarily give you your standard superhero film. Sure, there are superhero elements, but it’s real more of a hard science-fiction film that features Superman in the lead. This much is obvious from the first twenty minutes, which sees Superman’s Kryptonian father, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe) trying to save his people from the imminent destruction of Krypton. These scenes feature a fantastical depiction of Krypton, with beautifully conceptualised technology and culture and a landscape rich with its own unique fauna and flora, all the while showcasing the two strongest stars of the film, Crowe’s Jor-El and the villain of the piece, General Zod (played by Michael Shannon).
In Zod, both in the Krypton prelude sequence and the main film, we get a sublime villain. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I would argue that he is one of the best villains to come out of the superhero genre since Heath Ledger’s unforgettable portrayal of the Joker. But unlike the Joker, Zod isn’t just creating chaos for the sake of chaos. As he lays out in a monologue prior to the climactic fight, Kryptonian society has dictated the path he would take in life, and so ‘every action [he] take[s], no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of [his] people’, so when that final battle begins (as seen below) he’s not just snapped and gone mad, he’s somewhat justified in taking on our hero. And even just ignoring the story and looking to the actor, Michael Shannon gives a dynamite performance; his composed and sinister nature is unnerving, and when his anger breaks through you can tell, from his words or even just the way he trembles with rage, what a threat he is.
The other actors, while perhaps not as rave-worthy, also deliver solid performances. Amy Adams is likeable as romantic interest Lois Lane. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent, while a departure from what fans might expect, delivers some heartwarming moments and is intrinsic to how this Superman is constructed. Laurence Fishburne steals the limited number of scenes he has. Even some of the miscellaneous Kryptonians make strong side-adversaries.
The only exception is perhaps Henry Cavill. That’s not to say he’s a bad actor; you can tell he’s good at what he does from the various facial expressions and the way he conveys things through his body language that he was a good choice for the role. It’s just that, with so much going on, when he gets to speak (which isn’t as much as you would think, compared to Shannon and Crowe) it sometimes comes across as a little flat.
I would argue, however, that that doesn’t actually matter, in the context of this film anyway. Man of Steel works so well because it has its own unique identity. The beautifully grainy cinematography that gives it both a homely feel in some scenes and a severely alien one in others (even when it’s just shots of the Superman’s rich colour scheme contrasting with the drab backgrounds of Earth), doesn’t necessarily give you a ‘start of a franchise’ feel, so much as an ‘here’s a unique stand-alone take on Superman’ one. It’s not concerned (clearly, as we would unfortunately later find out) with creating a universe for others to play in, so much as it is focused on being the best film it can be. A epic character study – not just of Superman, but of society and humanity as a whole.
And it really is epic (which again, would become problematic down the line). The way the film features the powers of the Kryptonians makes them truly feel like Gods among men. Their speed, the raw physical strength; it’s awesome (in the true sense of the word).
What really gets me, however, on top of all that, is the soundtrack.
Alongside having one of the better villains from a comic-book film in the past decade, I would also argue that Man of Steel has one of the best soundtracks from any superhero film. It’s beautifully emotional, fierce, raw and speaks to a message of hope that is at the core of the Superman mythology. It’s a masterpiece, by itself, and when added to the film it makes everything work so much better, taking the characters actions and pushing them to mythic heights.
All-in-all, I give this:
For being a solid film (perhaps one of my favourites) that ignited in me a passion for Superman.
Oh, I suppose there is that little problem of the fact Lois gets randomly taken by the Kryptonians for no reason other than the fact the plot needs her to meet Jor-El’s hologram, but whatever, reviews over.