The 21st century has so far been the century of the reboot. Some of them brilliant (Batman) and some of them shudderingly, vomit-inducingly, eye-gougingly bad (Total Recall, I’m looking at you with the eye I have left). While there are some odd moments and occasional lapses in pacing in Man of Steel, there are enough very well done moments to count it as a success.
The film begins on Krypton and it looks beautiful, I mean just genuinely stunning. It’s at moments like these where Zack Snyder’s vision really shines and yet again he delivers a visually astounding film. Never has the destruction of an entire planet occurred in such style, although unfortunately the naive and preachy environmentalist explanation for said destruction slightly taints the opening scenes. Nevertheless, those few moments on Krypton are far more ambitious than anything in previous Superman films and really sets the film on its way in a positive fashion.
If there’s one thing Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer can do, it’s write an origin story and here is no exception. For me, Clark Kent’s discovery of his true calling is the highlight of the film, explaining in a much more satisfactory way why he has his powers and how he dealt with them in his early years than any other Superman film. The moment where all his superhuman senses overwhelm him as a child is a powerful moment, providing the human, vulnerable side to a hero most people view as irritatingly invincible. If anything, the film could have focused more on this particular aspect of Superman, as the film seems to move fairly quickly through his time as an outsider. His discovery of his true origins in a way feels slightly rushed, yet still detailed. As you may be able to tell from the description, I am confused as to how I feel about this.
The film has odd pacing moments like this throughout, the largest being the bridge from Clark discovering who he is to immediately facing the main villain of the film, Michael Shannon’s General Zod. This is a moment where the plot slightly lets itself down, as there really isn’t much point to the first action scenes involving Superman and his Kryptonian adversaries except to show that Superman is ‘good’. I can’t shake the feeling that the story would have been better served playing out in a more typical origin story manner: taking on smaller enemies to establish himself and then facing the big bad.
However, that aside, Henry Cavill defies his pre-release critics with a superb turn as Superman, displaying humility, strength and far less of that cloying, cringe-worthy, party-line toeing of the dismal Brandon Routh from Superman Returns. In my view he outshines Christopher Reeve’s version, although I’m sure that particular view would be disputed among many rabid fanboys (if this review somehow managed to be read by more than 3 people and a particularly intelligent cat). Michael Shannon, at this stage firmly type-cast as ‘absolutely mental’, puts in a mixed performance good as Zod: there was something slightly off-putting about his portrayal, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It may be that he came across as slightly more unstable than I ever viewed Zod, and not really the cerebral military mastermind we’ve come to expect. Amy Adams steals the show (as she does in most films) as Lois Lane, for once a love interest that isn’t subject to standard sexist representations, yet without being overtly ‘kick-ass’. A genuinely decent love interest (cough, KATIE HOLMES, cough) is a real breath of fresh air to the usually overwhelmingly macho Superhero trend. This woman will win an Oscar at some point. She has to.
The final action scenes do create a problem for future franchise entries however. Without wanting to spoil, half of Metropolis is raised to the ground, and, although there is a very touching moment among the Daily Planet employees in this scene that steals the show, you do wonder how on Earth a sequel can top this level of destruction whilst still being able to suspend disbelief? You can only blow up so many planets and cities before people realise it’s a bit silly, Mr. Snyder. Just look where an attitude like that got Michael Bay.
It got him billions, but that’s not the point.
In the end that’s a problem for another day though, as Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer can put their feet up after a job well done. If nothing else, this film has the best “that’s what she said!” moment in theatres this year, and really, what else are we paying for?