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For the past few years I have hoped against hope that I wouldn’t be disappointed by Man of Steel. I was rather pleased with the announcement that Zack Snyder would be directing, and with a script/story from David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, my hopes and expectations were fairly high. Seeing the finished product in theaters this past weekend, I am relieved to report that Man of Steel was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more. It’s not only the best summer blockbuster this year – it is also the absolute best Superman film in existence as well as one of the best comic book movie adaptations.
Man of Steel is an origin film, but it is an origin film unlike any other. Employing a scattered narrative told through various methods (including non-intrusive flashbacks), the movie tells the well-known story of Clark Kent/Kal-El, the alien infant sent to earth as the last son of Krypton, a dying far-off planet. As noted, this is a different origin story from what a long-time Superman fan might expect, and this was the biggest and most welcomed surprise for me. The focus in this film is surprisingly tight; there’s very little Daily Planet, disguised Clark Kent, etc. Man of Steel chooses instead to be just about the man himself (as well as his obvious struggles and turmoil).
Man of Steel is an incredibly quiet and dramatic film when it’s not a bombastic summer blockbuster, and the quieter moments are often its best parts. The film is aided by a charismatic Henry Cavill as the titular Man of Steel, and the moments he gets with his father figures, played by Russell Crowe (as Jor-El, space dad) and Kevin Costner (as Jonathan Kent, earth dad) are played to great effect. I also enjoyed this particular adaptation of Lois Lane, played by a confident Amy Adams. Lane is strong and capable with minimal need to be rescued over and over again. Diane Lane plays Martha Kent, Superman’s adopted mother, and while her overall screen time is short, her scenes are also great, particularly a haunting scene with Clark in school as a child.
There is plenty of blockbuster filmmaking on display in Man of Steel. The opening scenes, set on the alien Krypton, feature an all-out military assault on a dying planet that is, quite frankly, brilliant. I honestly could have watched an entire movie about Crowe’s Jor-El facing off against the villainous General Zod (played by Michael Shannon, who is becoming one of my favorite actors). I absolutely loved the fight choreography, and Antje Trauer’s performance as Faora must be singled out here. She looks simply great in her action scenes and is in a way more intimidating than Zod. The final third of the film is nearly non-stop action. In another movie, I might be inclined to zone out during such a long stretch of destruction, but I never wanted to do this during Man of Steel.
There are complaints to be had in Man of Steel. The film is absurdly long at 143 minutes. I understand the need to give audiences their money’s worth, but the end product feels about 15 minutes too long. Additionally, some of the editing choices in the film were questionable, including a much-ballyhooed part of the film where Superman is hand-cuffed and taken into custody. Lastly, the film has the need to re-explain or over-explain plot points when it doesn’t need to. While I enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Jor-El, he is sometimes reduced to being a vehicle for unnecessary exposition, which is unfortunate. On the whole, however, this is pretty quality blockbuster filmmaking.
One of my biggest complaints about the Marvel Studios movies is how boring and staid the scenery is. This is definitely not the case in Man of Steel. Everything looks lived-in; everything has a touchable quality to it. The Kryptonian technology in the film looks alien and frightening. The villains present a palpable threat, not only to Superman himself but also to the entire world. The film is fully realized and action packed. The world-building must be commended as well. Man of Steel isn’t perfect, but it is the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight, and I look forward to the future of the franchise. Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan have acquitted themselves quite well, as was to be expected.