Wednesday, June 19, 2013

REVIEW: Man of Steel (2013)

REVIEW:  Man of Steel (2013) ***

"Man of Steel" is a mixture of the old and the new. Superman was born on Krypton as Kal-El to Jor-El and Lara, and he's still sent to safety on Earth when his planet was doomed to destruction. Yet, from the very first moments, we see that this is not exactly the same story we saw unfold in the classic 1978 adaptation. Krypton is not an ice planet melted by the sun, but rather a technologically advanced world undone by forces within.

There are also changes to Kal-El's childhood. He was born naturally in a world where whole generations are genetically engineered in pods. He grows up on Earth as an outsider, a slight alteration from his original screen persona. In the original Christopher Reeve film, he also held back his true identity for the sake of his family, but here we are given more specific experiences that show why it would be harmful if others know about his abilities. This is best exemplified in a scene involving a sinking bus filled with children and the reaction to Kal-El's, now Clark Kent's, efforts to help.

As he becomes a man, Clark Kent leaves a trail of anonymous helpful deeds that arouse the interest of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist by the name of Lois Lane. By the time she discovers his identity, a new enemy has arrived in the form of Jor-El's Kryptonian nemesis General Zod.
Zod was a militant leader who staged a coup on their native planet, but was captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone. He has now returned to take over and rebuild Krypton on Earth. Of course, Clark Kent decides he cannot let this happen and fights back on behalf of the people while trying to gain their trust at the same time.

Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" works very well as a summer blockbuster, and presents an acceptable vision of the Superman legend as well. It includes a more futuristic, more action-packed and more robust story than the middling "Superman Returns." The cast is well-chosen, with a particular improvement being Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I never quite bought Kate Bosworth in the role, but Adams brings conviction as a tough reporter looking to get the story of the century. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring warmth and wisdom as our hero's adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. Russell Crowe is properly authoritative as Jor-El. Laurence Fishbourne is the wise-but-no-nonsense editor Perry White. And Michael Shannon brings his trademark intensity to the main villain General Zod. Then of course, there is Henry Cavill, who does a credible job in the title role. He is sturdy and powerful in right moments, while concerned and curious in others.

What the film lacks is more charm and humor. I'm not suggesting that we need Richard Pryor, or an equivalent comedian of today, to provide comic relief. Yet this film is mostly concerned with the action set-pieces, leaving less room for the more human moments to shine through. One of the reasons the first two Christoper Reeve Superman movies have remained so popular is their focus on the characters' interactions.

We do sense the emotional ties in this film, but not as much of the charismatic nature of the Man of Steel. I realize that this is a deliberate choice on the part of the film makers. They wanted to get away from the Richard Donner/Richard Lester aesthetic as much as possible, but a bit more lightheartedness couldn't hurt. We need more moments and lines. Remember Lois' interview with Superman on the balcony in the original? Or Terence Stamp's memorable line "Kneel before Zod!" in the second movie? There are precious few of those moments in "Man of Steel," and yet it is entertaining on its own terms. Because it does enough, and just enough, I will look forward to the sequel.

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