Man of Steel

Don’t worry, there are no major spoilers.
The planet Krypton is facing its final days.  To solve an energy crisis, the rulers of Krypton decided to harvest the planet’s molten core despite the warnings of dire consequences from leading scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe).  Now it appears the planet will implode in a few days.  Also, military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts a coup to overthrow the planet’s leadership and take on the task of saving his people.  Despite the battle raging all over the planet, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) succeed in placing their newborn son Kal-El in a spaceship and send him to a primitive planet called Earth.  Jor-El is killed by Zod but he and his followers fail in their power grab and are sentenced to the Phantom Zone.  Kal-El’s spaceship lands in Kansas on the farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane).  The Kent’s raise the baby they name Clark as their own.  As he grows, Clark’s alien abilities slowly develop, such as x-ray vision, incredible strength, ultra-sensitive hearing and the ability to emit extreme heat from his eyes.  Clark feels like a freak but his adoptive parents try to give him a strong moral center and believe Clark will grow up to be a great and gifted adult.  Wondering around Alaska, working various jobs to get by, the now adult Clark (Henry Cavill) hears of a discovery in the ice in the far north that peaks his interest.  The military has found some sort of object buried deep in the ice of a glacier and they are there investigating.  Clark manages to get a job on the site.  Also there is reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from the Metropolis newspaper the Daily Planet.  Despite the military’s objections, Lois is on hand to write about the discovery.  While taking pictures of the area, Lois notices a man walking high on the side of the glacier and she follows.  She discovers a perfectly round tunnel bored into the ice and begins walking through it.  The tunnel is the work of Clark’s heat vision.  He believes what’s buried in the ice is an alien spaceship.  When he arrives, Clark inserts a key sent with him from Krypton into a control panel slot and the ship comes to life.  A hologram of a man appears to him and explains that he is his father.  Jor-El tells Clark about Krypton, about its history, the coup attempt by Zod and explains why Clark has his unique abilities.  Meanwhile, Lois has reached the ship and an automated security device attacks and injures her.  Clark saves her and stops what he can see is internal bleeding.  Clark flies the ship to another more isolated location away from the military and deposits Lois on the ice where she can be found by rescuers.  At the ship’s new location, Clark learns more about Krypton and why his parents sent him to Earth.  He also is given a red and blue suit that is worn by all Kryptonians, displaying the family seal.  Jor-El says the symbol means hope on Krypton.  Clark/Kal-El will need all of his abilities to face the coming storm as General Zod and his followers have escaped their prison in the Phantom Zone and are looking for him.
“Man of Steel” is the most promoted film since “The Dark Knight Rises.”  The stakes are enormous as the film cost over $200-million to produce along with probably another $100-million in advertising.  The pressure for Warner Brothers Studios, Legendary Pictures, DC Comics and all the film’s production team must be crushing to make a huge blockbuster film that lives up to the expectations of millions of fans around the world.  The result is mixed as it is impossible to please everyone with a character who occupies a place in so many hearts and minds; however, the final product is largely satisfying.
The story is told in several flashbacks as Clark thinks back on his childhood and the major events of his upbringing as he travels.  It allows the film to give us the often told story of his Kansas childhood in a new way while moving the plot forward.  The story itself will seem familiar to “Superman II” with General Zod as the villain but this Zod has a very specific agenda in mind other than just stroking his megalomania.  The audience can almost sympathize with Zod’s plan and it seems at times that even Clark seems understanding but can’t allow the general to follow through on his idea.  The way Lois and Clark/Superman interact has also been given a significant adjustment.  Lois knows Superman’s secret identity early on and even is able to track down where his parents live.  This is a major change in their dynamic that will need more exploration in any future films.  There has also been a change in how Jonathon Kent dies which gives his death far more meaning to Clark and his emotional growth.
The various changes to canon may offend long-time fans of the Last Son of Krypton, but they should just let that animosity go.  When Christopher Nolan was brought on as producer, it was my opinion he would make sure director Zack Snyder did with Superman what Nolan did with Batman:  Ground the character in as much reality as possible.  A character that’s from another planet with the ability to fly, stop bullets, bend steel and see through walls is tough to make realistic.  Snyder, Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer manage to make this fantastical character as genuine as can be expected given his abilities.  While Cavill’s Superman lacks the goofy, innocent charm of Christopher Reeve’s version, the new Superman has a calm, forthright demeanor that suggests his everyman upbringing while still expressing his anger and frustration when faced with Zod and his minions in battle.
And there is plenty of Kryptonian on Kryptonian violence in “Man of Steel.”  Perhaps there’s too much.  While the aliens often are left briefly stunned by their fights, they can’t really harm each other to much of a degree.  Since kryptonite isn’t introduced in the film, Superman can’t use that as a weapon, so the battles feel like they go on and on and on.  There is also a great deal of damage caused to cars and buildings during these fights.  One must wonder how many people Zod and Superman killed as they punched each other through buildings and caused several other structures to collapse.  At one point in the film downtown Metropolis looks like Berlin at the end of World War II and Smallville doesn’t fare any better.  The repetitive nature of the fights is my biggest complaint about “Man of Steel” but I have another:  Amy Adams is miscast as Lois Lane.  While she has the dedicated reporter bit nailed down the attraction between her and Superman eludes me.  I can see why she is attracted to him but not why he is attracted to her.  The two lack any charisma as a couple and made their budding romance feel forced and unnatural.  Since a sequel is probably guaranteed maybe their relationship will make more sense in the next movie, but I doubt it.
Despite my misgivings about certain aspects of the film, “Man of Steel” is mostly a success.  When Superman first tries out his power of flight, it actually caused a chill to go down my back.  The combination of the CG and Cavill’s performance in the close ups touched the child that lives within me and his desire to soar on his own power among the clouds.  It was also a pleasure to see Clark/Kal-El/Superman use his abilities to help others and on one occasion gain revenge on a bully.  “Man of Steel” treats Superman much like anyone who is grounded, moral and average that just happens to have all these tremendous gifts.  It was good to see him treated and behave more like the common man and not a god among men.
“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.  As previously mentioned, there is a great deal of superhuman violence ranging from high-speed gut punches to bodies being slammed against the ground held by their ankles.  There is no gore or blood.  There are at least two deaths caused by twisting the head to break the neck.  There is also a stabbing.  Characters are shown shot with guns that shoot blue lightning-looking energy bolts.  Foul language is mild and widely scattered.
Superman takes a course of action that I’ve never seen in any TV or movie version of the character.  I don’t want to spoil the film so I won’t mention what it is.  While his choice is understandable, it was very jarring to see.  I have to wonder if the new, more grounded, more realistic take on Superman will lead to more of these choices in future films.  I sincerely hope Snyder, Nolan and Goyer are able to keep the character believable without turning him into a psycho.  Seeing that would break my heart.  As it is, “Man of Steel” is only a slightly revised take on this hero of my youth and I don’t feel betrayed by him at all.
“Man of Steel” gets four guitars out of five.
I’m taking this coming week off, so you’ll have two weeks to vote on the next movie I see and review.
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