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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel Movie Review


Full disclosure: I'm a big Superman fan. I get giddy even hearing rumors about a new Superman movie. Let me put it this way: not only did I religiously watch every episode of "Smallville" but I'm actually one of the few that liked "Superman Returns".

It's taken me a while to understand why Bryan Singer's 2006 flop wasn't embraced by the fans or the public, but I get it now: that film not only revered the Superman mythology but also the 1970s Richard Donner films (which I grew up on and loved). I, like that movie, was stuck in the past.

So it gives me great pleasure to say that with "Man of Steel" this generation finally has its very own Superman movie. And it's a triumph.

It's not a surprise that the team to make it happen is the same one behind the Batman reboot. The story, by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, is every bit as reverent and grounded (and - frankly - humorless) as the Christian Bale "Batman" movies. Though it lacks some of the fun (and the John Williams score) typically associated with everyone's favorite Kryptonian, "Man of Steel" gives the Superman character a place in the pantheon of great, modern superhero films.

The script's smart structure (like that of "Batman Begins") wisely dispenses with a linear origin story - instead, intercutting scenes of his boyhood travails in Smallville with the adult Clark Kent trying to find his place in society. When we meet Clark, he's a wanderer, taking odd jobs across the country. This leads him to a mysterious discovery beneath the ice in Canada, and a wily reporter named Lois Lane (a perfectly prickly Amy Adams).

Henry Cavill wears Clark's super-burden well. He's torn between his Kryptonian upbringing (typified by Russell Crowe in a nicely subdued turn) and his Kansas adopted parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, both effective and affecting). The story is driven by Clark's struggle to become a hero and reveal himself to a world that might not be ready. This is all given a jumpstart by the appearance of General Zod (Michael Shannon, finding his own take on an iconic character in a way Benedict Cumberbatch could not in "Star Trek Into Darkness") who has plans of his own for Earth.

If "Man of Steel" suffers from one thing it's PAMD: Post-"Avengers" Mess Disorder" - the need to take mayhem to preposterous levels. Like the NYC climax in Joss Whedon's opus, and the recent (and needless) San Francisco starship crash in "Star Trek Into Darkness", the final battle in "Man of Steel" features an almost incomprehensible amount of destruction. It gets so ridiculous that when a bystander remarks, "He saved us!", you actually find yourself thinking, "Did he?" Even with the countless trillions of dollars in damage and lives lost? (Lest we forget, Christopher Reeve's Superman knew to lead Zod out of Manhattan to protect the city.)

But I digress. "Man of Steel" is the Superman movie we've been waiting for. This is easily director Zack Snyder's most mature movie - even taking "Watchmen" into account. He finally finds the balance between worship and respect; mimicry and adaptation. The effects are flawless, the fights between the Kryptonians are appropriately brutal, and there's none of the fetishistic slo-mo that scuttled his ill-conceived "Sucker Punch".

As a side note: don't bother with the 3D version of the film - it was added in post-production and adds nothing to the film. This may be ironic in light of Clark Kent's signature disguise, but "Man of Steel" makes the Superman character three-dimensional without the need for the funny glasses.

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