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Review: Man of Steel

Warner Bros. Pictures: Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel"For some, it might come as a surprise when I say that there was a time when Superman was easily the most popular superhero the world had ever seen. Not only was the celebrated hero also known as “The Man of Steel” more beloved than the likes of Batman, he was perceived as being an extremely important aspect of American society during the times when the U.S. was at war overseas way back when. I bring up Batman specifically due to the fact that he’s now been viewed as the preeminent hero in the world of comic book characters for decades now.

It may even surprise some, that The Dark Knight’s ascension to the top of the comic book food chain actually had very little to do with comic books. He actually flew past Superman and anyone else in his way “faster than a speeding bullet” primarily due to Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Batman. This movie created a movement that was “more powerful than a locomotive,” and pushed Superman into the shadows where he hasn’t been able to escape since.

They’ve tried to bring him back from those shadows, but nothing seems to work as well as they would have liked it to. The last attempt came back in 2006 when they released Superman Returns. The movie was a decent success at the box office, but it failed when comparing it to many of the other comic book movies that came out before and after it. Nevertheless, the people at Warner Bros. appear to be intent on getting Superman back in the race. It makes sense since there’s so much money involved in it, but how can they get it to work?

One thing they might have had in mind, was creating a film that resembled the likes of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In order to make that happen, Christopher Nolan and his movie making associates were brought in to bring this once immensely popular franchise back to life. Obviously, these are the same people who returned Batman back to respectability after that dreadful Batman and Robin movie, so I can see where they got this line of thinking.

Although his inclusion is seen as important, he’s not in the same situations that he’s familiar with. Unlike the Batman trilogy that came to a close in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan isn’t in the director’s chair. His involvement with Man of Steel sees him as a co-writer (with David S. Goyer) and one of the producers. The role of director has been given to Zack Snyder. He’s the guy behind 300 and The Watchmen.

When I first heard of his involvement, I was skeptical of this mix, because Snyder doesn’t have too many ideas that one would consider to be original and he’s a pretty crappy director in my eyes. 300 and The Watchmen are his most successful films and they are close to being exact copies of the material that they came from. However, I was more than willing to give this a chance. That was mainly due to the involvement of Nolan and his team, but it also had to do with the attempt to bring back Superman. Even though he’s not my favorite superhero, I still like him.

Man of Steel opens up at the point where the planet of Krypton is on the verge of destruction. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is worried about the future and save his people if possible. General Zod (Michael Shannon) has the same understanding of what is about to happen to their home planet, but his ideas are a bit more extreme. The two can never see eye to eye on the solution, and neither can get their superiors to react as they wish.

This leads to more strife and struggle during the life-threatening situation that the planet is facing. When you add to the fact that they are under an extremely heavy-handed version of control due to the strict nature of society, it puts them in a position that’s nearly impossible to improve things. For centuries now, the rulers of Krypton haven’t allowed natural births on the planet. That’s significant, because Jor-El’s son Cal-El, is actually the first in hundreds of years.

With that in mind, Jor-El knows that he has something special with his son, and ships him off to an alien planet in order to protect him and the future of his people. Not knowing where he came from or who his parents actually are, Cal-El lands on planet Earth and is raised by the Kent’s (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), a married couple that resides in Kansas. They give him the name of Clark and raise him as their own. From there, he moves on in life to find who he really is and what his purpose is going to be.

It was said beforehand that this wouldn’t be a movie about the origins of Superman, and in a sense, they told the truth. They don’t actually go through the motions of extensively showing his childhood and his personal discovery of who he is. Instead of doing that, flashbacks are actually used over the early parts of the film to help the audience understand what led him up to this point. Because of that, I guess you can say Man of Steel is an origins story without it actually being an origins story.

Anyway, if you’re familiar with Superman 2 starring Christopher Reeve, you’ll also be familiar with the story that’s used in Man of Steel. It’s close to the same story, but with better special effects and a Black version of Perry White  (Laurence Fishburne). You’ll be able to point out a significant number of parts in this movie and completely associate them with Superman 2 and I guess a small amount of the Superman film that preceded that one.

Like Superman 2, General Zod is the main antagonist and Superman has the knockdown, drag out fights that he’s already had before. The action that is shown in Man of Steel managed to be solid in the beginning, but it dissolves into the characters simply smashing and crushing everything in sight. Buildings are being destroyed, streets are being turned into dust and the camera has a hard time keeping up. I can describe it as saying that it kind of reminded of a Michael Bay movie. That’s not a compliment.

Man of Steel feels like a cartoon with a huge budget attached to it. There’s no substance involved and the entire movie begins to feel stretched out and overcooked while at the same time, never feeling complete. From my perspective, Zack Snyder has failed yet again when it comes to making a good movie. Why was he even given the chance to make this movie? Didn’t the people behind this see what he did with The Watchmen and Sucker Punch?

When Immortals was released in 2011, I remember pointing out how bad of an actor Henry Cavill was in that movie. He delivered a flat performance with very little emotion and no personality. I also stated how I hoped he’d do a better job as Superman and that he’d probably be better off starring as Robocop. Unfortunately, my stance hasn’t changed much with his performance in Man of Steel. Cavill once again did his best job of imitating a robot and he really doesn’t appear to have much range as an actor.

The guy has zero charisma and he didn’t do much in this movie. There’s no depth to his character and I don’t know why he was even cast in the role. He looked the part, but he doesn’t have any qualities that one might expect from a superhero who once had the world’s attention decades ago. Why did they do it this way? Why throw Cavill into this role? Why not give it to an actor who can actually act? There’s a lot riding on this franchise, and the folks at Warner Bros. should have made sure Man of Steel much stronger than it is.

Speaking of looks, I also have to talk about Amy Adams being cast as Lois Lane. Being a heterosexual man, I don’t judge men by their looks, but I’d imagine that this version of Superman would have a good number of women to choose from. With that being said, I doubt he’d fall for someone as average looking as Amy Adams. That is unless he had low self-esteem and/or low standards. If either one of those are true, someone needs to talk to this dude about that.

Man of Steel is a movie that simply should have and could have been better in multiple ways. It’s full of simplistic action and underdeveloped characters that have very little personality to go with all of the other failures that are witnessed. I’d imagine that we’re going to see a sequel to this. If we do, hopefully the necessary adjustments are made to improve it. Bringing in a good director and getting Cavill some acting lessons would be a start. How about getting a Lois Lane that’s at least almost attractive?

Score: 2/5

Rating: PG-13

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast:
Henry Cavill
Amy Adams
Russell Crowe
Michael Shannon
Kevin Costner
Diane Lane
Laurence Fishburne
Antje Traue

Film Length: 148 minutes

Release Date: June 14, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

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