Man of Steel – review

Henry Cavill as Superman

Henry Cavill as Superman

With any new superhero character reboot, the following mantra applies to the filmmakers: with great power comes great responsibility. Now this may be the conundrum Spider-Man faces, but it is an age-old moral quandary that is relevant for most comic-book heroes and those who attempt recreate them.

The director of Man of Steel is Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) and the producer is Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento) and the same applies to them, especially as Man of Steel is an origin story of the most iconic superhero of all time. Any false move and fervent fans will have the cast and crew up on charges of heresy, blitzing the digital world in droves with their disapproval.

However, these are trustworthy men when it comes to comic-book adaptations. Watchmen was a classy portrayal of DC’s vigilante supergroup, whilst Nolan’s reimagining of Batman pushed the boundaries of superhero films, creating epics that aligned themselves with modern society. With Nolan (also co-writer of Man of Steel) and Snyder at the helm, and a cast that includes Oscar winners, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, and the ever-nominated Amy Adams, all things suggested that the project was in safe hands.

Whatever your overriding opinion on the resulting picture, you’d be hard pushed denying that this latest version of Superman on the big screen was worth the wait, for excitement and entertainment alone. The estimated budget for the film was over £200 million – and it shows – and most of this money was recouped in commercial deals even before the astronomical takings in its first week of release.

The action is visually stunning and the boat has been pushed out in terms of CGI, as the skyscrapers of Metropolis are decimated before our eyes, but is not all about special effects, as many of the films on the conveyor belt of comic-book adaptations have left fans hollow and CGI-d out with their all-action approach.

So, does Man of Steel deliver on content and themes, in addition to adrenaline-pumping action? Does it give us the Superman we have been all waiting for?

The critics’ response was mixed, many slightly disappointed, whereas if IMDB ratings are anything to go by, the fans view seems to be pretty upbeat.

Henry Cavill feels a good fit for Superman. He looks the part, has an enviable physique and seems to embody the morally-dependable hero. The scenes depicting Clark Kent growing up and dealing with the burden of his powers and the trouble he encounters suppressing and hiding these “gifts” – the earlier years are played by child actors – is well built and convincing and there are good turns by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner playing Clark’s adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, as they bravely guide their son through his youth, teaching him principles and virtues, whilst trying to protect him from inevitable intrigue and fear from the wider world.

We briefly see the origin of this unique individual, where Clark (named Kal-El) is sent to earth as a baby by his real parents, Jor-El [Russell Crowe] and Lara Lor-Van [Ayelet Zurer], from Krypton, a doomed planet with an unstable core due to its inhabitants exhausting the natural resources, to save the future of their race.

Before Krypton is destroyed, military leader General Zod attempts to overthrow the governing council, and is against Jor-El’s decision to send their naturally-born son – natural births are outlawed – to another planet. For his violent actions, Zod is sentenced to 40 years exiled in the “Phantom Zone”, but the demise of Krypton frees him and his renegade warriors and sets them on a mission to source a habitable planet and seek out Kal-El.

Unfortunately, this part of the story in the film is as brief as that plot summary, overshadowed by long, drawn-out fight scenes between the impossibly powerful and resilient titans, Superman and Zod. This is a great shame, because the period in Krypton feels rushed and heavily-truncated. The Kryptonian armoury and infrastructure is intricate and impressive and the scenery on the planet is intriguing, and you wish the filmmakers dedicated much more screen time to it.

The immense battle leaves you wondering where the subsequent sequel goes from here. A certain Lex Luther has his work cut out to match Zod, who is played with great intensity and fury by the ever-impressive Michael Shannon, who makes Terrance Stamp’s Zod look modest in comparison.

Another resulting factor is the problem of shallow character development in virtually everyone but Clark/Kal-El. The infamous go-getting reporter, Lois Lane [Adams], for example, feels a little one-dimensional. Hopefully this is something that will be addressed in future instalments.

On the whole, Man of Steel is an impressive effort from Snyder and co, and the director should be congratulated for creating ambitious action scenes that look realistic (as realistic as flying people can be) despite being CGI-heavy, with clever use of drone/surveillance-style camera work, that zooms in and out in harmony with the supersonic beings. It is certainly good enough to wipe away the disappointing recent memory of Bryan Singer’s 2006 film Superman Returns.

Man of Steel (12A)
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Ayelet Zurer, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix.
Running time: 143 minutes

Man of Steel is showing at the Hackney Picturehouse throughout June and July