Movie Review: Man of Steel
As much as I was looking forward to the most anticipated movie event of the year, “Man of Steel,” I was nervous with all the hype and especially with Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”), who is known for visual overload, at the director’s chair. But when I caught a footage shown at the 2012 Comic-Con, I thought this retooling of Superman had a chance to be awe-inspiring. Christopher Nolan, director of the groundbreaking Batman trilogy, acting as producer, might have a hand in grounding “Man of Steel” in reality. “Man of Steel” revolves around the issue of what would happen if Superman really did exist in real life, in our time.
Unlike Batman, Superman has never been a dark character, but he’s hard to capture because of his perfect nature. Superman is an ideal that people strive to. The team of Synder, Nolan and David S. Goyer (writer) turn out to be a winning combination. The origin story doesn’t depart from the fundamentals, but it realistically tells a story that makes sense. It manages to tell a story about how this god-like being is not perfect. He is, instead, conflicted and alienated. He is struggling to trust, adjust and find his place in the world. The film balances the lighter nature of Superman with a darker reality of being an alien superhero in the gritty 21st century. “Man of Steel” revolutionizes Superman like “Batman Begins” did with Batman. The result is utterly phenomenal.
“Man of Steel” first introduces us to Krypton; a whole other world alien to us, like Asgard in “Thor.” Baby Kal-El (future Clark Kent and Superman) is the son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe, “The Next Three Days“) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer); the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Kryptonians are artificially engineered, bred for a special purpose in their multi-layered robe and cape-wearing society, such as warrior, worker or leader. General Zod (Michael Shannon , “Premium Rush“) and his crew are exiled after staging a coup against the ruling council and facing off with Chief Scientist Jor-El. Ironically, because they’re banished from the doomed planet, they are the ones who survive when Krypton bursts into flames. Jor-El and Lara launch baby Kal-El to earth, bringing along Codex with him, the DNA code of Kryptonians.
On Earth the scene opens with an adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavill, “Immortals“), a scruffy drifter and loner, hitchhiking and working odd jobs. While he’s anonymously doing some life-saving work during an oil rig explosion, we see flashbacks to his troubled childhood and adolescence. The special relationships between Clark and his parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner, “The Company Men“) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane, “Under the Tuscan Sun“) are poignantly shown in a number of touching moments. An event that results in a painful personal loss could spark a debate of what Clark should have done.
Alone and bullied, the lonely kid grows up being different, isolated because of the need to keep his superpowers a secret. The scenes are truly heartfelt and it’s believable to see how unsettling it is to be so powerful yet powerless. He is shown as being confused and trying to control his overwhelming powers, having to hide his identity while saving lives and pretending to be a normal kid. Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing and if the world is not ready, getting discovered could mean that Clark would be trapped and experimented on.
Clark has to decide what kind of man he wants to become, and never doubt that eventually the time will come where he will have to decide what kind of world he chooses to live in. He will have to make a choice, and sacrifice, if he intends to become greater than society intends him to be. There’s a reason that he’s put on Earth and it is his destiny to change the world.
In the Arctic Clark runs into Lois Lane (Amy Adams, “Leap Year“) for the first time. She’s there to investigate a spacecraft buried in ice. In the spacecraft, Clark encounters the spirit of his biological father and comes to terms with his identity and destiny. His journey as Superman begins. His first flight (and stumble) traipsing the varied landscapes of earth and soaring into space is divinely exhilarating. As far as Lois goes, she’s more than a love interest, or even a Pulitzer-winning reporter; she’s proactive and very involved in the world’s affairs, an active participant and a confidant right from the start. She’s someone with whom the private, guarded Clark/Superman, in all his extraordinary strength and vulnerability, can simply be himself. She is actually someone that Superman couldn’t help but fall for.
When General Zod finds that Kal-El has been living his whole life on Earth, he and his army, led by ruthless Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), comes calling and demands that earthlings surrender him. What’s unique about Zod here is that he doesn’t have a villain’s typical motivation to conquer Earth. His motivation is refreshingly understandable and there’s a strange sense of honor in his brutally deplorable actions. The newly minted Superman must take a leap of faith and lead the way. As a symbol of hope, he must decide whether to trust and protect the skeptical humans, or join his own people and ensure the survival of his race. Spectacular destruction and explosions ensue; fiery all-out war on an unprecedented scale, surpassing even “The Avengers.” While they could seem repetitive for some, the extent of decimation is plausible when alien superpowers collide. Interestingly, the end of Zod ends on a personally agonizing note, but it fits with the theme of this film.
Casting is absolutely impeccable. Cavill’s path to don the cape has been paved with trials. He was the guy who lost out. He first auditioned for the Superman role with one director over a decade ago. He was so close to being Edward Cullen in “Twilight” and lost out to Robert Pattinson. Again, he came so close to being James Bond and lost out to Daniel Craig. And finally, so close to being Superman himself and lost out to Brandon Routh when the project switched director. As it turns out, he was destined to be Superman. The guy who lost out is the right guy after all, a winner by all accounts with his human portrayal as Clark Kent, the last son of Krypton and savior of mankind. A real Man of Steel, Cavill carries the weight of the iconic superhero’s future franchise and potential for the all-star ensemble Justice League movie. In some ways, Christopher Reeve will forever be Superman, but Cavill is the Superman for this generation. He is exactly how I’d imagine Superman would be, even without the suit.
“Man of Steel” is grandeur and epic, but it’s also deep and personal. The vast scope, intense and extensive battles, modernized suit, extravagant visual effects and thunderous score are amazing, but it’s the powerfully realistic story that makes this Superman able to be related to, and thus an enduring superhero. The closing scene is perfect and shows great promise of what’s to come.
“Superman Returns” was immensely lovely, but Superman returns at last with “Man of Steel.” This is the Superman movie we’ve all been waiting for.
Copyright (c) 2013. Nathalia Aryani.
Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, film columnist and travel/lifestyle writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nathalia owns a movie blog, The MovieMaven (http://sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: http://twitter.com/the_moviemaven