Zack Snyder has a definite visual flair to his movies. From 300 to Watchmen to Sucker Punch, Snyder has shown himself to be a director that can capture big action on the big screen. Now, along with producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) and script writer David S. Goyer, Snyder brings to the screen a remarkable and definitive vision of one of the greatest superheroes ever created. Man of Steel is the best Superman movie to date, hands down, as well as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Finally, DC gets a live action flick that measures up to the quality of Nolan’s Batman films, and with a sequel already greenlit, may have another great franchise to match Nolan’s trilogy. This is a Superman movie that is designed for the 21st century, and turns the mythos on its head just enough to make it fresh while still respecting the source material. And for those new to Superman, this is a great starting point, and long time fans will appreciate the new take on the familiar origin story.
The movie opens on Krypton, a planet on the verge of destruction due to the unrestrained harvesting of its natural resources, as well as being on the brink of a civil war. Jor-El (played splendidly by Russell Crowe) and his wife, Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), embrace the birth of their son, Kal-El, the first child born naturally on Krypton in centuries. Jor-El knows that this child represents the last hope for Krypton, undertaking this path though he knows it goes against all of his society’s conventions. He warns the council of the planet’s impending doom, only to have the proceedings interrupted by General Zod (a perfectly cast Michael Shannon). Zod executes a council member, and places the others under arrest, as well as arresting Jor-El. This leads to an exciting chase, as Jor-El breaks free of his captors to get back to his wife and child. A small ship is prepared for the infant Kal-El, and before Zod and his cohorts can stop it, the ship is launched into space, with a course set for Earth. The movie then flashes forward to Kal-El as a young man (a terrific Henry Cavill) serving as a crew member aboard a fishing vessel. In one of the movie’s many spectacular action sequences, Kal-El, aids in the rescue of a crew from a burning oil rig. The movie covers the young Kryptonian’s childhood on Earth in flashbacks, where he has been raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and given the name Clark, moving things along as the young man tries to find his way in the world, taking on various jobs and drifting from town to town. One of the jobs he undertakes in his travels takes him to the Arctic, where the U.S. military has discovered a mysterious object in the ice. Reporter Lois Lane arrives to cover the story (played here wonderfully by the always charming Amy Adams), and one night, follows Clark as he heads towards the mystery craft. Clark learns his true name and heritage, and Lois returns back to her employer, the Daily Planet, with an incredible story. Her editor, Perry White (a very good Laurence Fishburne), refuses to publish the story, which naturally leads the headstrong reporter to leak it online. Eventually, things attract the attention of not only the US government but General Zod himself. Zod, along with his cohorts, had been condemned to the Phantom Zone prior to Krypton’s destruction, but when the planet was destroyed he found he and his accomplices were now free to roam the universe. He makes his way to Earth, and in an ominous message, informs Earth that they are not alone in the universe, and that one of his fellow Kryptonians has been hiding among them. He demands that the Earth surrenders Kal-El, or else they will be destroyed. Clark, in an effort to save the Earth, gives himself up, leading to him learning of Zod’s ultimate plan and a confrontation with the former Kryptonian general.
The movie is loaded from start to finish with incredible action sequences, from a thrilling chase in the skies above Krypton to an exploding oil rig to the climactic battle over Metropolis. The special effects showing the carnage are extremely well done, as are the scenes showcasing Superman’s powers. There’s never a dull moment, and even the quieter moments offer some nice dramatic performances from the cast. There’s a nice theme of moral choices that runs through the movie’s 143 minute running time, balancing Clark’s need to help humanity while also trying to protect his identity. The film does a nice job of showing how both fathers shaped Superman into being the person he is, and both Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner do an excellent job in their respective roles. While we don’t see as much of Superman’s Kryptonian mother, Diane Lane makes the most of her part in raising the alien child. Henry Cavill makes for a perfect Superman, looking and acting the part, knowing that he not only has incredible power, but that he needs to temper that with great responsibility. Amy Adams is a spunkier and smarter Lois Lane, and it served the film much better that she knew of Clark’s real identity from the beginning, rather than being fooled by the addition of glasses as her character has been portrayed in past movies. The movie also offers up some fan service, with tanker trucks being marked with Lexcorp (though Lex himself never makes an appearance, perhaps being held back for the sequel) and a satellite marked with the Wayne Enterprise logo.
Man of Steel is just a fantastic movie from start to finish, always entertaining, with some genuine humor sprinkled in amongst the spectacularly staged action scenes. The entire cast all perform well in their roles, contributing to this being the best Superman movie to date. It’s also one of the best comic book movies made, easily rivaling films like The Dark Knight and Sin City. The changes made to the mythos make perfect sense in respect to the movie, and offer a more believable approach. Even Zod comes across more as a sympathetic character, a man not acting out of evil intent but rather a man that acts on his responsibilities and bound to do what he must to ensure the survival of the citizens of Krypton. Michael Shannon’s performance is fantastic, even besting that given by Terrence Stamp in the role in Superman II, and his cohort in Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) is suitably menacing. Choosing Zod as the villain for this first movie was an inspired move, and made for a more natural progression of events. It will be quite interesting to see where Goyer, Snyder, and Nolan take the next film in the franchise.
Just in time for his 75th anniversary, Man of Steel delivers as a movie finally worthy of Superman, easily besting Bryan Singer’s take on the character in Superman Returns as well as the films starring Christopher Reeve. It’s a spectacular comic book movie that’s a must see on the big screen and could turn out to be the best movie you will see this summer. Don’t miss this one.
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