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Review: “Man of Steel”

Review: “Man of Steel”

Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures.

Review: “Man of Steel”
June 13
18:18 2013

Preston Barta / Film Critic

3.5 out of 5 stars

There is no doubt that “Man of Steel” is one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the summer. With Christopher Nolan, the writer-director behind the game changing “Dark Knight” trilogy, in the producer’s chair and Zack Snyder, the visual filmmaker that brought us such films as “300” (2006) and “Watchmen” (2009), at the helm, expectations are higher than Superman can fly. While “Man of Steel” doesn’t quite dazzle like Nolan’s Batman franchise, it does pack enough of a “sucker punch” to satisfy fans with hopes of a good Superman film.

After 75 years of comics, television shows and movies, it’s safe to say that most of us are familiar with the story of Superman. To those unfamiliar, here’s a refresher course: When a young man named Clark Kent, portrayed by Henry Cavill, discovers that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this world, he journeys to learn what his purpose in life is. But when an otherworldly villain named General Zod, played by, Michael Shannon comes to Earth, Kent must become the symbol of hope for mankind to save the world from annihilation.

There is a lot to like in Snyder’s “Man of Steel.” The exciting action scenes, the wonderful score by Hans Zimmer (“Inception,” 2010) that should have Oscar voters salivating and the great performances from the entire cast, especially Kevin Costner and Shannon (“Take Shelter,” 2011), all add to the film’s attention-grabbing luster.

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Dylan Sprayberry as 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures.

The opening sequence of the film on Kent’s home world of Krypton is spectacular, where Kent’s birth parents, played by the excellent Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer (“Munich,” 2005), send Kent to Earth when Zod takes over their planet. The scene is packed with enough action and drama to keep audiences glued to their seats.

From there we venture into Nolan’s characteristic nonlinear storytelling, transitioning effortlessly between present and past, revealing Kent’s superhuman gifts in his young age.

Cavill is convincing as the brooding, conflicted hero coming to terms with his ethereal status. Unfortunately, David S. Goyer’s script doesn’t give him much substance in terms of dialogue. Having previously penned “Batman Begins” (2005) for Nolan, Goyer’s script leaves Kent as more of an observer, with the lion’s share of his character background built through the dialogue of his Earth parents, portrayed by the heartbreaking Costner and exceptional Diane Lane. The distance from which the audience watches Cavill’s character is in stark contrast with the intimate exploration of Bruce Wayne’s psyche that made Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy so effective.

The Man of Steel himself isn’t the only character whose development falls short of expectations. Amy Adams (“The Fighter,” 2010) is terrific as Superman’s love interest, the beloved Lois Lane, but isn’t able to capture the spark between her and Cavill. While absolutely everyone expects to see Lois and Clark fall in love, most viewers will also expect a longer courtship and anticipation than Cavill and Adams are permitted.

Despite these screenplay stumbles, “Man of Steel” remains a gripping and entertaining summer blockbuster that is the best silver screen portrayal of Superman to date. Fight scenes may overstay their welcome, especially in the second half of the film, but they are certainly a spectacle to behold. The characters may feel flat compared with the deep, convoluted heroes that have surged in popularity after Nolan’s visionary revival of Batman’s mythos, but the actors still give a good accounting of themselves.

If any blame should be assigned while wondering why “Man of Steel” doesn’t quite measure up to Nolan’s previous work, a fair share of it would land on his pairing with Snyder. The two directors are well reputed in the industry for creating stunning movies, but their divergent styles of filmmaking clash in “Man of Steel,” meaning that neither director’s vision is fully realized. Snyder’s characteristic love of gloriously themed atmosphere is given enough room to show, but not enough to shine, while Nolan’s signature explorations of psyche are never afforded the lines of dialogue required to sink their teeth into an audience.

“Man of Steel” came to the silver screen with astronomical expectations, and it comes as little surprise that it fell somewhat short. Fortunately, it remains an entertaining movie – certainly worth seeing if you have ever loved the story of Superman.

“Man of Steel” opens tomorrow.

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