Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (dir. Zack Snyder, 2013) – Clark Kent embarks on a journey to become the symbol of hope for mankind.

Verdict

Taking flight in the right direction with moments of turbulence, Man of Steel builds a welcome beginning to a much needed DC Cinematic Universe.

3/5
Review

Doubts abound when plans for Man of Steel surface. Will the Batman Begins treatment work for the Kryptonian hero? While the caped crusader had to find his strength in arduous training, Clark Kent was born Superman. How then does a virtually indestructible humanoid become relatable and relevant in our world?

Screenwriter David S. Goyer finds the heart of the story back on the humble farms in Smallville, where young Kar-El comes to term with his conflicting identities in the duality of both worlds, and finds out what it means to be Clark Kent on Earth.

Superman can easily protect Earth as he can easily destroy it. To that, his foster father Jonathan Kent imparts some timeworn albeit powerful advice to the child – Whoever the man he chooses to be will change the world.

Man of Steel
Photo: Warner Brothers / Clay Enos

Rather than seeing weakness or cowardice, Kal-El sees potential in the human race that is worth protecting. Finding that reason, understanding humanity, and carrying on the torch of Jor-El’s hope for the planet – that is his training before he dons his suit. That is how Superman begins.

His nemesis General Zod is not exactly antithetical to what Clark chooses to stand for. Clark defends the planet that he was brought up in, in the same way that Zod tries to preserve his own Kryptonian race. They say that the hero is only as good as the villain, and the ambiguous morality of destroying one planet for his own makes for a fascinating conflict.

Zod’s complex motivation however shoals when the assault on Earth begins. Once the origins story has been told, everything rapidly dissolves into a facile battle between good versus evil. The third act launches into explosive action and large-scale destruction, inevitable with two invulnerable forces facing off and exchanging blows.

Man of Steel
Photo: Warner Brothers / Clay Enos

Hard collisions see the Metropolis population dwindle with off-screen casualties hitting a morbid high. Excessive brawn risks dullness without the slightest trace of humour. Even Nolan’s villains are constantly badgering the Dark Knight to lighten up. Director Zack Snyder fortunately makes those explosive minutes an arresting visual spectacle.

It helps that Michael Shannon inspires both menace and empathy in his iconic foe. All these, in spite of a script that tells more than it shows. As Superman, Henry Cavill has large shoes to fill and few lines to show for. Rising above his brooding demeanour, he emerges largely unscathed with presence fit for the cape.

Man of Steel
Photo: Warner Brothers / Clay Enos

In the huge cast, the women are especially charming. Antje Traue impresses at being bad with her tough Faora-Ul, who stands as formidable as the General against her fellow Kryptonian. Amy Adams puts up her own fight and gets to be more than a love interest. Her independent Lois Lane is an admirable heroine in every right. Man of Steel dials back significantly on romantic overtones, despite falling for a depressing damsel-in-distress trope.

To re-introduce a character once perfectly defined by late actor Christopher Reeves is by no means an easy task. Man of Steel‘s latest lavish efforts are commendable in ambition, even if flawed in execution. The resultant entertaining new take on the classic hero spells great news for a restart of the DC Cinematic Universe.

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