Man of Steel (2013)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Synopsis: Clark Kent, an alien of a now extinct race disguised as a bystander of our kind is forced to reveal his true identity when Earth is invaded by an army of survivors who threaten to bring the planet to the brink of destruction.
When sitting down to watch Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the obvious question that comes to mind is ‘does the world really need another Superman movie?’ Of course, the answer is ‘No.’ After all, it was only seven years since Bryan Singer’s quite respectable take on the Superman story met with disfavour from the movie-going public. But even in that short period of time computer-generated effects has come on apace, and Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of the Batman story had captured the public’s imagination. And Nolan’s involvement with Man of Steel, albeit in the role of producer, is evident in the darker tone of this movie. It’s nowhere near as dark as The Dark Knight pictures, but then Superman doesn’t carry the same kind of baggage as Bruce Wayne. Nevertheless, Man of Steel displays an altogether more jaded take on the familiar tale of Superman’s origins without ever quite managing to shake off the fan-boy stigma that attaches itself to most super-hero movies.
The plot sees the infant Kal-El launched into space from the dying planet Krypton by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe — L. A. Confidential, Broken City) and mother Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) with the hope that he will eventually land on the comparatively safe planet known as Earth. However, the safety of Kal-El, whom his adoptive parents name Clark (Henry Cavill) is only temporary because General Zod (Michael Shannon — Chain Reaction, The Iceman) is on a genetically pre-determined quest to ensure the continuation of his people by obtaining the Codex, the means by which the genetic blueprint for the Krypton race is stored, which Jor-El bonded into his son’s own cells. Having tracked Kal-El to Earth, Zod threatens to destroy the planet if the human race refuses to hand over Kal-El, who has spent his first thirty-three years on Earth endeavouring to keep his super-powers secret. However, Zod’s ultimatum means that the Man of Steel must at last reveal his true colours if he’s to prevent his adopted planet from being destroyed.
Zack Snyder’s version of the Superman legend is far removed from the colourful, lightweight tone of Richard Donner’s 1970s incarnation, and works hard to inject some gravitas to its story while still catering to the fans who just want to see high-speed combat and explosions. The Jesus allegory is a constant touchstone, but one that will pass over the consciousness of many of the film’s viewers while ironically also lacking the subtlety and depth to satisfy those who might be looking for something a little more substantial from their super-hero flicks. But Snyder and writer David S. Goyer are to be congratulated for attempting to make this Superman a little more human in the way that he’s unafraid to express his doubts and uncertainties, and his reluctance to assume any kind of role in the service of humanity. He’s a loner, a drifter and a misfit, and he constantly struggles to deliver some righteous punishment on those who bully him, which is exactly how you’d expect an average person in his position to act.
By contrast, Lois Lane (Amy Adams — The Muppets, American Hustle) is little more than a supporting player in Man of Steel, although it’s reasonable to expect that she will play a more prominent role in future instalments. She pops in and out of this one, mostly either to be rescued by Superman or to serve as a device through which the plot is explained to the audience. Michael Shannon in the role of Zod delivers a surprisingly restrained performance, but that’s because the screenplay portrays him as the villain while also making it clear that he’s endeavouring not only to carry out instructions that have been genetically implanted into him since birth, but also to save his race from virtual annihilation.
While there was no need to make Man of Steel, it’s nevertheless a worthwhile addition to the Superman canon that, after a definitely shaky start on Krypton, just about manages to strike the tricky balance between a kaboom-filled spectacle and an attempt to provide something more substantial than yet another superhero movie.