"Man of Steel"
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Running Time: 143 minutes
Trust Christopher Nolan to reinvent Superman for movie audiences in the same bold way that he did with Batman. The visionary behind The Dark Knight trilogy is not the director of the serious-minded Superman reboot Man of Steel—this task belongs to Zack Snyder, who previously adapted the graphic comic books 300 and Watchmen to varying degrees of success. However, Nolan’s fingerprints are all over Man of Steel. He not only serves as Man of Steel’s producer but he conceived its story with his Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer. Like Batman Begins, Man of Steel is at once familiar and unfamiliar. We all know that Jor-El sent his only son Kal-El to Earth before Krypton self-destructed, and that Jonathan and Martha Kent found the baby boy, named him Clark and raised him as their own in Smallville. While Man of Steel opens with a bang, with Jor-El (a solemn Russell Crowe) risking life and limb against the rebel forces of General Zod (Michael Shannon) to secure his son’s future, it refuses to follow the same path blazed by director Richard Donner’s iconic Superman. Accordingly, Clark’s childhood is regulated to strategically placed flashbacks in favor of following the adult Clark (Henry Cavill) from one menial job to another as he grapples with an existential crisis that’s crippled him since his adoptive father’s (Kevin Costner) death. Clark’s a man who knows he’s stuck between two worlds, and he can’t call one place his home until he learns about where he comes from and why he’s on Earth. He wants to use his superpowers to help others, but because of the fear instilled in him by Pa Kent that humanity may reject him for who and what he is, he chooses to hide in the shadows, coming out to save lives in secret only when tragedy strikes. He is forced out into the open by Zod, who survived the death of his planet and has spent decades searching for the son of the man he once called a friend. It’s make sense that Nolan would launch a new Superman franchise with Zod rather the overused Lex Luthor. The Man of Steel needs to face a foe who is his physical match. Bryan Singer’s 2006 quasi-sequel Superman Returns was in part a noble failure because the only person who kicked Superman’s butt was Kevin Spacey’s Kryptonite-wielding Lex Luthor. Zod and his cronies go the distance with Superman, allowing director Zach Snyder to turn both Metropolis and Smallville into battlegrounds, with the fate of the Earth in the balance. Zod, though, isn’t just any villain, at least in the hands of Snyder and Nolan. He serves as Superman’s mirror opposite. Kal-El is born with the gift of free will and lives by a strict moral code that’s human in nature; Zod exists with the sole purpose to protect his people, and he’s to willing annihilate all those who stand in his way without any compunction. It’s this unwavering devotion to his cause that makes Zod such a complex and oddly empathetic adversary. Shannon fills Zod with an intense passion that is only matched by the blind anger that fuels his every move. Conversely, Cavill plays Superman with the necessary emotional turmoil that grips him in his bid for acceptance. Cavill is bursting with confidence, and as he makes the transition from Clark Kent to Man of Steel, he offers a Superman whose poise and optimism allows him to stand apart from the superhero made famous by Christopher Reeve.Superman Return’s Brandon Routh never had that chance. All he was asked to do was to imitate Reeve. Equally important to Man of Steel is Clark’s relationship with Lois Lane, who is played with gutsy determination by Amy Adams. Without revealing too much, their relationship is vastly different than the one they shared in the previous Superman series. They bond quicker and firmer in Man of Steel. Clark finds in Lois the trust that he believed humanity possessed, and she helps find him come to understand his place in the universe. The way Clark and Lois’ friendship—and possible romance—develops is just one many area where Snyder and Nolan attempt to distinguish Man of Steel from Superman. Certainly aware thatSuperman Returns floundered because of its slavish devotion to the previous franchise, Snyder and Nolan dump John Williams’ classic Superman theme, barely refer to their hero as Superman, and all but tone down the jingoism. Theirs is a Superman who belongs to the world, not just to the United States. Another of Superman Return’s failing was its inherent lack of action. That’s not a problem with Man of Steel, which cannily mixes Superman’s poignant search for his place in our world with a multitude of fights and acts of destruction, all furiously orchestrated in masterful fashion by Snyder. While Superman’s adventures on Earth possess a real-world feel, Snyder creates a retro-futuristic Krypton that feels alive and dangerous. As expected, Man of Steel is filled with images of Superman as a Messiah-like figure, but otherwise Snyder and Nolan only hint at the possible religious implications of Superman’s arrival. If there’s one complaint about Snyder it’s that he refuses to allow his camera to stay still. Everything is shot in such agitated fashion, even during its quiet, reflective moments. Still, this is a minor quibble about a reboot that superbly establishes the foundations for just for a new franchise but the DC equilavent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s already talk of a Justice League movie. That said, while there are references in Man of Steel to other heroes and villains from the Superman comic books, Snyder and Nolan offer precious little hints as to what direction this new franchise will take. Perhaps they didn’t want to get ahead of themselves, given the apathetic reception to Superman Returns. Regardless, it’s for the best that Snyder and Nolan have focused their attention solely on reviving Superman, who’s been overshadowed the past decade by the likes of DC’s own Batman and Marvel’s Spider-Man and Iron Man. It’s too early to tell whether this Man of Steel has what it takes to transcend the superhero genre like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy did, but there’s no denying this Superman is off to a flying start.
Aired: June 13, 2013
Web site: http://manofsteel.warnerbros.com/