Bearing the weight of the Man of Steel

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Man of Steel – 2013

Director Zack Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer
Screenplay David S. Goyer

Well documented are the difficulties of making a movie about a man with no weaknesses.  As good a Superman as Christopher Reeve was, there was really nothing for him to do after he beat Terrance Stamp’s General Zod way back in Superman II.  It took 2 more movies before they realized it.  The beautiful but flawed Superman Returns showed that, even with better special effects and an extreme emphasis on character development, they had nothing to fall back on but a literal sea of Kryptonite.  Now, with the help of Christopher Nolan, savior of the Batman franchise, the push was towards darkness and the weight of morality.  It is a bold decision, and one that nearly succeeds.  This Man of Steel has more death and destruction than any super hero film I have ever seen.  Yes, that includes The Avengers and the third Transformers film…combined.

The story starts out on the doomed planet of Krypton.  We get extensive back story that explains (for the most part) the reason for the planet’s demise and the actual sins of General Zod, which are closer to an insane nobility than unchecked arrogance as presented in the Reeve franchise.  Crowe, Shannon and Zurer are all exceptional here, as is the variety of living beings present.  It starts to make sense.

Once on earth, we are presented with a story for Kal-El in the same winding and flashback fashion that we got to see in Batman Begins.  It’s at this point that Man of Steel is at its most daring.  We get to see what makes him the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Costner and Lane) in contrast to what it means to be the son of Jor-El (Crowe) and Laura (Zurer).  The contrast is interesting, and it really encourages an interest in his development.  All of this dovetails very nicely with the introduction of Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  Thankfully, she avoids the playful pluckiness of Kidder, who had made the character her own opposite Reeve.  Instead, we get a mostly believable journalist who ruled as much by her conscience as her desire for the story.

From here, the film takes its most jarring turns.  Shannon is every bit the equal of Stamp in the role of the antagonist.  His vitriol, mixed with an unexpected intelligence, creates a worthy adversary for Superman.  There is a leap into megalomania which would seem inconsistent with all but the most irrational beings and it wreaks havoc on the rest of the film.  The result is a mixture of destruction and exposition that is curiously ill-fitting.  What we see is breathtakingly horrific, and decisive.  The very next moment, we hear its reasoning verbalized.  The explanations seem more the “just in case you don’t follow” variety.  That aside, Shannon is riveting and worth every moment on-screen.  He is hands down the best actor around now.

Superman is the hero that started everything.  He is also the end of all heroes.  There is no DC Universe without him.  There is just Batman, and a bunch of one offs.  Cavill does a great job here, working well with all he is given, and my God what a winning smile.  There could not be a better director for visual effects, save Del Toro or Jackson.  Even so, it’s a barrage of destruction that comes close to overwhelming everything else that the story is attempting to build.  For this I have to blame the writer.  We see decision foisted upon the hero answered with such a casual quip it’s quite shocking.  One can’t imagine that I could make such a decision.  Then there is the ending.  It’s impossible to imagine anyone could smile after all that happens.  But then, there still is hope.  We do have Superman.

(**** out of *****)

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