Movie Review: ‘Man of Steel’
MAN OF STEEL
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne, Cooper Timberline, Dylan Sprayberry
Rated PG-13, Fantasy, 143 minutes
“Man of Steel” is a cautionary tale that depicts the planet’s advanced inhabitants asking more of their world than it can sustain. During the first 30 minutes of this Superman reboot, production designer Alex McDowell creates a hypnotic world on planet Krypton, where the population resides in floating minimalist teardrop shaped dwellings, serviced by floating teardrop-shape computers that guard them while serving as communication devices.
Scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer), break umpteen Kryptonian laws when Lara carries a child to term and gives birth naturally. With Krypton’s core set to implode, Jor-El pleads with the planet’s intransigent elder council to give him control of the Codec — a mysterious device capable of saving their race. The council appears ready to refuse his request when General Zod (Michael Shannon) bursts in and assassinates all of those who displease him. When Jor-El refuses to join his ranks, Zod sends the scientist to his presumed death– but resourceful Jor-El escapes this fate.
Zod and his minions are so distracted by the General’s killing spree, that Jor-El is able to procure the Codec. He downloads its contents into a capsule that also houses his newborn son Kal-El, then programs a ship to take both the information and the child to Earth — a place Jor-El believes will offer the child his best chance for survival.
Most of this mythology is old, but the vision of life on Krypton, and a deeper examination of the aliens’ values explains much of what has brought their people to this point in time. These concepts are beautifully realized using special effects which create a dazzling portrait of another world. It is sufficiently enchanting, that when the doomed planet eventually disintegrates we are crestfallen, even though Krypton’s demise is necessary to advance the story.
Zod and his crew also survive to fight another day. On Earth, Kal-El is found and secretly adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). The story of Kal’s upbringing by the Kents (who name him Clark), is depicted in short, poignant flashbacks that highlight the Kents’ saintly nature as they ceaselessly toil to instill Clark with solid values.
As an adult, Clark becomes an invisible drifter attempting to reconcile his present life with his otherworldly origins. He migrates through a series of labor-intensive jobs, helping those in danger whenever called for. In Antarctica he meets reporter Lois Lane — played with the requisite spunk and brains by Amy Adams. Here Clark also discovers a ship from his planet, and is able to meet his father Jor-El, who exists as a holographic computer program. This last part is important to the final stages of Clark’s development. Through these meetings he obtains both closure and purpose.
The story, penned by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, travels deep into Superman’s psyche, taking pains to assure that this alien being earns his place by choosing to protect Earth dwellers, even if that means killing his own kind. Shannon’s General Zod, is more than fearsome, enhanced by his trusty right-hand woman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue).
Christopher Meloni and Laurence Fishburne, appear in small, but pivotal roles, lending credence to the world constructed for this film.
Action sequences appear throughout, but in a nod to fanboy expectations these episodes overwhelm the final act, nearly obliterating the careful character construction that guided it to this point. In its favor, the action remains coherent, though in its 3D version some of the confrontations are blurred.
Like Christopher Reeve before him, Henry Cavill is impossibly handsome and buff. Thanks to frequent appearances by Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Amy Smart, Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon, Cavill did little to carry the film’s emotional ball. Whether it will prove to be Cavill’s superball, or his ball and chain, is the super-question that only a sequel or two can answer.
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