FULL REVIEW (NON-SPOILERS)
Man of Steel is the Superman film we’ve all been waiting for. It reinvents Superman for a modern audience. It grounds the legend in reality. And, most importantly, Man of Steel makes us care about Superman again. When Zack Snyder was originally announced, I was worried. Snyder doesn’t have the greatest track record of movies. Sucker Punch was terrible, and, while 300 and Watchmen were visually stunning, they lacked the depth of their source material. Snyder seemed strong on style but not on substance. Superman delivers, however, on story, character, depth and action. This is the first Superman movie where Superman actually kicks some major ass.
Past Superman films never made the most powerful man in the world feel as strong, fast, godlike as the character is. In this film you feel every punch, you zoom with him through the sky. In the 1970’s Superman the tagline was “You will believe a man can fly.” This new tagline should read: “You will believe a man can fly and punch someone into space!” I like the old Superman films, but there’s no denying how dated they have become (70’s aesthetics, terrible special effects and extra cheese). Most people look at those with rose tinted glasses. They are certainly classics, and some of them are still wonderful to watch, but they are very much of their time.
This is a modern Superman for 2013, grounded in reality, made for a whole new generation of fans. Superman Returns (2006) tried to recreate the tone and style of the Donner films, but ultimately failed. Again, it’s the 21st century. What worked for audiences forty years ago does not work now. The noble Superman of the Donner films pulled his punches and wasn’t quite prepared to go the distance to insure the safety of Earth’s innocents. If you go into Man of Steel expecting Christopher Reeve’s Superman, you will be presented with a different beast entirely. Snyder has created a Superman that is capable of great violence in the service of his adopted home. While some viewers will pine for a simpler age, most people will be happy that Superman is relevant again. Not to say this film doesn’t have heart it does, but it’s definitely doesn’t hold it’s punches.
The action is larger than life, and the special effects are amazing. You will be treated to scenes that top even the famed New York action piece from The Avengers. The choreography is stunning, making for some of the best fight sequences in superhero history. Snyder has seriously raised the bar for superhero action in films. Marvel will have a hard time reclaiming the throne. Not just visually impacting, the action is adult and bone crunching. As Warner Bros. showed us with Nolan’s Batman trilogy, they are not Disney and do not pull their punches. The film is deep, somber and tackles adult themes. Though not as dark as The Dark Knight, the violence is real and people die. While the adult themes will be a turn-off for some, mature audiences will love that there is finally a Superman movie for them.
Man of Steel also re-energizes the superhero’s origin story. Superman’s infancy and arrival on earth is mostly told out of order, revealing a bit more at various times of Superman’s life. At first this style of storytelling is a little jarring, but once you get the hang of it the film clicks and flows beautifully. Some of Superman’s lore is changed or tweaked, but nothing that will get longtime fans in an uproar. The scene that introduces Superman to Lois is a little rushed and altered from the source material, but Snyder has a large cast and still manages to make everyone likeable and fleshed out as individual characters.
This is a different take on the Superman mythos, which deals with some very profound questions. What if Earth didn’t want Superman? How would we feel about an outsider, an alien of godlike powers coming to our planet? How would we treat him? How would our governments react? Again, the film feels grounded and Snyder delves into some dark and uncomfortable themes. Conventional comic book movies don’t make us think or question. Man of Steel demands that viewer participation.
Snyder’s impeccable visual sense is apparent throughout the film. It is shot much like the story—grounded in reality with shaky cam. You feel like you are a man on the street watching the action. There is so much attention to detail in this film that multiple viewings are necessary to catch everything. The alien world of Krypton is a real treat.
The cast did a superb job, Superman steals the show, but Zod is killer. Laurence Fishburne as Perry is great, Lois is spunky but doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Everyone is enjoyable, and the cast is well positioned for the inevitable sequels. There are hints of Lexcorp and a satellite has features a Waynetech logo (but if you’re expecting flamboyant Justice League Easter eggs, think again).
Man of Steel isn’t a perfect movie. It doesn’t break much ground or show us film or storytelling techniques that we haven’t seen before (but what recent film does?). The scene succeeds, however, in everything it tries for. Man of Steel raises the bar for action in superhero films and has finally made the titular Superman a relevant hero worth caring about.
Bonus video! With my off the cuff remarks. No spoilers, until 5 min mark. I also announce spoilers at 5 min mark aka video is safe to watch.