Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Man of Steel

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

MAN OF STEEL

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Russell Crowe
Genre: Superhero, Action
Run Time: 143 mins
Opens: 13 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)

Truth, justice and the American way – it never gets old. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation first lifted a car off the ground on the cover of Action Comics #1 in 1938, it was a very different time. Yet, Superman has endured as a pop culture icon for 75 years and counting; it’s even been said that the “S” crest is the second most recognizable symbol in the world, just behind the Christian cross. The Last Son of Krypton swoops back onto movie screens in Zack Snyder’s long-awaited reboot. So, has this Man of Steel proven his mettle? 





It’s a familiar tale that has deservedly become modern myth: Kryptonian scientist Jor-El (Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) decide to send their newborn son Kal-El away from their dying world to ours, Earth. Krypton’s military leader, the ruthless General Zod, has staged a coup but is eventually imprisoned with his cohorts, as he vows to find Kal-El and enact his revenge.


On Earth, this space-age Moses in his “basket” is found by Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent, who raise him on a farm in Smallville, Kansas as their son Clark. As a child, Clark struggles to come to terms with the truth of his alien origins as he tries to fit in with his peers. An adult Clark (Cavill) goes off to “find himself”, coming to the attention of intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Adams). Meanwhile, General Zod and his cohorts arrive on earth, demanding that Kal-El be handed to him. Clark/Kal-El takes on the mantle of Superman and defends his adopted homeworld from the treachery of the Kryptonian warlord.



Is Man of Steel a better film than the earlier reboot attempt Superman Returns? Thankfully, it is. Superman Returns suffered from a slavish worshipfulness of the earlier film series, with director Bryan Singer being so caught up in homages and iconography that the franchise wasn’t moved forward. Chief of the complaints levelled against Superman Returns was that there was little to no actual action in it. Rest assured that that’s been rectified – Man of Steel’s action sequences involve earth-shattering melees between superpowered beings, including the obligatory climactic sequence in which a metropolis (well, the Metropolis) is laid to waste.


Director Zack Snyder, by now somewhat infamous for his penchant for dramatic and highly stylized slow-motion sequences, attempts to rein his style in. Man of Steel has a desaturated colour palette and doesn’t look as slick or artificially polished as some of his other work – this is most likely an effort to evoke the style of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Snyder’s fingerprint is most evident in scenes like the one in which a “reconstruction” of Jor-El gives his son a crash course in Kryptonian history by way of an animated sequence. On the whole, while it might look a little drab, it doesn’t feel like the “dark and depressing” formula has been forced on the Superman character. The sometimes-jerky camera movements aren’t helped by the 3D, so see this flat.


This reviewer’s favourite parts of the film weren’t the big fight scenes but rather the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood. Cooper Timberline portrays Clark Kent at age 9, and there is a very powerful scene which conveys how Superman’s special abilities are a double-edged sword and how he had to slowly master control over things like his super hearing. Dylan Sprayberry plays the 13 year-old Clark, and we see how Clark’s innate desire to do good takes precedence over protecting his secret. Both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane bring a humanity to their portrayals of Ma and Pa Kent, characters who have generally been perceived as good-hearted, kindly folk and not much more. This film shows just how important they were to Clark in his formative years; it’s comparable to Martin Sheen and Sally Field’s turns as Ben and May Parker respectively in last year’s The Amazing Spider-Man.


The film opens on Krypton, which is no longer a crystalline world populated by shimmering, white-clad senior citizens. This is a Krypton that looks majestic and alien, as well as lived-in. The audience is dropped right into the middle of a civil war on a planet on the brink of annihilation, and Russell Crowe even gets some action beats in scenes with Jor-El outrunning General Zod’s troops. The design elements are fascinating, from baby Kal-El’s rocket ship to the helmets worn by Zod and his underlings to the redesign of that iconic blue suit. Yes, this one doesn’t have the underwear on the outside (which was apparently meant to be reminiscent of Victorian strongmen), so we can all stop with the jokes.


It is good to see Henry Cavill get his big break after having been passed over for roles such as James Bond, Edward Cullen, Batman and yes, Superman before. In addition to looking the part, the actor is able to convey Superman’s inherent nobility, chivalry and moral compunction without coming off as a corny goody-two-shoes. The military is understandably wary of Superman when he first shows up, and scenes in which Superman communicates with them, attempting to allay their fears and establish that he’s one of the good guys are all played very well.


General Zod was portrayed by Terence Stamp in Superman II as an over-the-top tyrant who liked to yell “KNEEL!” Michael Shannon has proven he can play a scary villain before and is at it again with this compelling portrayal. Yes, he gives in to hysterics every so often, but he also comes off as a capable and truly dangerous military leader. Zod’s evil scheme is well-defined and logical, his motivations easy to accept and he and his troops (including Antje Traue’s Commander Faora) do make for formidable opponents. Sure is better than another round against Lex Luthor.


It’s been accepted that Lois Lane’s main purpose seems to getting into trouble so Superman can save her, the “Woman of Kleenex”. What’s great about Amy Adams’ portrayal of the character is yes, she is the damsel in a degree of distress, but she’s proactive and plays a very important role in the plot, doing her part to set events in motion. She’s definitely a step or more up from Kate Bosworth’s younger, blander Lois.


Man of Steel is a return to form for one of pop culture’s most significant icons. Yes, it does stray into run of the mill wham-bam territory, particularly during the final battle in which a mostly digital Metropolis bears the brunt of Zod and Superman’s tussle. On the whole though, it is a more than satisfying revamp that hopefully will pave the way to a fully-fledged DC cinematic universe.

Summary: You don’t have to be a comic book aficionado to enjoy this new, mostly very good take on Superman. Things get a little too noisy and a little overblown towards the end, but it’s better than no action at all and there are some moments of sincere emotion that do justice to the character. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong



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