The Superman Franchise Is Rebooted with Man of Steel
By: Ellis Nassour
The Man of Steel relaunch [Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Jon Peters Productions] is an introduction to the Krypton alien Kal-El who becomes Superman. Though he does have superpowers galore, don’t expect the two sides of Clark Kent just yet. This is a long, sometimes convoluted prequel to the Superman adventures that surely are going to follow every two years.
It’d be hard to top Richard Donner’s 1978’s Superman, the contemporary movie relaunch of America’s favorite superhero [who first made to the screen in the 50s and first appeared in comic books in 1938], portrayed by Christopher Reeve. It served our cultural phenomenon well with amazing special effects in a pre-CGI world, humor and over-the-top performances, breathless beauty in the Kansas scenes, and benefited immensely from John Williams’ evocative score. Its reputation as the definitive Superman movie remains intact.
Though it takes itself much too seriously, Man of Steel has its moments. You just have to wait a long time for them – and few come from the effects overkill [so many, in fact, that soon they’re not so special], but from human elements.
Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) directed. Conceived by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer (Dark Knight) and overwritten by the latter, it’s based on Superman characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster published by DC Comics, a co-producer.
"Bringing one of the first comic book super heroes back to the screen," Snyder explains, "was something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Growing up, I was into comics and Superman was a favorite. I didn’t know where I could take the character that he hadn’t gone before. But the screenplay took me on an interesting journey and made Superman relatable." He should have given it more thought.
Goyer notes, "The film’s about choices, about a man with two fathers: Jor-El, Kal’s father, and Jonathan Kent, his dad on Earth. Kal has two sets of history – one literally instilled by Jor-El, the other taught by his Earth parents. He must reconcile them to become the man that both fathers would want him to be."
Brit Henry Cavill, with chiseled matinee-idol good looks, is quite winning and believable – and his portrayal would’ve been more believable if we first meet him as a young man, instead of in his 20s – whether sulking about his powers or using them to the nth degree and worrying about being an outcast.
"Superman is one of those truly special figures," says Cavill. "He stands for hope and the ability to conquer adversity. That’s something we can relate to, as we face hardships in one way or another. Everything grows and evolves. He’s also the ultimate outsider, wondering what his purpose in life is.
"This contemporized version is another stage of Superman’s evolution," he continues. "DC comics, like the New 52, have done it. In a different way than Zack, Chris, and David, perhaps – but Kal-El’s suit and the S-shield are different; and, while Superman’s core characteristics are there, his attitude has changed. It’s growth."
Oscar winner Kevin Costner and Oscar nominee Diane Lane portray the Kents. We later see Kal as a youngster [Cooper Timberline], teenager [Dylan Sprayberry], and young adult on the their Kansas farm near Smallville. These scenes are touching and add the depth that most of the film lacks.
Four-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams portrays globe-trotting journalist Lois Lane, and thankfully adds humor with her tongue-in-cheek line readings. Oscar winner and three-time nominee Russell Crowe is Krytpon dad Jor-El, and Michael Shannon is the nefarious General Zod. Major feature roles are played by Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (the Daily Planet’s Perry White); and Christopher Meloni (TV’s Law and Order, Oz).
It’ll be interesting to see how Superman purists react, especially to how Kal-El and Lois meet. You get a lot of references to other sci-fi legends, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Wars, War of the Worlds, Iron Man, and The Avengers.
Crowe, as Krypton’s brilliant but renegade scientist, dominates most of the first hour. It won’t put him in Oscar contention, but he never embarrasses himself. Shannon (recently on Broadway in Grace) is quite adept at eating the scenery, but a capable enough actor to pull it off with elan.
The mostly bombastic score is by Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer (Dark Knight). Kudos must go to editor David Brenner for creating a visual narrative from all flashingback and forward and making some sense of the virtual destruction of Metropolis [Plano, Illinois, Chicago, and Vancouver] [notice the amazing amount of corporate logo placement]. Shooting also took place on the glaciers of British Columbia and at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert.
Since Man of Steel was shot in 2-D and then converted for the 3-D prints, you won’t go wrong seeing it in 2-D. It’s almost mindboggling that in a film perfect for 3-D effects [even gimmicky ones] nothing ever pops from the screen and, Bwana Devil-style, slaps you in the face. The 3-D conversion does add depth to some scenes, but not enough to cause regret.
Though shot in color, there’s a great lack of it in a majority of the 145 minutes [about 10 of those for the credits and list of genius digital artists. Blown up to fill about three-quarters of a real IMAX screen, the picture’s bound to lose contrast. Bigger and deeper may not be optimum choices for Man of Steel.
The film’s rated PG-13 [language, intense sci-fi violence, and endless scenes of mass destruction, some too close to footage of the 9/11 collapsing Twin Towers]. Parental judgment is advised.