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Review: 'Man Of Steel' Directed By Zack Snyder, Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams & Michael Shannon

Reviews
by Charlie Schmidlin
June 10, 2013 11:00 PM
26 Comments
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In the opening scenes of Zack Snyder's “Man of Steel,” the planet of Krypton announces itself with the director's customary visual smorgasbord: canyons bathed in stark golden light, frenzied aerial battles for the planet's future, and a host of CGI creatures and machinery zipping around. It is a garish, worrying sight, saved finally by silence, as a mother laments her son's future on Earth. “We'll never see him walk,” Lara Lor-Van (Ayalet Zurer) quietly says to her husband, Jor-El (Russell Crowe, solid throughout his considerable role). The line connects, both actors retrieving the film from gaudy chaos for a moment of humanity; the child departs, leaving his parents to their planet's fate. Thankfully, down on Earth, we proceed to see him walk, run, and then fly in Snyder's impressive, bold take on the Superman mythology -- one that strains under its helmer's indulgent action tendencies, but succeeds on heart where brawn will not.

After clutching form and content close in “300” and “Watchmen,” what a pleasure it is to see Snyder, along with screenwriter David Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan, refract, delay, and confront Superman's origins with questions and revisions. Scratch crystal fortresses and time travel from mind; this is "Close Encounters of the Krypton Kind," as we witness a world's first reaction to an alien from the alien's perspective -- albeit one in the decidedly charming form of Henry Cavill.

The most successful part of Snyder's vision is two-fold: the laser-focused emphasis on Clark Kent's journey into Superman, and the impressive ease with which Cavill slides into the lead role. The British actor brings a cagey physicality to Clark/Kal-El, projecting a tired resignation to his powers that helps when their boundaries are seemingly unlimited. We also see a welcome sight -- Superman thinking. As Cavill shuts his eyes to the Antarctic sun during his first spin in the suit, he trusts Snyder and how the camera will regard him. He trusts he'll appear the part. We believe it.

The film's style and tone are less assured: oftentimes, Snyder feels restless, laying the same tempo on flashbacks to Clark's childhood as the more action-heavy sights (and there are many). Thankfully, he's sacrificed his usual visual gimmicks, but the overeager embellishments survive: a school bus river rescue prizes cinematography over consequences, while the aerial scenes of Superman flying -- convincingly realized and paced -- feature digital smash-zooms that grow staler each time they appear.

Luckily, Hans Zimmer is one composer able to match the director in terms of bombast, and his wonderfully layered score -- alongside DP Amir Mokri's bracing (in our 2D version, at least) handheld imagery -- creates some true transcendent moments. Snyder's vision of the Midwest -- all billowing clotheslines, IHOPs, and department stores -- lands as a bit simple, but his destruction of those elements remains topnotch, as in an exhilarating Smallville collision between Superman, the U.S. Army, and the forces of General Zod (Michael Shannon).

Through thick-shouldered armor, a gallery of grotesque battle helmets, and those unblinking death pits he calls eyes, Shannon wrestles out a Zod of mangled patriotism, never kneeling but struggling to restore the race that exiled him. His fierce utilitarian mindset means an engaging, one-note result -- most scenes involve furious screaming with brief moments of reflection; however, Zod's confused purpose strikes at a key, winning question of the film: what faith means in the midst of superheroes.

This query flares up promptly, as Pa and Ma Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) shelter their adopted son from their prying Kansas community. Snyder notes Costner's paternal anxiety: whatever religious beliefs he had before Clark are uprooted by his existence, and the actor delivers his sage wisdom to his son with a fine nervous touch. Meanwhile, his wife suffers by comparison. Diane Lane is mostly sidelined, reduced to narrative cheerleader and emotional bait, and that slackened hold on the film's female characters continues with Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

As much as Lois may evolve in future sequels and DC crossovers, in "Man of Steel" her role is frustratingly nonexistent. She retains her Daily Planet journalist position: obstinate, ego-driven, and with the added influence of blog culture hovering over her editor-in-chief, Perry White (a muted Laurence Fishburne). Adams cuts through any daffy airs of the character, more foolhardy than simply foolish; she readies herself for a personal arc that the script never provides. Goyer writes her relationship with Clark/Superman as a gradual loosening of professional distance, but Snyder shoots it with an oblivious sterility; you wonder if their failed connection is better than Lois' hopeless crush of yore.

Humor continues to elude Snyder's work: aside from a few choice visual gags -- a toner-less office printer flashing red as danger nears -- the surroundings and characters remain pensive, coiled up. Especially so in the latter half of the film, set in Metropolis as Zod's plan for Earth and Superman becomes clear. Squint a little at the overlong noise of spiraling logic, toppled skyscrapers and countless pedestrian deaths, and you'd think the final reel of "The Avengers" had been spliced in. At this point, the central relationship between comic superheroes and cities is inescapable; the future looks grim, though, if adaptations stick to this tired blueprint.

We finally sigh in relief as the film returns to a farmhouse backyard, where a boy tries on the role of his future self while his father observes. The scene is an intersection of the film's attention on nature versus nurture -- a person's designed path against the outside influences that fight it. Goyer and Nolan have crafted in “Man of Steel” a taut, exploratory vision, and Snyder's later inheritance of the material indeed proves his best work since “Dawn of the Dead.” Together, they've humanized an icon in ways not unlike Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln,” although they've undervalued the integral supporting roles in much of the same manner. The difference is that Snyder carries a franchise flexible to second attempts. [B]

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26 Comments

  • Carlos | June 17, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    You have got to be fucking kidding me. Comparing this flabby snoozefest with Lincoln is pure idiocy.

    a. Snyder has one number on his volume dial: 11. And it never changes.
    b. There is no agency on Clark/Superman's part - he only ever reacts and does what other people tell him to do.
    c. Superman kills in this movie, after all the talk about him being a paradigm, an "example they will follow into the sun." Talk about narrative incoherency.
    d. Kids wear capes to emulate Superman or superheroes. In a world without either, why the hell is little Clark wearing one?

    Snyder can devise pretty pictures but his ability to actually direct a coherent storyline with emotional impact has yet to be demonstrated.

  • ScurvySlurved | June 20, 2013 7:07 PM

    "Suerman does not kill." I guess we see how these movies reflect the times we live in. In this case, quite negatively.

  • TrueFan | June 17, 2013 7:55 PM

    That hit it on the dot. Superman. Does. Not. Kill.
    That movie pissed me off soo much!

  • kitcon | June 11, 2013 7:48 AMReply

    OK. I presume a Playlist roundup will be forthcoming where others weigh in?

  • Rodrigo | June 12, 2013 12:01 AM

    Saw it tonight. Gotta say I love Charlie's review. Though I think the ahead-of-the-curve Lois deserves more credit and how their relationship is retooled in this movies is pretty smart. That said, yeah, in the other acts, she's kinda non-existent. "but succeeds on heart where brawn will not." Correct.

  • TheoC | June 11, 2013 5:27 AMReply

    Somewhat surprised at the Cavill love, as he's usually quite wooden, looking forward to see this now as the summer movies have underwhelmed so far.

  • frenchgirl | June 11, 2013 10:13 AM

    According to some reviews,he's well-casted: Cavill looks a good-looking good boy a few rigid like Superman

  • jt | June 11, 2013 10:09 AM

    Agreed. I always found Henry Cavill wooden. Hopefully, Man of Steel will change this .

  • DG | June 11, 2013 2:40 AMReply

    How can I feel so indifferent to something yet so completely sure that I will be seeing it opening day

  • keith | June 11, 2013 12:45 AMReply

    again people this movie is not about lois lane it's about superman..stop trying to make her the centerpiece of the movie

  • Starcurl | June 20, 2013 7:05 PM

    They should have had Margot Kidder reprise the role. Or at least do a cameo as Louis Lane's crazed aunt.

  • BRENNAN | June 11, 2013 10:52 AM

    Its Super-MAN not Super-LADY!

  • supergirl | June 11, 2013 6:51 AM

    Yeah! This is about superman, not girls.

  • Warren | June 11, 2013 5:34 AM

    Why is it so difficult for people to understand that? I'm sure Lois Lane will be fleshed out more in a sequel, but this movie is about Kal-El/Clark becoming Superman.

  • KAIR | June 11, 2013 12:22 AMReply

    This is the perhaps the sole well-written, well-conceived review I've read from The Playlist (and I've been reading for several years; I've come to live with the godawful criticism). Good job Charlie

  • Cribbster | June 11, 2013 3:13 AM

    You're a ridiculous person.

  • Lua | June 11, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    I've read they did what comics said, the true story and not distracting topics. I'm not a huge fan but I value the comic, so I'm gonna watch it! XD

  • smithy | June 10, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    While Lois is competent and less annoying in this, the romance aspect has been said to be very weak. You either have chemistry or you don't. Seems they rushed it and they don't.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 10, 2013 11:35 PMReply

    Every comic book franchise hits its stride with the first sequel (not you, though, "Iron Man 2"!).

  • sturmanddrdang | June 20, 2013 7:04 PM

    Make excuses much?

  • Triny | June 10, 2013 11:31 PMReply

    After reading the review i was surprised to see that you gave it a B, it sounded like it would be C.

  • Go Force | July 1, 2013 1:01 AM

    The film starts well and has a decent middle act but the final battle is excessively long and violent.

  • oogle monster | June 10, 2013 11:16 PMReply

    Surprised by your take on Adams' Lois Lane. Other reviews counted her among the best surprises of the film. But good review regardless. Glad to see that Snyder hasn't completely ruined a piece of comic book lore.

  • flynn | June 11, 2013 10:12 AM

    Oogle Monster, please stop over-praising your favorites - Amy Adams, Emma Stone, and Jennifer Lawrence.

  • Javier | June 10, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    ...........so you're saying there's a chance

  • Alejandro | June 11, 2013 1:10 PM

    MAN OF STEEL OXIDE

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