Man of Steel (2013) Review

Without counting 2006’s largely underperforming Superman Returns, it’s been 26 years since Krypton’s favorite son has seen the big screen treatment. And, needless to say, with the success of the recent Batman trilogy and money making juggernaut that has become Marvel Studios, hopes for Man of Steel are pretty high.

Back in 2008 Warner Bros. started taking meetings with various directors, writers and comic book scribes on what would eventually become the rebirth of the world’s greatest superhero. One of those meetings was with Christopher Nolan, who happened to pitch a story idea from writer David S. Goyer, who was currently busy working on The Dark Knight Rises. The top brass seemed to like the concept and, after taking some time to find the right director, they settled on Zack Snyder in 2010. So with a new story, cast and estimated budget of $225 million, Superman was once again set to take flight. Flash forward to the summer of 2013, and we have finally arrived at what is undoubtedly the most anticipated movie event of this year.

So then, the question on everyone’s mind: Is this the Superman movie fans have been hoping for? According to the applause that preceded the midnight screening last night, it overwhelmingly is. Thanks to a new take on the fall of Krypton and the difficulties facing Kal-El (Clark Kent) as he matures, this origins story gives us a fresh and poignant look at what shapes a young alien’s decision to call Earth his home planet and defend the people who live there.

By now most moviegoers are familiar with Superman’s backstory and alter ego Clark Kent. So without giving away the entire plot, here are the details worth knowing: After having been imprisoned for crimes against his fellow Kryptonian’s, General Zod (Michael Shannon) finds his way to Earth in search of Kal-El (Henry Cavill) who unknowingly holds the key to Krypton’s future. But guided by a gut feeling and wisdom from his holographic ghost dad Jor-El, (Russell Crowe) Kal-El decides to accept his destiny and, no matter the cost, become the man he was born to be.

Henry Cavill (mostly known for his work in The Immortals and The Tudors) is easily the best choice for Superman since Christopher Reeve, and he makes us immediately comfortable with him in the title role. Likewise, Russell Crowe lends a serious yet nonthreatening gravitas to Jor-El, who we get to see and hear more from than ever before. Other key players include Amy Adams, who takes on a more compassionate Lois Lane than we are used to seeing, and Kevin Costner, whose Pa Kent is tremendously effective in the flashback scenes he inhabits.

Throughout the film the action is plentiful, the explosions are loud and the CGI is some of the best to date. There is also a tremendously powerful score by the brilliant film composer Hans Zimmer that is both uniquely ethereal and triumphantly bold. One moviegoer exclaimed as he left the theater, “Dude, that soundtrack was awesome!” Yet with all its grandeur and spectacle, Man of Steel somehow lacks a bit of power behind its punch.

Because there is so much going on, the film never finds sure footing. Giving credit where it’s due, director Zack Snyder does an admirable job of guiding this story and even grants audiences one truly emotional, touching moment that defines the film. This, however, comes halfway through a 143-minute runtime that could have easily been cut to 122. After that, the film chases its tail with over-the-top action and crumbling buildings aplenty. Though, for all the destruction that takes place, no real carnage is ever visible and most everyone survives with just a few scrapes.

In essence then, this Superman story is not as serious as, say The Dark Knight, or as playful as the recently released Iron Man 3. Truthfully though, despite its shortcomings this is one heck of an enjoyable action-filled ride. So if audiences just sit back, relax and don’t try to over analyze it, they’ll be thoroughly rewarded with a Man of Steel that was worth the wait.

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