I was one of the rare persons in my friend-circle to not be too excited regarding Man of Steel. I’d read that Chris Nolan would be returning to reboot the Superman series, and having done such a fantastic job with the Batman series (which no one would touch by a long stick after the sad demise of Batman and Robin), I was intrigued. However, when I found out that he would be involved only in the production and story, and not directing, my heart sank a little. It plummeted when I found out Snyder had been handed over the directorial responsibilities. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Snyder’s films. I disliked Watchmen, generally and hated Sucker Punch. Of course, I loved 300. I was worried that there might be too many slow-mo sequences in Man of Steel as well, which would destroy the movie like Sucker Punch. Nevertheless, a little Nolan touch couldn’t hurt, so I had to know how the movie was.
It all starts off in Krypton. The planet’s core has become unstable and will soon lead to the creation of a singularity which will consume the planet. Pike sends Kirk and Sulu to disable the machine which is killing the core. Unfortunately, it’s too late and Vulcan is dest–
Wait. Wrong movie. I can’t be blamed, though. Because this is exactly how Man of Steel opens. Krypton is being destroyed, villains to fight, too late to stop it, yada yada yada. There’s also some babble about some Codex or something (reminiscent of the babble in Prometheus) to be sent with Kal-El to Earth, which is seen to by Jor-El. Zod is there to ensure this doesn’t happen.
On Earth, Kal-El (now Clark Kent) hops from job-to-job, falsifying his identity and disappearing after being forced to reveal the full powers of his superhuman strength while saving people around him from dangers. In second act, the film alternates between real-time and flashbacks continuously as you see Clark’s childhood, teenage and young-adult days as he struggles to cope with his unusual powers. None of this is particularly confusing, and I personally felt this portion was handled nicely. Lois Lane (played well by the charming Amy Adams) is also introduced as a beauty-with-brains Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist who tries to decipher the Superman’s real identity. Halfway into the movie, Zod arrives to seek out Kal-El, leaving us with a massive and really, really long battle sequence which constructs the film’s finale.
Now you’d be an idiot if you walked into a Superman movie and detested the action. Clark Kent isn’t an intelligent detective like Bruce Wayne was. So there’s less of intellect and more of bad-guy bashing, upholding humane ideals and dealing out justice. The supposedly true embodiment of America. Here is where Zack Snyder seems to take over the reigns of the horse and boy does he race well. The action sequences are unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is CGI-porn at it’s finest. We haven’t been strangers to massive on-screen battles which leave large cities in ruins (consider the Transformers movie series or more recently, Marvel’s The Avengers), but watching just a few individuals battle it out is a sight to behold. There’s a particularly gripping choreographed fight sequence between Zod and Kent where they fly through the city trading blows. There’s no slow-mo involved anywhere and yet you’re able to keep track of the action.
There are a few problems though – ones which cannot be ignored. The film was shot in 2D and converted to 3D, which explains why the colours look terrible. It’s a pity Nolan (as Producer) allowed such a travesty to happen, as he’s always been particular to shoot movies in good ol’ normal 2D, opting for IMAX cameras only in The Dark Knight Rises, and ignoring 3D even then. When you see Superman flying over green pastures bisecting hordes of zebras, you want to see it in glorious, gorgeous 2D.
There’s also the excessive use of shaky-cam which may lead to bouts of dizziness for the inexperienced. Znyder also prefers to zoom in really quickly onto the subjects in certain scenes. This, too, is used a lot, but works to a large extent.
Maybe Znyder tries too hard. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it’s perfect. But many may not agree with his skills here, and opinions are certain to be divided on this.
But he does manage to extract great performances from his cast. Russel Crowe as Jor-El manages to make the otherwise boring opening act watchable. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray Clark Kent’s adoptive parents who love their son, but know that he’s destined for greater things. They’re instrumental in convincing Superman (and you) why he shouldn’t reveal his powers to the rest of humanity. Michael Shannon is terrific as General Zod. Here we have a villain who has a fairly justifiable agenda to conquer the Earth and pursue Clark Kent. He’s every bit as menacing as a villain and is equals Superman’s ability. He’s ruthless and unrelenting in his quest to fulfill his mission. Henry Cavill is also fantastic as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, exhibiting just enough vulnerability when required, and bringing the action-movie-man looks when the time comes to battle. Surprisingly, however, it is Antje Traue as Zod’s sub-commander Faora who kicks ass in the final act. It’s difficult to explain how, or why, but you’ll understand when you watch the film.
While watching Man of Steel, my mind continuously wandered to Nolan’s Batman, and here’s where most of the film’s criticism lies. There’s hardly any humour. Not that there was much in the Batman series, but there was general amusement throughout the movies, something which is a staple of Nolan’s directorial flair. Not here, though. As a result, it pales in comparison to Batman Begins. It simply fails to be a satisfying reboot to reach the fairly high standard Batman Begins set (as a reboot).
What really binds the movie, though, is Hans Zimmer’s exceptional music score. You might complain that it is deafening during the final act, and you’d be right, but it makes the action sequences all the more exciting to watch. If you listen to the soundtrack while pooping, it would be the single-most epic poop you’d have ever pooped. The sound effects, especially when Superman takes flight, sound so marvelous reverberating through the hall while shaking your seats. It’s a visceral experience, with each sound punching your gut knocking the wind out of your stomach till you gasp for breath…
…which puts me in the unusual position of wholeheartedly recommending a film to watch at the cinemas, despite it being only a good film. Man of Steel isn’t the best superhero film, but probably one of the better Superman films. It is, however, an extremely promising reboot and I eagerly await the next edition. You must keep in mind that Batman Begins wasn’t the classic it’s successor was, so we can hope for a better Superman film from Znyder-Nolan-Goyer in the future.
My rating for Man of Steel: 7/10