Movie Review: 'Man of Steel' (2013)

After 7 years away from the silver screen Superman makes his triumphant return in "Man of Steel", another adaptation that begins with the origin story of the world’s most famous superhero. Born Kal-El, the last natural son of Krypton is sent to Earth by his birth parents before their dying world ceases to exist. Discovered by a childless couple on earth, he is adopted and raised as Clark Kent. Equipped with Kryptonian super powers, he is a man with no earthly equal.

“Man of Steel” gets more right than its predecessors have. However, if you had the pleasure of watching TV's "Smallville" you might find yourself comparing them more often than the Superman movies of yesteryear.

Obviously TV and film are two very different mediums and given that "Smallville" was the former, it had a better opportunity to dig deeper into the storylines and characters that comprise the Superman mythos. Hence diminishing “Man of Steel” for its genre restraints would be unfair.

What makes "Man of Steel" superior to its cinematic peers is the way it unravels the origin story. By telling it in a non-linear format, screenwriter David Goyer takes a big risk that majorly pays off. Previous films use of sequential narration has been detrimental to their flow, causing the pace to stagnate by tediously plodding through story points the average viewer already knows by heart.

Given that Superman's backstory is one of the most publicized in comic book lore, the need to rehash it in great detail is not necessary and this adaptation clearly knows it. "Man of Steel" leaps into action, keeping us engaged by never slowing down long enough to lose our attention whilst hitting the essential “origin” notes along the way.

It avoids meandering and despite a more thoughtful and self-reflective look at Superman it still has tons of bombastic action; a little too much at times. While the CGI is well done; it overpowers certain scenes and the endless fight sequences between Superman and the Kryptonians quickly overstays their welcome.

The effects look incredible in IMAX 3-D, providing a wholly immersive experience that has Superman appearing to fly right off of the screen. Regrettably the action style for "Man of Steel" is not as victorious, way too reminiscent of Jean-Claude Van Damme's. Let Superman display why he is…super.

How are people supposed to buy his superiority when he’s being thrashed about before barely eking out a comeback? A true superhero should kick tail and take names, only wavering with the big bad for a millisecond before quickly dispatching them.

When it comes to the performances, Henry Cavill mightily exceeds personal expectations as the caped crusader. In an era that has seen studios gamble tent-pole projects on actors who are off the mainstream radar, Cavill proves why he was worth the risk.

He brings a depth and emotional relativity to the human character of Clark Kent that has been sorely missing in previous incarnations. There is no nervous fiddling of the phony glasses or nerdy lack of self-confidence. Cavill's assurance in the role and in his creative vision is evident.

Co-star Amy Adams offers what is hands down the best film incarnation of Lois Lane to date, nailing the 3 Ss that comprise Lane’s trademark personality: spunk, smarts and sass. She plays Lois with a steely resolve that terrifically displays Lois’ outward admiration for her newfound hero with the requisite measure of self-possession.

While others have mistaken Lois’s confidence for sheer arrogance, Adams deftly shades the difference. Elsewhere, Diane Lane (getting the chance to break typecasting as an adulterous wife) and Kevin Costner make for a convincing Ma and Pa Kent. Costner is particularly effective, integrating the duel dimensions of Kent’s role as a compassionate patriarch and pragmatic farmer.

On the villain front things are not as bright. Michael Shannon is a terrific actor, as those who have seen his masterful work in "Take Shelter" can attest. As Zod he is sadly miscast or rather misused.

What sounded like a brilliant idea on paper does not translate to the screen. Due to awkward scripting, Shannon gets crushed in between the gears of having to convey the brunt force of a brutish warrior in one breath and a sensitive philosopher desperate to save his people, the next.

The acting coup of the film belongs to Russell Crowe, who battles back in his most appealing performance since "3:10 to Yuma". As Jor-El, Crowe gets a chance to touch on his most iconic performance, Maximus in "Gladiator". Crowe’s take on Jor-El is as a calm, confident leader, loving father and wise scientist. It is a role that has been waiting for someone of his caliber to finally do it justice and Crowe does just that.

Laurence Fishbourne is diligent as Perry White, giving a gripping performance alongside newcomer Rebecca Buller, who is a scene stealer as mass chaos envelops the staff of the Daily Planet. Her performance is crucial in upping the tangible stakes of the human carnage Superman is fighting to prevent, making his battle bite with real consequence. It is here the movie produces more chills and thrills than all of the clashing and thrashing of the Zod battle sequences combined.

Behind the lens, Zack Snyder does not completely sell himself as the right fit for the director’s chair. As promising a case as his dazzling page-by-page adaptation of “Watchman” made for his potential as a Superman helmer, the result is underwhelming.

His need to pervasively emphasize heavily fantastical imagery and overuse innumerable decibels of sound, fail to make the surely desired impact. In the end, an over reliance on those characteristics costs the movie. Superman is a super story and there is no need for exaggeration when telling it. Rating: 7.6/10

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