Sometimes when I’m really excited about a new movie, I get my hopes way too high, and then I’m inevitably disappointed. (I’m looking at you, King Kong.) On the other hand, some films I can tell from the trailer will work for me. (Die Hard comes to mind.) Man of Steel was in danger of being in the first category, but with Zack Snyder at the helm, I had real hopes. I’ve liked every film of his I’ve seen: Dawn of the Dead, 300, Sucker Punch, Watchmen. On the other hand, none of those tales really have the same kind of sense of mood that you need for a Superman story. Could he shift his storytelling style enough? Could he make it feel like a real movie, and not a series of cleverly designed green screen shots?
I think Snyder pulled it off. Now, I was less amazed by the unnecessary fractured storyline. Did we really need to keep flashing back to Kansas? I get that after the gonzo Kryptonian intro, we didn’t want to settle in for twenty minutes of young Clark dealing with his incipient super powers. We want to get Henry Cavill on screen as soon as possible. But the structure still felt a little out of place.
What wasn’t out of place was the casting. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was fantastic. He’s not just the mythical god figure that we got with Brando in the 1978 Superman. He’s more of a philosophical guy, bucking the trend of genetic engineering that the Kryptonians have fallen into. Kal-El is the first natural birth in years. He’s a return to the old ways. (Thematic alert!) We also get a more interesting Lara (Kal’s mom) than we’ve ever seen before. Ayelet Zurer gets to do a couple of things, and be all “mom” and stuff. We also get a quick introduction to Zod (Michael Shannon) who plays it less patrician and more visceral than Terence Stamp’s version. Also, he’s eeeeevil.
On Earth, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are the Kents, and they do great work. Laurence Fishburne is a straigtforward Perry White (and at no time references any ghosts). Amy Adams takes on the role of Lois Lane and is maybe the best version of that character I’ve seen. She does get saved a couple of times, but she’s far from a “damsel in distress”. She’s actually a reporter!
And, of course, Cavill. Is he a good Superman? I think he is. I think he’s a very good Superman. Hard to say he’s better than Reeve, but at the very least, he comes a close second. His Clark isn’t nearly as fun, but then, it’s all about outsider angst and guilt. It’s hard to have fun with all of that baggage. What is interesting about his performance is that he doesn’t let the baggage impact Superman, only Clark. Once he has on the suit, he’s all Superman. Is that a Cavill choice, or is that Clark supressing his darker side to maintain the illusion? That I’m asking the question means it is a thought-provoking take on the character(s).
Some of the action was needlessly crazy, specifically the scene wherein Superman fights a Kryptonian defense mechanism that’s guarding a machine doing bad things to Earth. (I won’t spoil the moderately nifty plot point surrounding that machine.) But the battles between him and the bad Kryptonians are all a lot of fun. I enjoy an action sequence that plays with the sheer amount of visual information a person can process. I never felt lost, but I felt like they really pushed the limit of what they could do and not lose me. Kudos for that.
I walked out of the theater very happy, not least because the final two lines were remarkably well written and encapsulate the entire movie in about three seconds. That’s good writing.