Man of Steel
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe.

The title of the film “Man of Steel” tells you what to expect when you buy a ticket to see this immense summer blockbuster: The noticeable absence of the word “Superman” in the title that this will be less of a reboot and more of a full blown re-imagining. Depending on your view of who Superman is or in fact should be it will either work or not work. In any case, this 2013 version of the story is grand in scale, dark and brutally violent. It has its moments of being kindhearted but it’s never particularly out and out funny or sweet. This is a Superman pent up with a lot of emotional baggage and it’s refreshing to see that human side. The man of steel is full of angst and frustration and it only adds that little bit more emotional depth for the character. This makes the threat of not only the menacing General Zod but of the distrust from humanity too all the more challenging to overcome.

Directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch) and also by produced by the master of the successful reboot filmmaker Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception), this version definitely delivers on the promise of its title. The film for the most part abandons the cheesy spirit and humor of the Christopher Reeve films. (As well as Bryan Singer’s abysmal homage to them in the 2006 Superman Returns). Man of Steel transforms what we expect from a Superman movie and brings the character into the 21st century. It does take on a recent fashion for gritty and brutal tales of superhero films who’s main agenda is to show someone who is struggling to defend a world that doesn’t appreciate their pain or their sacrifices. Don’t get me wrong there are elements of humor sprinkled amongst the seriousness, which is always welcomed in the genre.

It is a first-rate example of a Hollywood blockbuster of our generation. Though don’t be too fooled by the abundance of CGI. The film has a watered down color palette, which adds a touch more realism to the proceedings, plenty of high-tech hardware, captivating fight scenes, and a re-envisioned mythology that breathes plenty of freshness into the story. Man of Steel also does one over with past Superman films in how it delivers the story. The script, written by David S. Goyer of “Blade” fame, begins with a captivating prologue on Krypton; the visuals here are one of the highlights of the film. Superman’s father Jor-El played brilliantly by (Russell Crowe) and mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are fighting two separate battles at the same time: one is  to convince their fellow Kryptonians that its over-use of the planet’s natural resources is causing the core to melt, and secondly to stop a rebellion led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who’s enraged at the fact that Jor-El violated Krypton’s breeding protocol and conceive a son the old-fashioned way. Because of his attempted rebellion Zod and his followers are exiled into the Phantom Zone but not for too long. Krypton eventually explodes but not before Kal-El is zipped off to earth and is raised by Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). After the very convenient timespan of 33 years, we pick up Kal-El/Clark’s story just in time for him to unlock his destiny that his father and mother worked so hard to keep secret until Clark was ready. Their motives were honorable: they predicted corrected the distrust and hostility he would encounter once he donned the outfit to fight Zod and prevent Earth from being transformed into Krypton 2.0.

Henry Cavill does an excellent job at portraying the title role he’s no Christopher Reeve but then again he doesn’t have to be. Cavill’s is in fact quite likeable and we understand his motives and turmoil’s and can sympathize with his situation. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Man of Steel chronicles the hero’s development through flashbacks set in motion by present-day traumas. This component is very appropriate, if you consider how much of the story is about having to exist and function day-to-day while carrying around the weight of your own past.

Some of the most emotional scenes show the young Superman struggling to make sense of his powers that his adoptive parents know he cannot reveal for fear of being labeled a freak. One astonishing sequence shows young Clark during a school lesson who is overwhelmed by his super-senses. When he looks at his classmates and teachers, he sees their bones and veins and organs through their skin, and because he hasn’t mastered the art of filtering sound, he hears a disorientating collection of noises and voices. Martha Kent calms him down and delivers a tender reassurance that truly shows a mothers love. Another fine aspect of the film is Jonathan Kent explaining why Clark his special abilities. Costner is amazing in these moments, projecting an undeniable decency. When Clark, who’s passed the years on a fishing boat finally heads north and discovers the Fortress of Solitude, he acquires his biological father Kal-El. Who then becomes a modern day spirit guide of sorts, advising and arguing with Clark the history of Krypton and the current trials and obstacles he must now face.

This is all good stuff and it’s all a setup for the film’s second and third acts, and Clark’s eventual transformation into Superman just in time to face Zod and his mission of vengeance. I particularly enjoyed how the filmmakers convey Superman’s embrace of his destiny and the weight of an entire plant put on his shoulder.

The entire cast from top to bottom are fantastic. Shannon in particular is very menacing without being over the top; he’s an expert at projecting self-defeating macho rage, this enable us to see Zod as less of a straightforward evildoer than someone who is tragically misguided. You never condone his actions, but you understand why he does what he does. The hero’s struggle not to give into rage and pettiness against bullies like Zod, to use his power to heal and save rather than destroy, is explored with more finesse than you might expect.

In conclusion I think Man of Steel does an excellent job. The film is paced very well and builds to a breathtaking finale. It expands on the mythology and history of Superman without destroying too much of what we already knew. It’s an interesting take on the backstory and allows the filmmakers to add their own ideas. It works very well and the chemistry of fine action, emotional drama and spectacular visuals makes this in my opinion the best adaptation of Superman I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen already I highly suggest you see it for yourself.