NO SPOILERS HERE. Promise. A spoiler filled examination of Man of Steel will be available on July 14.
The family and I got tickets (at Wal-Mart of all places) to see Man of Steel a night early. Yes, as anyone with even a passing interest in this blog knows, I am that kind of guy. Clad in a Superman t-shirt – the coolest one in the theater, I must add – I sat in my seat, waiting for the movie to begin, knowing that I was likely to like Man of Steel, though I didn’t know if I would love it.
To love it, I would have to be taken in by a few things: performances, plot, effects, themes and intangibles.
I loved the performances. All of them. From Richard Schiff (for whom I will always have a soft spot as he brilliantly played Toby Zeigler on The West Wing for so many wonderful years) in a small role to Henry Lennix who is always cast when someone wants to add the air of President Obama to the proceedings. Lennix doesn’t play the president. He plays a certain General Swanwick (and I’ve got to believe the “Swan” part of that name is a reference to Superman artist Curt Swan who defined the character for a generation of comic book fans) who represents earthbound authority in the film. The minor roles were perfectly cast; the actors more than credible.
The major roles were equally well addressed. Russell Crowe has more than enough to do as Superman’s birth father Jor-El and redeems, for me, what many considered his weak performance in Les Miserables. Kevin Costner is also spot on as Johnathan Kent. These two actors represent a significant pendulum on which the film – and their son – swings. With lesser performances, the movie would not resonate as it does.
Amy Adams (it took me until the credits to smile at her alliterative “AA” last name – I just like the “AA”/”LL” as in Lois Lane symmetry) is wonderful as Lois Lane. Why director Zach Snyder didn’t make her color her red hair brown or black I don’t know, but I didn’t find myself distracted by the choice for a moment. She is believable as a reporter willing to risk everything for a story. She is highly believable as a strong and smart foil for Superman. The relationship she and Superman develop works in a way that no other onscreen Lois and Clark has ever worked.
A hero is only as good as his antagonist and, what makes Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod so fascinating is it’s clear that Zach Snyder told him the movie was actually called Zod of Steel. Shannon’s Zod acts as though he is the hero of the piece and his commitment to that role almost steals the film.
But it doesn’t. Henry Cavill is not Christopher Reeve and he’s not supposed to be. He comes off younger, but somehow wiser than the man most associated with a cinematic Man of Steel. And does he look the part. Compelling, but not fully formed, Cavill allows the audience to experience the growing pains of a young Superman. When he comes into his own in the third reel, we are cheering for him.
I liked the plot. The film is fairly epic in scope – dealing with major happenings, major destruction and, frankly, major loss of life. It has to move the audience and the action through the Krypton, Smallville, Metropolis set pieces and does so while adding more than a handful of others. There is big talk about the planet being imperiled, big ideas about what might happen if aliens were to be revealed to humanity and big explosions when the fit hits the shan. As is often the case in an “epic” science fiction film, the audience ought not think too hard about why the characters are doing what they are doing. If one goes with the flow, they will like the plot, too.
I loved the effects. Man, what’s not to love here? Zach Snyder has made a beautiful movie – a comic book in motion in the battle sequences. He’s created a Krypton that looks lived in, Kryptonians whose battle suits and weaponry packs real menace and a Superman suit that looks, well, right. The flying is impressive, the fight scenes breath-taking. It’s safe to say no Superman movie ever looked as good as this one does.
I loved the themes. That some have said the movie feels very Batman Begins is valid, though I don’t think that’s a criticism. This is Superman at his beginning, but, thematically at least, we get a glimpse of where he’s going and it’s not into the dark night. If we’re looking for why a man – a superpowered man – would be compelled to be heroic, that theme is here. If we’re looking for fathers discovering they cannot always live on in their sons and sons discovering their fathers often know about what they speak, that theme is here. If we’re looking for an illustration of good vs. evil, that theme is here. So it a theme dealing with the nature of the soul and self-determination. For a superhero movie, there is a lot going on and the themes click.
Finally, I loved the intangibles. Could Cavill stand beside Christopher Reeve? Check. Could Snyder’s vision, decidedly different from Superman the Movie director Richard Donner’s, crave out a clear niche in the Superman mythos? Check. Would the more “real world” approach to the Superman story work for me? Check.
More than any other hero whose carried a film, the Superman story is hard to interpret. How cool is someone who is always good?
In the hand of screenwriter David S. Goyer and director Zach Snyder? Pretty damned cool.
I give Man of Steel four and a half pairs of red underwear out of five.
I missed the red underwear on the outside of his suit!