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Hope for Tomorrow
Superman films have had a rocky history. Looking at the Christopher Reeve films it’s hard not to see why. Superman: The Movie embodied everything that people loved about the All American superhero, but the sequels were each more disappointing than the last. Then came the extremely under appreciated Superman Returns. Now, Zack Snyder, the director of Watchmen and 300 steps up to the plate to attempt to reboot the weakened franchise.
Beginning on the planet Krypton, the film follows Jor-El (Russell Crowe) as he tries to warn Krytpon’s high council that their gluttonous use of the planet’s resources is going to cause a great calamity. As Jor-El warns them, Krypton’s chief military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon), stages a coup. Desperate to give his son Kal-El, the first naturally born child for centuries, a fighting chance, Jor-El steals an artifact of great power and binds it with his infant son’s cells.
As Zod hunts Jor-El, Kal-El is launched away from the doomed planet towards Earth. Zod’s insurrection is suppressed, and he and his acolytes are sentenced to an eternity of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, Kal-El’s ship lands on Earth in Smallville, Kansas, and the child is raised by a pair of loving parents known as the Kents. As the boy grows, he discovers that he has strange abilities. Soon, he is forced to make decisions that will change the fate of his planet as Zod somehow escapes the Phantom Zone and tracks Kal-El (Henry Cavill) to Earth.
As the long string of advertisements has suggested, this is a far cry from the kind of film Superman Returns was. This film is so packed with action that most times it’s hard to take it all in. Especially in the final two acts of the film. If you want to go see Superman kick the shit out of some superpowered villains, then this is your Huckleberry. There’s so much action the film can be kind of exhausting.
Although, the movie sets a pace for itself that’s confusing. Many times throughout the story, you’ll suddenly be taken into a flashback of a related circumstance from Kal-El’s childhood. These transitions, while necessary for the story, usually just break up the action on screen and pull you out of the moment. The result is a film that never lets you really feel the impact of certain moments, which might make a lot of theatergoers cry for more.
Henry Cavill gives a good performance as Kal-El. Physically he fits into the role perfectly, but occasionally the underwritten script makes his performance seem awkward. Russell Crowe gives an unusually robotic performance as Jor-El, and some of the other supporting cast fall a little short (namely Michael Shannon as Zod). The film is beautifully shot however, and the special effects (aside from the Kryptonian version of the cell phone) look spectacular.
As far as Zack Snyder films go, this one is the least stylistically overdriven. Where Watchmen was an overdose of pop culture references and slow motion (and Sucker Punch and 300 were nothing but slow motion violence porn), Man of Steel is a sun drenched, brooding epic that has enough lens flares to put J.J. Abrams to shame.
Is Man of Steel the end all, be all, of superhero films? No. Is it a okay action spectacle? Yes. What has been laid in this film, will I’m sure, become the foundation for a strong series. As a Superman fan, I was kind of pleased with what I was given, but the minor flaws get jumbled together and when the lights go up, you don’t feel like you’re ready to leave, because something is missing.