Craig's First Take: "Man of Steel"
on 2013-06-12 09:52
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman carrying Richard Pryor in the poster for “Superman 3”, an image one can only associate with the steady decline of America’s most treasured super hero over the years. Bryan Singer tried to rebuild after the disasters of “Supermans 3 and 4” with“Superman Returns”, which divided many and encouraged Warner Brothers to decide that it “didn’t position the character the way he needed to be positioned.”(One question: Whathappened to Brandon Routh?) But now geekdom has a hero to champion, and I’m not talking about the tight-wearing Kryptonian. I speak of Christopher Nolan, who has bought himself a life-time pass into any comic-con, Superhero-con, Dungeons and Dragons-con (you get the idea) you could think of just with “The Dark Knight” alone. He produces a screenplay by David S. Goyer, who collaborated with Nolan on all of his batman films, has his share of super hero misfires (“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, “The Crow: City of Angels, “Blade Trinity”), but also did write the first two “Blades”.
But this will all come down to execution and that is where the skepticism lies. Director Zack Snyder may have created visually dazzling worlds in all of his films but his weak attention to story has become all the more apparent; “Watchmen”, “Legend of the Guardians”, and the godawful “Sucker Punch” basically detailing the diminishing returns. This is also a huge undertaking for star Henry Cavill, best known for his work on “The Tudors”, but whose film acting has been either bit parts or leading roles in mediocre movies nobody bothered to see (ok, I bothered to see “Cold Light of Day”, but I regret it).
Origin stories are getting trickier nowadays. Reboots of super hero franchises are happening way too often and if you’re going to try to reinvent what came before, you better bring an “A” game to prove it’s worth the trip again. Snyder answers the call in the very first scene, a thrillingly chaotic end to Krypton where Russell Crowe’s Jor-El rides a large insect over the carnage and goes head to head with Michael Shannon’s traitorous General Zod, both actors bringing great gravity to the battle of good vs. evil.
As Clark transitions to a grown man, he’s first seen as fully aware of the powers he has while working on a fishing hull (“The Daily Planet” doesn’t even make an appearance til much later). How he came into those powers is wisely done in flashback, enlightening without ever wasting alot of time on kid stuff. Kevin Costner’s Johnathan Kent is on hand to spout most of the well-worn clichés of movies like this (“you’re power is a great blessing”, “you must decide the kind of man you want to be”). Basically all Costner has to do is say it with a degree of sincerity. Check and mate. Diane Lane, as Martha Kent, has a bit less to do.
A lot has been made of a particular tornado scene and it being insensitive after the Oklahoma tragedy. It’s bad luck it was even in there to begin with but a good choice not to take it out. Like most of the other action in the early going, it provides character development. The special effects wow here, especially the flying scenes. I think this is the first Superman movie that can really boast “faster than a speeding bullet”.
But in a more general sense, you can also see the Christopher Nolan fingerprints all over this thing, particularly in its relentless seriousness. Would it have been so bad for a bit of humor, some fun with Superman, anything resembling something other than an apocalyptic hellscape? Nope. As son as Clark has “the talk” with Jor-El and dons the suit, we’re plunged into an hour and a half war for humanity as Zod and his crew (after escaping imprisonment from the Phantom Zone) face off with Superman and the U.S military. It’s a full-on action sequence that’s both exhausting and bombastic as characters are thrown like rag-dolls, nearly every fight seems to be done in fast-motion, and there’s explosions and widespread destruction of city blocks (still a 9/11 reminder if anything), all of which seems to go on forever but still this is exactly the kind of grandiosity I want to see from a Superman film.
Cavil commits himself well here, a noble warrior still looking for a place in the world. His physique will also impress the ladies and put some of the other supermen to shame. He is an oddly quiet Superman tho; you wish he would talk more. And Shannon is terrific here, adding cold-blooded shades to a thinly written character. Amy Adams also does a fine job as Lois Lane, although she seems more like a Gal-Friday character than a romantic interest. Well, I guess there’s always the sequel. If nothing else “Man of Steel” proves that should happen.