“Man of Steel” is the latest reboot of the “Superman” franchise, this time brought to you by the screenwriter David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the Nolan-directed Batman trilogy, and director Zack Snyder, of “300” fame. Also, Warner Brothers wants you to know that executive producer Christopher Nolan had a helping hand in this summer blockbuster of a film. And in the lead role of Clark Kent? Little known actor (or at least little known to me) Henry Cavill.
“Man of Steel” certainly does not hold back, as it is as action-packed as a summer movie could be, almost to a fault. But the true heart of the film can be seen in the non-linear format of its storytelling. When Snyder takes you away to show you glimpses of Kent’s past, you can understand where the film is going and where Kent has been. The struggles he has with his god-like powers sets the tone for a Clark Kent who is hesitant to use his good, as his powers may be too much for the human race to handle. Also in these flashbacks is the father who raised him, Jonathan Kent, played superbly by Kevin Costner. In my mind, Costner was the saving grace to the film. He provides the wisdom and father-like prowess you would expect from the man who raises Superman. The sincerity and meaningfulness behind the elder Kent’s words provides the needed impact to keep Clark in check and make him understand what his abilities could be, when used at the right time. Clark saves his abilities until he believes the human race is ready, which is something his dad talked to him about. Without that guidance, Clark may not have become the man (alien?) he becomes. And lastly, the scene where Clark lets go of his father is as big of a punch to the gut as any action scene in the movie is. A truly remarkable sequence.
Okay, enough about Jonathan Kent, there were other parts of the film worth mentioning, like the stoic, yet at the same time manic, performance of Michael Shannon as General Zod. Throughout the film, Zod is uncompromising as he tries to save his home planet of Krypton, which, in his mind, means the destruction of Earth. But even with his unrelenting need to capture Kal-El (Clark Kent), Zod is conflicted. This is most noticeable when he takes full control of a ship formerly manned Jor-El, Clark Kent’s real father (played by Russell Crowe), whose essence is still on the ship. Zod is a manufactured being, whose sole-purpose is to protect his planet at all costs. So, on his journey to save his people, he kills Jor-El early in the film, which haunts him throughout, as he respected Jor-El’s intelligence. And when he wipes his essence out of the ship, Zod is still clearly feeling some emotions of regret for what he has done, but it had to be done to save his people. It was a necessary action that no emotion could stop. The reserved acting of Shannon in the scene is brilliant.
What wasn’t necessary was all the action scenes during the second half of the film. The film fills in Kent’s backstory as the film progresses and does it nicely, as I mentioned before. You are compelled. You want to understand more and you appreciate the ability that this “man” has and, for the most part, that appreciation is accomplished. You see the path a young kid takes to become the superhero that we all know and love. Clark Kent becomes Superman, who is no longer apprehensive of his ability.
However, once Zod appears with his ship, the film begins to lose its way, replacing story exposition with extended action sequences. In a way, it was expected, as Clark Kent found his father and worked his way to find the origins of his power and the history of his people. So, there was not much else to build upon in that aspect, but the generic move to all the action and violence took the wind out of the story’s sails as it went kaput in exchange for high-octane fight scenes between super humans. The main take-away from all the violence and action is that Kent throws away any remnant of saving his home world of Krypton and chooses Earth. Also, by the end, he falls in love with Lois Lane, which happens quickly and conveniently. It would have been nice to have seen that developed more.
Henry Cavill does a super job as Clark Kent, (sorry for the pun) as he journeys through the film attempting to find the meaning of his powers. He is the stern-jawed, muscled actor with slicked black hair meant for the role. Cavill uses emotional restraint at times and completely lets loose at others, which fits the bill of an up and coming Superman honing in his powers.
All in all, “Man of Steel” is a success. It’s pros outweigh the cons. It could have been great, but it lacked the cinematic spectacle of the “Batman” series. It certainly is not bad though and in a move that is not at all surprising, a sequel has already been green-lighted, which will bring back the same Snyder/Goyer team. Now, let’s see if they can build upon this installment.