Thursday, June 13, 2013

REVIEW: Man of Steel

This is a fantasy. A careless product of wild imagination. And my good friends, Man of Steel is all the better for it.

For months, I actively worried about this movie. The last one, Superman Returns, was better than most people say it is, but those who complained it was too meditative and ponderous had a point.  When I realized that Zack Snyder was directing the new movie, I swallowed hard. I had greatly enjoyed his debut film, the Dawn of the Dead remake, but each successive film got worse, culminating in the juvenile rampage called Sucker Punch. And yet, I held out hope because Christopher Nolan was producing and co-writing the story. Maybe he would keep Snyder's excesses in check.

As it turns out, he hasn't. Man of Steel bears all the hallmarks of Snyder's hyperactive approach, and if anything, his direction is wilder than ever. But what's different this time is that the material actually supports and merits the over-the-top style. This is a film about what would happen to Earth if a platoon of Kryptonian soldiers decided to invade, and Superman put up a fight. The planet gets shellacking of absolutely immense proportions

But that's what woud happen in a Superman story with ultra-high stakes. No other movie has captured the adrenaline rush of a superhero story with such unbridled abandon. Drew McWeeny of Hitfix raised my eyebrows when he said the action made The Avengers look quaint. He wasn't kidding. Man of Steel left me breathless and exhilarated in a way I haven't felt in a very long time. THIS is the kind of gargantuan action that Michael Bay has been trying, and mostly failing to mount for decades. Snyder choreographs his action with just enough control that I was always dizzy, but never lost.

Even more importantly, the action, powerful though it is, does not snuff out the drama. As they did in Batman Begins, Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer move forwards and backwards in time to show how the past influences the present. Superman Returns had the noble intent of exploring the loneliness of a god-like alien, but became lugubrious along the way. In Man of Steel, we more directly see the cause and effect as young Clark wants to use his powers but can't, giving Superman's conflict the emotional import it needs. At the same time, Nolan and Goyer add novel tweak the Superman mythology, such as making Kal-El the rare natural birth on Krypton - and making his parents criminals in the process.

The actors, by and large, are terrific. It's no surprise that Michael Shannon (General Zod) plays menace well, and Amy Adams (Lois Lane) elevates every project she does with her intelligent sunniness. Diane Lane is somewhat underused as Martha Kent, but Kevin Costner has his best role in years, as does Russell Crowe, playing Superman's father.

Then there's Henry Cavill in the title role. Ever since Christopher Reeve left his indelible mark, other actors have been unable to escape his shadow.That's because none played Clark Kent as well as Reeve. Playing Superman isn't so hard, but making the Kent disguise believable is.  So Cavill, for the most part, doesn't try. This story doesn't require it. He brings the appropriate physicality to the role without overdosing on moodiness.  How well he plays Clark will be best explored in future movies, but I'm confident he'll pull it off.

That said, when the credits rolled, I could only wonder how the sequel could possibly match the sheer scale of this movie. I'm very anxious to find out, when the first movie is the best one I've seen so far in 2013.