Zack Snyder's Sci-Fi spectacle starring Henry Cavill as Superman
A Potpourri of Vestiges Review
|Man of Steel (2013) - By Zack Snyder|
Our Rating: 6.5
IMDb Ratings: 7.9
Genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Country: USA | Canada | UK
Runtime: 143 min
Summary: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
Man of Steel is the first installment in the much-anticipated “Superman” reboot helmed by American filmmaker Zack Snyder. The movie marks the return of the DC Comics iconic superhero to the celluloid after a seven-year-long hiatus following the mediocre show of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006). Co-written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill in the role of the eponymous superhero—a part that was immortalized by the late Christopher Reeve. The movie’s stellar ensemble cast includes the likes of Amy Adams (as Lois Lane), Russell Crowe (as Jor-El), Kevin Costner (as Jonathan Kent), Laurence Fishburne (as Perry White), Diane Lane (as Martha Kent), and Michael Shannon (as General Zod).
|Henry Cavill as Clark Kent aka Kal-El aka Superman in Man of Steel|
Man of Steel takes a departure from the trademark style of the “Superman” films starring Christopher Reeve. Make no mistake! Man of Steel’s striking contrast to its predecessors is not merely because of its technical supremacy (3D, Special Effects, etc). Even the makers choose to make a statement by opting for a title that doesn't have the word “Superman” attached to it (not to mention about Superman's new costume). In fact, it would be safe to look upon this rather drastic transformation as a paradigm shift. Man of Steel completely lets go of the quintessential “Family” movie feel of the “Superman” franchise and adopts a rather somber tone in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. But that is inevitable! Every filmmaker helming a commercially successful film franchise these days invariably seems to take a leaf or two out of Nolan’s book—the most recent example that comes to mind is that of Sam Mendes in Skyfall (2012). And Snyder is no exception! Besides, Nolan’s involvement, howsoever passive, in the movie, both as a producer as well as a co-writer, just cannot be overlooked.
|Russell Crowe (left) as Jor-El in Man of Steel|
Man of Steel starts off on a brilliant note. The action takes place on the planet Krypton which finds itself on the brink of annihilation. Years of exploitation has depleted Krypton of its natural resources rendering its core unstable. The planet’s pre-eminent scientist Jor-El and his wife Lara prepare for the safe departure of their newborn son Kal-El to Earth. Jor-El, having anticipated the apocalypse well in advance, decides to have a naturally born child with his wife in violation of the laws prevalent on Krypton, where reproduction is done through genetic engineering aided by a planetary “Codex” which pre-decides what role the newborn will have in the society once it grows up: leader, scientist, general, worker, etc. Anyone possessing sound knowledge of the Indian Caste System—which divides humans into four varnas that order and rank humanity by innate spiritual purity; the highest being the Brahmins, or priests; next being the Kshatriyas, or the warriors; the third being the Vaishyas, or the merchants; the lowest being the Shudras, consisting of laborers, artisans and servants, often treated as untouchables—would be able to relate well to it.
|Michael Shannon as General Zod in Man of Steel|
Jor-El and his wife Lara are against the rigidity of the system and want their newborn (the lone survivor of their race) to have the freedom of choice. In a desperate attempt to save Krypton, the uncompromising General Zod leads a military coup against the ruling council. Zod kills the council members and arrests Jor-El after failing to convince the latter to join the cause. Jor-El manages to escape just in time to secure a safety departure of Kal-El. Zod confronts Jor-El and kills him but is soon arrested for treason. Zod and his supporters are banished to the Phantom Zone till eternity. The next part of the film takes place on Earth as we witness young Kal-El’s journey from infancy to adulthood (as Clark Kent), under the guardianship of Jonathan and Martha Kent, as he comes to terms with the reality of his existence. He also makes an acquaintance with
Lois Lane. This part of the
movie does have its moments, but sadly it’s no match for the movie’s breathtaking overture. Kevin Costner steals every scene that he is in but it's a pity he is
terribly underused by Snyder. Russell Crowe makes a few appearances as a holographic figure (highly reminiscent of Star Wars’ Obi-Wan) and while he is quite solid in these scenes
the brilliance of his early scenes on Krypton remains unparalleled.
|Henry Cavill as Clark Kent in Man of Steel|
It is the third and final part of the movie that is the trickiest. Kal-El aka Clark Kent finally comes fact to face with his fiendish nemesis and must choose his path very carefully, for his fate as well as the fate of the Earth rests on the outcome of his decision. While those who revel in mindboggling action sequences would be thrilled beyond imagination, the hardcore fans of the “Superman” franchise may very well be left high and dry. Likewise, the keen-eyed viewer, disconcerted by the needlessness of the extravagant violence projected by the film, is bound to nitpick. Why would Superman, the very beacon of human hope against evil, indulge in extreme violence that ends up jeopardizing the lives of thousands? Why would he choose to fight Zod (and his supporters) in the densely populated Metropolis instead of fighting him elsewhere? Obviously, Snyder seems more interested in liming a lurid canvas that suits his extreme taste as oppose to portraying the tale of Superman! Any serious viewer would find it hard to overlook many such questions.
|Amy Adams as Lois Lane in Man of Steel|
With CGI & VFX galore, Man of Steel serves to be a great spectacle, but, underlined by Snyder’s ostentatious filmmaking style and Goyer’s perfunctory characters, it seems to be significantly low on substance. Snyder, over the years, has evolved as a formidable filmmaker who like most of his American contemporaries seem to share a penchant for showmanship. There is nothing wrong with adopting an ostentatious style as long as it’s delicately balanced with substance, something that the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone seemed to have perfected. Now, Snyder may have come close to attaining it in films like 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009), but he clearly botches it up in Man of Steel. His desperate urge to blindly choose spectacle over soul is quite evident, right from the word go. The fact that Snyder treats it as a Sci-Fi extravaganza rather than a superhero flick may have worked quite well had he not tried to bombard it with insane, CGI-driven carnage, à la Transformers (2007) or Iron Man (2008).
|Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel|
Overall, Man of Steel serves to be a decent summer flick with truckloads of entertainment value for the casual viewers. But, sadly, for the most part, it remains limited to entertainment. Snyder shows flashes of brilliance but fails to capitalize on those strong moments. The acting ranges from brilliant to average. While Crowe and Costner deliver topnotch performances, Amy Adams despite trying her best fails to leave a strong impression. Goyer and Nolan fail to put enough meat into
character; hopefully, it would be rectified in the subsequent editions. Henry
Cavill overcomes the limitations of his part to deliver a solid performance.
However, he still has a long way to go before he can actually look to fill the shoes of
Christopher Reeve. While Diane
Lane is impressive in her portrayal, Laurence
Fishburne is virtually wasted. Michael Shannon appears to be a bit over-the-top
in most of his scenes. Another area where Snyder and his team of writers seem to lack is in the treatment of the character of Superman. The level
of darkness they seem to engulf him in is absolutely inconsistent with Superman’s outright
bright caricature, as depicted in DC Comics, and is rather reflective of a
typically obscure persona that one generally associates with the Batman.
|Diane Lane (right) as Martha Kent in Man of Steel|
Man of Steel's music, written by Hans Zimmer, is above average at best. The same can be said of Amir Mokri’s cinematography. David Brenner’s editing, however, is impressive and quite easily one of movie’s strongest points. Romance has always been an integral part of "Superman" films but Snyder's movie offers merely an iota in the name of romance: the scenes between Superman and Lois lack intimacy and appear more like a formality than anything. Man of Steel shows a lot a promise but falls much short of attaining brilliance. At best, it serves to be a run-of-the mill sci-fi adventure that is all style but very little substance. It would have been much better had Snyder and team tried emulating Sci-Fi classics like Alien (1979), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), The Matrix (1999), etc. instead of imitating mediocre films like Independence Day (1996), War of the Worlds (2005), Transformers (2007), or Iron Man (2008). Hopefully, Snyder and team will learn from their mistakes and make a strong comeback with the forthcoming installments.
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