Man of Steel

Man of Steel

***

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Man of Steel is a gritty reboot of the Superman mythos, godfathered by the director of the wonderful blockbusting The Dark Knight trilogy. It's not bad, if lacking in humour or joy - we're never allowed to forget Henry Cavill's identity clash.

The origin plot is familiar to viewers of Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie. The doomed planet Krypton is under siege by antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon). The uprising is defeated, and Zod imprisoned in the Phantom Zone. In order to purge Krypton's societal mistakes before the planet is destroyed, its leader sends his only son Kal-El, and a memory shard (containing a copy of Jor-El's own consciousness), to Earth, where the boy is raised by Kansas farmers Martha and Jonathan Kent. Kal discovers his alien identity and awakens a long-dormant Krypton spacecraft. This brings Zod to Earth to rebuild a genetically engineered new Krypton.

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The origin story is superbly retold through flashbacks, without even as much of a dash of camp lightness - and delivers fresh and immediate twists to young Kal's discovery of his powers and his connections to the human race as their champion. In the meantime, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) follows the clues left behind by this mysterious alien who goes around saving people in unlikely circumstances. It's all splendidly realised and brought to the screen with impeccable technical credentials, drenched in comic-book framing and a slightly muted style.

Pretty much every casting choice works. Superman's two dads are the stand-outs: Russell Crowe has fun as Kal's butt-kicking dad - recycling his gruff Gladiator accent and donning Kryptonian armour - while Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent is a wonderful dramatic device, tempering Kal's alien frustrations with quintessential human goodness and caution. Henry Cavill's inscrutable Superman is clearly undecided on whether to trust the humans or new Kryptonians, but it works. Shannon's Zod is clearly a barking lunatic but his motives are clear, and understandable - being genetically engineered to defend a long-extinct people. Kal/Jor-El and Zod's intellectual clashes are as meaningful as their physical bust-ups. Amy Adams' Lois adds some feminine spunk to a mostly thankless exposition and screenplay-pawn role.

The first two acts are so strong, it's almost a shame that the invasion plot arrives, and things start blowing up real good. Snyder's action-cinema dexterity chops get a solid workout, with Hollywood finally unshackling itself from 9/11 imagery squeamishness. Titanic skyscrapers fall like cardboard, improvised bombs abound, and there's all the 3D-enhanced visual trickery you can imagine. It's what you'd expect the Wachowskis had in mind with The Matrix Revolutions, but done with invisible certitude and stunning digital skill. Hans Zimmer's wonderfully epic score fits the movie like a terminally bombastic glove. Sit slightly further back in the cinema than you normally would - this is a trouser-flappingly loud movie.

Man Of Steel is a movie that makes me wish I was a young teenager again; it's just on the right side of the 12A rating - both quite violent and intense. Its gender politics are highly questionable (the women are either there as damsels, man-hating vixens, to be ignored or mansplained to), but the 12-year old me wouldn't give it a second thought. It's a reasonable entertainment, and I look forward to seeing the second part of this saga - especially if it reaches the level of Nolan's second Batman - The Dark Knight - still the best comic-book thriller ever.

Clark Kent Begins, anyone? *gets coat*

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2013
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A young journalist is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
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Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: David S. Goyer, David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Traue, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer, Jadin Gould, Michael Kelly, Dylan Sprayberry, Tahmoh Penikett, Richard Schiff

Year: 2013

Runtime: 143 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Canada, UK

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