Friday, June 14, 2013

Taking Flight, Former Gladiators, and the Darth Vader All-Stars: Man of Steel Review

   The first Superman movie came with one of the greatest taglines of all time, “You will believe a man can fly”, and for film-nuts around the world, the heart of its greatness lay in the sole fact that, for a moment, they did. Now, Man of Steel is asking us to do more. It is asking us to return to the origins of Kal-El and believe in not just a man, but a symbol, and through all of its grand ambition, it somehow pulls it off.
   One thing that you have to understand going into this flick is that, far and away, this telling of the Superman story has much more of an alien-oriented focus than, say, the Christopher Reeve portrayal. Man of Steel wants to emphasize above all else that Superman is foreign here on Earth—he does not belong; he is inherently different. The story begins with the fall of Krypton—finally captured like it was meant to look, thanks to some beautiful CGI work—and goes on to follow the newly-named Clark Kent as he discovers his powers, his purpose, and his true origins. Throughout the tale, however, the viewer is constantly reminded of the divide between Superman and humans. Whether it is in tales of childhood heroics (or in some cases, the lack of heroics), tragedy, or modest triumphs, our hero faces the consequences of being an extraordinary being on ordinary Earth, and Man of Steel achieves this incredibly.
   This is a Superman really unlike any other, in the sense that it brings more emotion, more weight, and more scope than ever before. It is one of the most ambitious superhero movies in recent memory, and the result is nothing short of an absolute epic. Superman struggles with his orphanage, his relationship with Ma and Pa Kent, the imminent threat of General Zod, and the ultimate acceptance of who he is to mankind. It sounds like a lot to put onto one man, but Henry Cavill handles the Supes with grace, authority, and assurance. He may not have all of the dorky charm of Reeve back in the day, but above all, we have a truly noble Superman here, and one that I would love to see again.
   The supporting cast is admirable as well, especially seen in both Superman’s biological and adopted fathers. Russell Crowe is terrific as the tragically-fated Jor-El (he also has his best action scene since Gladiator in here—be excited, you can finally cheer on the Crowe again), and Kevin Costner has a good chance to break into the Darth Vader All-Stars (you know, famous movie dads—Darth, Mufasa, Sean Connery from Last Crusade, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood, and Vito and Michael Corleone) as Jonathan Kent. There is a forecast of man-tears in this one, and it is all his fault. Wow. The other notables, like Amy Adams as Lois Lane or Michael Shannon as General Zod, bring the appropriate level of respective charm and intensity. Look out for Ayelet Zurer as Superman’s real mother and Antje Traue as Zod’s primary follower—they do not have a ton of screen time, but they do quite well in spite of that. No one phones it in here, and thank goodness.
   What is most astounding about Man of Steel is that for all that it is trying to do, it rarely misses the mark. The multitude of conflicts that Superman faces here, both on a psychological and interpersonal level, come to a head at some point or another in the flick, and all of them saw me appropriately stunned, awed, or with my mouth hanging open like an idiot. They all worked. Prepare for some ‘wow moments’, because they are certainly coming.
   Speaking of which, I can say with full confidence and a good deal of reflection that Man of Steel has probably the best action sequences I have ever seen in a superhero movie. In terms of raw one-on-one fighting between Kal-El and the bad guys, you probably have not seen combat this intense since the now-infamous armored truck chase in The Dark Knight. Superman flicks in the past have been relatively light on brawling, but this one provides it in droves. It is fast, powerful, and at times even brutal—especially in terms of the final showdown between our hero and General Zod. Probably one of the best final battles in superhero-movie history; it is exceptionally done. Beautifully shot, intensely choreographed, and unflinchingly relentless, Man of Steel somehow manages to succeed as a pure action movie even in the midst of its epic themes.
   If I have any gripes, it is that the dialogue (especially with Zod) can occasionally be campy, and some of the symbolism with the Supes can be spread on a little bit thick. Subtlety was never what this movie was about, but it might have helped—when you have the fairly-obvious Christ pose sticking out amidst one of our hero’s many acts of valor, it can be a little overwhelming and a tad forced. In this way only, its ambition can be seen as a little bit of hindrance. There was just so much they wanted to do, it is hard to be quite sure if they achieved it all to the very maximum.
   All in all, though, these are things that will be forgotten in the wake of another stirring Hans Zimmer score, the best action Zach Snyder has ever directed (better than 300—he never leaned on slo-mo), and profound successes on the emotional front. This is the most feeling we have had in a Superman movie since we first believed that a man could fly.

   Is it perfect? No, but Man of Steel is one of the most purely satisfying superhero movies to come around in a long time. Grand in its ambition and spectacular in its scope, this is a Superman movie that, like its hero, strives to be something greater, and it became just that. An 8.5 out 0f 10 is where it lands—and it is a glorious one at that. Never fear—Superman is here, and he is everything you hoped he would be.

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