Man of Steel
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th June 2013
If you were hoping for a fresh, new take on the Superman origin story, or even if you never knew the original tale, audiences should be more than happy to spend a couple of hours getting to know this new Clark Kent from scratch.
From the opening scenes it’s all-action – the planet Krypton is going into meltdown, and scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) must protect his newborn son from the evil machinations of fellow Kryptonite, General Zod (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon). The baby safely despatched through space to a foreign land, treachery and murder ensue. The tale then transposes to Earth, where a handsome itinerant worker is failing to make friends or leave a lasting impression, other than by his ability to single-handedly save a bunch of men from a burning oil rig, and then disappear.
As befits an origin story, the film flashes back and forth in time as the young Clark battles sensory overload and powers he doesn’t understand, while restraining himself against bullies. His unconditionally loving parents (an admirably plain Diane Lane and reliable Kevin Costner) support him, though dad recommends early on that the special kid keeps his tricks to himself. This backstory sits nicely against the action unfolding in the present day, as the older Kent is challenged, at age 33, with stepping up as either an enemy or saviour of Earth.
Twinkly blue eyes, dimpled chin and crooked Englishman teeth, with this role The Tudors’ Henry Cavill has shot, straight-armed and at high-speed, into the big time of blockbuster comic movies. Supported by a fine cast that mixes Oscar nominees with commercial dead-certs, Cavill plays the small-town lad with extraterrestrial powers as someone we believe in and even care about.
Unlike Thor and Iron Man, there are very few laughs, and the grainy, bleak aesthetic of director Zack Snyder’s palate espouses the sincerity which all the actors employ in delivering fairly standard “planet in peril” dialogue. Remarkably, given Snyder’s history on the considerably flashier Sucker Punch and Watchmen, he manages to convey gripping drama – albeit interspersed with long and loud fight scenes. No doubt co-writer and co-producer Christopher Nolan (with his solid comic credentials in the latest Batman franchise, and his élan in Inception) can be thanked for this.
That said, it’s not po-faced or humourless – and even though the suit is faintly ridiculous (with no explanation posited as to why a man who can hold up a toppling building even needs one), Cavill plays so earnest and well-meaning throughout that we accept his costume without a sneer. Similarly, his burgeoning love affair with a gutsy Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is touching rather than clichéd.
There are some clever touches – the alien enemy knows humans are umbilically attached to their TVs and smartphones, and the otherwise invincible race is literally deafened into submission (and thanks to Hans Zimmer’s glorious, Inception-inspired score, so are we).
Man of Steel does go on a bit long, there’s an awful lot of carnage, and some may be amused by the Jesus-like posturings of our 33-year old saviour. But if our planet is ever in peril, I know who I’m gonna call.