“Nice suit son….”
MAN OF STEEL
The question of “what is the best comic book movie?” is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. The genre is now large and varied enough to produce a number of candidates; old enough to allow for achievement within the context of an era; and diverse enough that direct comparisons feel inappropriate.
MAN OF STEEL has enough strengths and weaknesses to be entered into the debate. But one thing is for sure, it is the biggest superhero movie ever made, and perhaps the biggest action movie ever made. Zack Snyder has significantly narrowed the gap between the film maker’s camera and the artist’s pencils and the result is a relentless and astonishing spectacle the likes of which Superman fans have long been dreaming. Doubtless there will be some who will bemoan a Michael Bay-level of carnage, but for me it’s the first full realisation of what Superman could do.
This Superman propels himself through the air with a palpable, majestic, force. His heat vision is gleaming, streaming energy, which carves through walls like butter. His x-ray vision makes humans look like soulless, monstrous meat sacks, and his super hearing is an assault on his senses. All of these elements have been reintroduced with verve, keeping what has worked before, and tweaking whenever possible. In Snyder’s hands they are always brilliantly presented, and it’s meant that audiences will be genuinely amazed by Superman as a spectacle for the first time since 1978.
Does some of this pace and action come at the expense of character? A little. Particularly as we hurtle toward the climax. It’s as if the film makers and the studio believe this could be their last chance in a generation to prove that Superman can be a viable franchise to stand up against the likes of IRON MAN and his Marvel-ous mates. That sensibility may have resulted in them erring on the side of creating an experience, rather than a tight and elegant story. Like STAR TREK, Superman is often obliged to mean more than his genre stable mates, and there will be those who complain that some of the balletic romanticism of the Donner movies have been replaced.
And this is why the casting of Henry Cavill is so crucial. He has an innate humility and nobility which makes him Superman for this generation. As the movie gets louder, and more pixelated, Cavill’s calm determination keeps things anchored, and ensures that you stay connected to the stakes. From flash back scenes as a young adult, through to when he reveals himself as Superman for the first time, Cavill is allowed to play out the years that Christopher Reeve spent getting his head re-sequenced by Jor-El. He’s terrific in the role, never falling into the trap of mirroring a previous actor, and is afforded the chance to put a broader emotional spectrum than we have seen before on the big screen.
And the film really does have some nice character moments. Snyder and Nolan have assembled a superb cast and where they are occasionally let down by some awkward dialogue, they more than make up for it in shading their performance. Crowe and Costner are both perfectly cast in the father roles, Diane Lane is a real treat as Martha, Ayelet Zurer is heart breaking as Lara, and Laurence Fishburne is a natural Perry. Everywhere you look there is an interesting character actor, adding more than one might expect from their part.
And then there’s Amy Adams and Michael Shannon. Adams is just great. Too many focus on “news hound” but she really brings the humanity as well. She is permitted a different take on her relationship with Clark, and their first meeting couldn’t be any different from “You got me?”. Shannon is just as you have seen him in the trailer. Menacing, but sure he’s right. He’s physically imposing too and his bouts with Cavill will blow you into the back of your chair.
It’s pleasing to see is that this is very much it’s own movie. SMALLVILLE and SUPERMAN RETURNS may have been content to share cast members, music, and design with Richard Donner’s seminal ’78 movie, but MAN OF STEEL has started from scratch. Krypton is a living, visceral world which bears no resemblance to Donner’s sparsely populated ice planet. Hans Zimmer’s score isn’t hummable, but like Superman himself, it pulsates with power.
There are two moments which will cause much debate among fans. I can discuss neither of them here, but they are both evidence of the film makers trying to do something new. There are new layers to the mythology, new twists on classic story points. If it doesn’t work every time, it is to be applauded for trying to break new ground.
MAN OF STEEL is the first superhero movie which can legitimately compete with the comics for scope. It FEELS like a comic book movie, throughout, with Goyer’s efficient flash back structure managing to provide the all familiar origin in an economic and entertaining way. Superhero action has simply never been this thrilling, and while it paints with too broad a brush in some of it’s (rare) quieter moments, Snyder had crafted a big movie, with big action and big heart.
Superman is back.
Discuss at our MAN OF STEEL forum
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