Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Movie Review: Man Of Steel



Despite his status as the most iconic of comic book superheroes, Superman has always been (in my opinion) a rather boring character. He is effectively indestructible and quasi-omnipotent – possessing super strength, super speed, x-ray vision, heat-ray vision and the power of flight to boot – and has been historically prone to feats that stretch the suspension of disbelief, such as reversing time by flying backwards around the earth or relocating the moon to combat a photo-sensitive foe.

He's also a Boy Scout (in the non-political sense of the term) standing for truth, justice and the American way. That sort of metaphorical Manifest Destiny nostalgia worked in 1938 in the wake of the great depression and on through the years of the creeping Red Threat but in today's cynical, hyper-connected, "there are no front lines" society, the Last Son of Krypton comes across as a little, well, quaint.

Enter Man of Steel, the latest attempt by director Zach Snyder to insert Superman into modern relevance. It's a respectable offering, considerably more so than 2006's milquetoast Superman Returns, making Clark Kent a stranger in a strange land (in this case, Earth) rather than a spotless idol. But at 143 minutes long, Snyder's creation is both overly-long and unsatisfyingly-empty, jumping from one dramatic moment to the next without giving the viewer a reason to care before culminating in a dull, roaring bout of skyscraper-crashing fisticuffs between two seemingly immortal beings.

The plot begins on the planet Krypton during an elaborate and visually-enchanting prologue that sees a military coup led by General Zod (a fuming Michael Shannon) in response to wasteful leadership that has brought the planet to the brink of destruction. Jor-El, Krypton's chief scientist, retrieves an item called the Kodex and ships it and his son Kal-El off to Earth to safe his race from utter extinction.

From there we meet a grown Kal-El, now the Kansas-raised Clark Kent, drifting hunter-gatherer style before finally ending up at a NORAD dig in arctic Canada where the U.S. government and Pullitzer-prize winning journalist Lois Lane are investigating a mysterious craft buried beneath the ice. Clark and Lois share a meet cute and a dose of Kryptonian exposition follows, followed by a time-consuming sequence of Lois tracking down the mystery man with the bulging biceps.

At this point you're halfway through the movie before Superman dons the iconic red and blue suit and the villainous Zod returns, threatening Earth's existence if Kal-El is not surrendered to him. His plan, we learn, is to rebuild Krypton from the ashes of Earth and he needs Kal-El and the Kodex to do so.
The latter third of the movie is consumed by a series of escalating skirmishes between the alien visitors, who relentlessly attack each other despite the rather apparent knowledge that no damage can be done to them.

But damage can, and is, done to the puny human ants that attempt to intervene and the structures they've erected. A very New York City-esque Metropolis is all but decimated in a sequence reminiscent of The Avengers, only without that film's sense of fun or emotional tension. When the music stops and all is finally quiet, you feel more viewer relief than celebration.

Amy Adams, at 38, is an odd choice opposite the 30-year-old Cavil. Independently, each actor brings a fresh take to their respective roles but together the chemistry falls flat. Of the supporting cast, Russel Crowe's stoic Jor-El stands out while the remaining characters have little time to do anything beside gape in wonder.

Man of Steel is burdened by the task of rebooting a familiar origin story. Snyder makes attempts at elevating the story, including a few interesting allusions to Plato's The Republic and the just city, but much like 2005's Batman Begins (which was directed by MOS producer and cinema-extraordinaire Christopher Nolan) the film is burdened in back-story but shows promise of future growth now that the requisite set-up is out of the way. It could very well end up being the weaker first entry in an otherwise strong franchise but for now, fans and newcomers alike will have to settle for a modern Superman that flies, but fails to soar.


Grade: B

*Man of Steel opens nationwide on Friday, June 14.

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