REVIEW: ‘Man of Steel’ leaps expectations in a single bound
Tom Fink Staff Reporter
When “Man of Steel” star Henry Cavill was in high school, he attended Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, England.
At 16, the young Cavill was cast as an extra for the movie “Proof of Life,” starring his future “Man of Steel” co-star Russell Crowe.
As both actors tell the story, Cavill felt awkward amongst his equally star-struck student extras, watching Crowe from afar. So, he approached Crowe, introduced himself, and asked for practical advice from one of the industry’s most practical actors.
So impressed was Crowe with the young man, that days later, Cavill received a package from Crowe which contained (among other things) a jar of Vegemite, a CD of Russell Crowe’s band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, and an autographed picture of Crowe as he appeared in the movie “Gladiator,” with the message: “Dear Henry, The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Russell.”
Many years later, after the two had been cast as the otherworldly father and son, Jor-El and Kal-El (aka, Superman and, uh, Superman’s dad), they were sharing a punishing workout in readiness for their roles in “Man of Steel.”
Although Cavill had recognized Crowe, he hadn’t told him they’d met years earlier, waiting until months into their training to re-introduce himself as the now-grown-up boy who’d wanted to know more about acting on the set of “Proof of Life.”
“Ah,” Crowe said, “that explains why working with you feels so familiar.”
Although Zach Snyder’s take on Superman in “Man of Steel” is a wonder-to-behold reinvention of the mythology, much like a grown-up Henry Cavil to Russell Crowe, there are elements of it which feel quite familiar.
“Man of Steel” kicks off with an exhilarating action sequence on Superman’s doomed home world, Krypton, offering a more detailed look than ever (in a movie, at least). Audiences are allowed to see Kryptonian technology and weaponry, animal life, and even alien haute couture, launching the movie off with a blast, similar to the rocket which jettison’s baby Kal-El (Superman) to his adoptive planet, Earth.
So begins Superman’s “origin” story, with the first of many different spins from what we’ve seen before.
Directed by Zack Snyder (”300”), and working from a script written by David S. Goyer (”Batman Begins”), “Man of Steel” diverges from the usually upbeat, super-powered do-gooder in tights presentation of Superman, giving us a more introspective, haunted Clark Kent (Cavil) who wanders that land on a journey of personal discovery before he learns his true identity, dons his “hero” persona, and adopts his “mild-mannered reporter” alter ego.
Here, there’s no need for a secret identity (in the beginning), as the protagonist is just a man who happens to have out of this world ancestry and superhuman powers — initially, there is no “Superman,” there’s just Clark Kent, living in intentional obscurity, and coming to terms with who he is, and who he wants to be.
Flashbacks to Clark’s youth show pivotal moments in his development, while letting the story unfold in the present.
His adoptive parents (played with earnestness by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) are loving but protective, with Jonathan (”Pa”) Kent in particular concerned about what will happen to Clark when the world learns of his existence. People react with fear and alarm to unfamiliar things, Jonathan tells the young Clark, and the Kents’ fears are only confirmed when some of Clark’s heroic deeds become publicly known.
A certain newspaper reporter named Lois Lane (a plucky Amy Adams) also learns of this incredible “mystery man,” and gets involved as well.
At length, Clark, his powers, and his alien heritage are forced into the open with the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon), a Kryptonian psychopath who’s been searching the universe for a piece of technology called “the Codex,” which he believes was sent to Earth with baby Kal-El, and could rebuild the Kryptonian race, although at the cost of the human race.
Zod and his crew, imbued with powers like Superman, are more than a physical match for him, and for the U.S. military, the leaders of which don’t know which, if any of these aliens (Superman included) can be trusted.
For the most part, “Man of Steel” is grand entertainment, pure spectacle with some surprising tugs at the heartstrings.
Cavill is perfectly cast to play the lead role — he’s sinewy, and lantern-jawed, and he has a good mix of believable decency and the stoicism of someone wanting to fit in but not sure how.
Some of the movie’s most touching moments are between the young Clark and his Earth father, Jonathan Kent, who fears what a suspicious world will think of his adoptive son.
Even years after Krypton is destroyed, Clark’s, aka Kal-El’s biological father, Jor-El (or at least a holographic interpretation of Jor-El) is present to offer guidance and advice.
Zod (Michael Shannon) and his battle commander Faora-Ul (played with beautiful menace by Antje Traue) are appropriately threatening, with director Snyder capturing the terrifying speed at which the Kryptonians move when fighting.
“Man of Steel” is painted in a much darker tone than the Superman films which preceded it — going so far as to be described by some reviewers as “humorless”.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the movie is devoid of any humor, but this IS a grittier, much more reality-grounded version of Superman, and it works, presenting a character with 75 years of history (in the comics, on television, and in other movies) in a sometimes familiar, but largely new, and different way.
While “Man of Steel” is hardly a perfect film — there are brief moments of physics-bending and some of the battle scenes, although mesmerizing and intense, do seem to go on longer than necessary — it is extremely, extremely good, with amazing effects, over-the-top action, perfect casting throughout, a rousing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, and more.
Snyder’s “Man of Steel” may not soar for everyone, it definitely flies high and in my opinion, it’s pretty darned super, man.
“Man of Steel” is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, extreme action and violence, and gratuitous heat vision. “Man of Steel” is currently showing in at the Claremore Cinema 8 12 in 3D and 2D. For a complete listing of movies now playing and their showtimes, contact CC8 at (918) 342-2422.