REVIEW: Man of Steel (2013)

Warner Bros. Pictures poster for ‘Man of Steel’.

The following is the 3rd and final edition of my review of Man of Steel, a Zack Snyder film.

In a way, this film, and the experience of writing this review, has been somewhat of a difficult experience for me. If you look around the blog you’ll probably notice that I’ve been very critical of my original review of the film. The fact of the matter was that I was perhaps too hyped up for the film when I first experienced it, and my review ended up going ‘too easy’ on what was, to some extent, a problematic film.

The second edition of the review was a little bit more fair, but I didn’t love how it turned out. So, in anticipation for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which serves as the sequel to this film, I decided to revisit the film, and review Man of Steel one last time. 

Man of Steel follows Kal-El (played by Henry Cavill), son of Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe), and shows us just how he ended up merging his alien origins with the American identity given to him by Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively), and became the world’s most famous superhero – Superman.

Eventually General Zod (played by Michael Shannon) tracks down Kal-El and demands that he be surrendered to Zod. Zod believes that Kal-El holds the key to rebuilding the Kryptonian race, and his intentions prove to be hostile. Suddenly, Kal-El is thrown into a battle between his home and the future of his race, and he must make the first powerful decision in his life as a superpowered being on Earth.

One of the things you have to appreciate about this film is that it really aimed for something big. It had the potential to be a masterpiece, but ultimately missed the goal by quite a bit. There are a lot of things I really like in this film, but, for the film to work for you, you have to first realize and accept that this isn’t going to be the classic Christopher Reeve-type of Superman. I will acknowledge, however, that this version of Superman may be exactly what the world presented in this film would have, which is to say that Man of Steel presents a more dark and gritty look at superheroes and villains on Earth. Some would probably just say that it is more ‘realistic,’ but I’ll stick with ‘dark and gritty.’ I’m not a huge fan of the tone of the film, and the visual aesthetic is perhaps too much of a departure for me as well. This just isn’t the Superman that I once loved, and it definitely isn’t most people’s vision of Kal-El, which is difficult to adjust to at first.

There is an argument to be made, however, that the mistakes the main character makes in this film are made to signify that he hasn’t really become Superman yet. And while it is true that Kal-El doesn’t have a lot of experience prior to meeting Zod in this film, I have to say that there were times when I thought the film didn’t always know how to handle its main character properly.

Sometimes it feels like director Zack Snyder knows exactly what to do with the character (like with the scenes on Krypton that really emphasizes how epic this character is), and sometimes it feels like he just doesn’t understand the character at all (the scene with Jonathan Kent and the tornado that doesn’t work for me at all).

Henry Cavill is a very talented actor, and he will be Superman to a lot of people growing up today. While I didn’t always like what his character was doing, through it all I loved the performance that Cavill gave. I really feel that he is the right choice to be the face of the Warner Bros./ DC Universe as the stoic de facto leader of the future Justice League.

On the flip-side, I didn’t really love Amy Adams (who plays Lois Lane) in this film. She is an amazing actress, but there was just something off about her character here. It’s tough to pinpoint. Maybe it was the fact that her character wasn’t as developed as I would’ve liked her to be. I do think that they rushed her and Clark Kent’s relationship in this film. Michael Shannon is the antagonist of the film, and I thought he absolutely brought it. His demeanor is chilling at times, and this version of Zod is my favorite seen in a live-action Superman-film.

When I first reviewed the film, I gleefully remarked that this was the Superman film you never knew you wanted. I remember why I felt that. I adored everything we saw on Krypton at the beginning of the film. The opening of Man of Steel left me breathless. I truly never knew that I had hungered for this very hands-on version of Jor-El and Krypton. The only thing about the scenes on Krypton that doesn’t work for me is the over-reliance on snap-zooms.

Later in the film, there are scenes that in retrospect seem a bit odd with Jor-El, but I really have to praise Russell Crowe. He has become the image in my head when I think of Jor-El, and that is largely due to not just the world-building at the beginning of Man of Steel, but also his performance.

Kevin Costner, on the other hand, I thought was wasted. There was a lot of potential here, there are some good scenes with his character, and the trailers for this film were jaw-dropping in large part due to them showing you glimpses of Kal-El’s father(s). But I really hated what they ultimately did to Jonathan Kent here.

Then, of course, there is the ending, which is slightly controversial. I think the film becomes too difficult to follow in the big battle towards the end of the film, which suffers from weightless destruction. Then, at the very end, a golden rule for Superman is broken, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve watched the film. I really dislike that the filmmakers decided that she should break it. I mean, for Zod, it was a really smart way of forcing Kal-El’s hand, as it were, but I really think that was a huge mistake made by the filmmakers. I think it makes it very difficult for the character to become the classic Superman-character, if you break his golden rule in his origin story.

However, I do think they can make it work in the long run. Some people criticize the film for the fact that Kal-El doesn’t save that many people in this film, and that may come back to haunt him in the future of this cinematic universe. Whether deliberate or not, the filmmakers have put the face of DC Comics in an interesting predicament. Man of Steel, which I ultimately like in spite of the things that I think are frustrating about the film, presents a bold new direction for the character, which I appreciate, it just doesn’t completely stick the landing.

Final Grade: 7.5 out of 10.

– I’m Jeffrey Rex.

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