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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Movie Review: "Man Of Steel"

It's been 7 years since Superman last flew on to the big screen, and although the moviegoing audience still hasn't been given a great Superman movie, I can tell you that this is the best one so far.

After 75 years it's safe to say that everyone in the world knows the origin story of Superman.  He's not from Earth; he's an alien from Krypton etc, etc, etc...  and yet director Zack Snyder along with screenwriter David S. Goyer's take on Kal El's beginning seems fresh and original.

Instead of front loading the film with 30 minutes of origin story ala 1978's "Superman: The Movie," Snyder and crew choose to let the story of Clark Kent's birth and formative years unfold via flashbacks throughout the film.  This device works incredibly well as the audience is let into Clark's mind as he recalls specific moments throughout his life that have brought him to the point of "superhero-dom." For me these scenes of the young Clark Kent hold the most emotional power.

As a grade school student we see Clark's inability to focus in a classroom setting because he is unable to control the super powers that he was born with.  He doesn't just hear the teacher ask him a question, he hears everything... hearts beating, people talking miles away, sirens, animals, under-breath name calling of "freak."  Literally everything is crashing into this poor boy's head all at once.  His vision also sees everything, not just through walls and clothing but through skin: skeletons, brains and blood coursing through veins.  When Clark can no longer take it any more and locks himself in a school closet, the film let's the viewer in on what it might be like to suffer from autism or some other special need that is not deemed "high functioning." I kept thinking of children who on the outside appear normal but on the inside possess intelligence and abilities that need to be nurtured differently so that they can thrive.

Themes of acceptance also come into play during the scenes of Clark and his earth father Jonathan Kent, perfectly portrayed by Kevin Costner.  Jonathan's fear is that if his son's secret is found out people will not only find him unacceptable but will also be afraid of him.  Clark Kent, like so many young people who know they are gay, has been taught to be closeted and to hide his true self.  These scenes of isolation and acceptance are truly heartbreaking.  Anyone who has always dreamed about being "Superman" might now be faced with the burden that such secrets would bring.

Those familiar with Clark's early beginnings also know that Pa Kent is not long for this world, and in true cinematic fashion his passing in "Man Of Steel" is emotional and epic.  For all Clark's powers his earth-born father chooses to protect his adopted son's secret until the very end.

The "Man Of Steel" cast is perfect and Henry Cavill more than fills the shoes of previous  big screen supermen: Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh (both great in my opinion just not always given the best written material).  Cavill has the physicality to fill the icon suit and the acting chops to pull off the emotional depth of this conflicted character.  Amy Adams is a strong Lois Lane as well and there is no "is he" or "isn't he Superman" because this film gives us a Lois who immediately learns Superman's identity.  It's a choice that some people might not like but for me it worked in making Lois a love interest as well as an Alfred to Clark's Batman.

Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Kal-El's Kryptonian birth parents are stellar and this might be one of the best Crowe performances I have seen in a while.  Diane Lane as Martha Kent is also right on the money as a strong mother willing to stand up for her son no matter how big and super he gets.


Just like in "Star Trek Into Darkness" this movie brings back an iconic villain from the 80's... General Zod.  Michael Shannon gives the character his own unique intensity and is a formidable first time opponent for the new Superman. But the prize still goes to the original Zod: Terence Stamp, who created an even more threatening presence in "Superman II."

Overall this is a great reboot and gateway to finally seeing Superman, Batman and the Justice League on screen together.  The film takes chances that purists might not like, but for me those were a welcome change of pace to this often told tale.  Is Lex Luthor in the movie? No, but there is a "Lex Corp" tanker truck during the climatic fight scene.  Does Batman live in the same universe as Superman? If the satellite bearing the name "Wayne Industries" is any indication then I would say... yes!   To those people who might complain about the CGI effects I would ask... how else are you going to have two guys fly, fight and destroy an entire city?  It just can't be done.

The film is not perfect but there is no Otis, no throwing of S's, no Richard Pryor, no Nuclear Man and no  long lingering  fan boy director homages to Richard Donner.  For those reasons and more, this is the best Superman movie yet.

Drumroll please... 7 out of 10 Big Red S's

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