Like some, I was not overjoyed with Zack Snyder being announced as the director for a new Superman movie. It wasn’t because I don’t like him on some personal level or that he’s really a bad director- it was mostly because I absolutely hated SUCKER PUNCH. More than that, I was starting to get really tired of the same ol’ style he’d been using in all his movies like 300, WATCHMEN and of course SUCKER PUNCH. Sure the movies look pretty enough, but substance was beginning to take a backseat if it was there at all. With MAN OF STEEL Snyder takes a huge step in the right direction, even if in my opinion you can feel Christopher Nolan’s influence around every turn.
I don’t want to discredit Snyder altogether because it really is his movie and you can see his eye for action and visuals vividly in the action, but the dramatic chops and more cathartic moments are drenched in Nolanisms- not to mention how thankful I am for zero slow motion action scenes. Quite the contrary, the action is so chaotic and fast paced that it’s hard to not feel thrilled during the epic fight scenes.
An origin story in every way, MAN OF STEEL perfectly lays out the story of the fall of Krypton and how Kal-El ends up on Earth. It uses flashbacks to tell the growing pains of a boy that has no idea what he is or where he came from and grappling with the consequences of wanting to help people, but afraid of being looked at as a freak. It’s not until Earth is threatened by the shunned General Zod (Michael Shannon) that Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) must learn his true purpose and save Earth from his former planet’s dangerous forces.
There’s always been something about Superman as a superhero that I wasn’t in love with. With Nolan attached to the project I wondered if the goofiness I expected would be replaced with a dark tone, something I also didn’t think would work. Snyder however manages to mix the two because MAN OF STEEL has both the introspective drama that Nolan employed with Batman- albeit far more subdued- and the dumb fun ridiculous action that I really wanted to see from a superhero capable of almost anything.
If Snyder has proved anything over the years its that he has an incredible visual eye and if you enjoy nothing else from MAN OF STEEL one thing cannot be denied- it is a beautiful movie. The scenery is breathtaking at times, but the special effects are spectacular and while some of the fights have a cartoonish look to them, it’s a small price to pay when you take into consideration the superhuman feats these people are carrying out to kill one another. I have nitpicks when it comes to some logic choices during these massive action sequences, but nothing that makes the movie a total failure by any means.
Emotionally, MAN OF STEEL is always on the edge of really crossing into something fantastic, especially when it comes to a superhero movie, but it never quite gets to the next level. In some ways, it might be better that way given how all over the place it might seem if the tone is constantly shifting from cathartic drama to goofy fun action. Cavill in my opinion dances the line of charismatic superhero and dramatic lead, but never leaning to heavily toward either side. When it comes to the whole Clark Kent/Superman personas I think the casting of Cavill works because he’s got the physicality of a superhero and for the most part he has the chops to pull off what I was worried would be awfully cheesy dialogue. Shannon on the otherhand I would argue doesn’t quite hit the quality of performance I’ve come to expect from him. Moments of his turn as the villain General Zoe are great, but never as crazy as I would have liked to see.
When it comes to an origin film we become accustomed to getting less action and more set up, but MAN OF STEEL turns that on its head with some pretty incredible action sequences, but with plenty of time to round out the origins of a character that most might be familiar with, but it also works for newly initiated fans as well. It would however be easy for some to feel that when the film explodes into nothing but massive explosions and citywide destruction the film it feels empty and loses sight of its more introspective side. To an extent I’d agree, but Snyder finds a way to make it work for me without ever feeling like it was nothing more than a brainless popcorn movie. The action does tend to be big and dumb, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun enough for me to take it into context with the rest of the film.
For me, with Snyder to have the watchful eye and mind of Christopher Nolan he bounces back from the abysmal SUCKER PUNCH with a film that’s exponentially bigger and stronger with an actual heart in center of it. To each their own about how effective the drama lands given the big expensive special effects that fill the screen in the final acts of the film. MAN OF STEEL is a blockbuster action flick that aims to please as many people as it can, but ultimately settles on a main entree of big budget action with a side of decent character drama. To borrow from Nolan’s Batman franchise, MAN OF STEEL may not be the Superman movie we needed, but in my opinion it’s the one we deserve.