It becomes immediately apparently within the first few minutes of Man of Steel that Goyer, Nolan and Snyder are using Batman Begins as their template. Sure, we’re on another world and everyone’s wearing wacky retro-futuristic costumes, but the pacing and storytelling techniques are exactly the same. We see Kal-El’s beginnings at the same time as we see him as a 33 year old, wandering Earth. Like Batman Begins, Kal is on a journey to find himself, an instrumental step in the process of becoming the hero we are familiar with.
Henry Cavill is great in the lead role. Here, Kal is the strong silent type, for the most part, so he often has to rely purely on facial expressions to make us feel for him. And he’s good at it too, really nailing the ‘pained superhero’ look. Like the Batman movies, we have a host of top notch actors in small roles. Thus, Cavill is surrounded by the likes of Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Russell Crowe (Jor-El) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White). The film is more profound thanks to such luminaries, however fleeting their presence may be.
Amy Adams fills the shoes of Lois Lane wonderfully. David S. Goyer’s script finds a way to have her in the thick of the action and, whilst she does get saved a lot, it’s in the process of helping Kal, rather than simply being nothing more than the damsel in distress. In this case, the bad guy would be General Zod, played with incredible intensity by Michael Shannon. It’s a pity, perhaps, that we never see another side of him – he’s the bad guy from the get go, as opposed to Ducard in Batman Begins.
One of the big complaints of Superman Returns was that it didn’t feature enough action. All Superman ever did was lift heavy things. Here, perhaps unsurprisingly, Snyder has put Supes through the wringer. The action is truly epic, and I’d have to say that this is the first Superman film that really nails the type of wholesale destruction we have seen in the comics for decades and the DC animated movies for years.
Hans Zimmer is present and accounted for, and his score is fantastic. Even though many, many films are copying his work, his still stands out from the pack. During the particularly noisy climax, however, the music is often drowned out by the sound effects, which is a disappointment.
The visual effects are pretty good for the most part, and they’ve certainly found new and interesting ways of portraying the miracle of a man in flight. It’s hard to confuse any of it for reality, however, and when superhumans are charging through skyscrapers at absurd speeds, things start to a look a bit rubbery. I also get the feeling that the effects won’t age particularly well. In ten years’ time we may well grimace when watching the film on Blu-ray. Or holodisc. Or channelled directly into our neural cortex; whichever format we’re using then.
Man of Steel is a good film, however doesn’t reach the heights of some other superhero flicks out there. It’s occasionally overly-sentimental though also, paradoxically, contains some incredibly powerful moments. Despite being 143 minutes, the film (ahem) flew by, and it does a good job of not being overstuffed with plotting, something from which both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises suffered. The film’s already been a box office success, so we can be pretty sure that Man of Steel 2 will appear in the next few years. The important part is that they have definitely laid the groundwork for a fantastic second film (and indeed stuck some references to both LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises in this one). I look forward to seeing where they take Kal-El next…Rating:
Stuart talked about Man of Steel on the Reel Chat podcast.