Man of Steel may be the most epic movie I’ve ever seen, which is a blessing and a curse. With Zack Snyder at the helm, Christopher Nolan producing, and David S. Goyer writing the script, it shouldn’t come as a surprise how massive the scope of the film is. And with Superman as the subject, it shouldn’t be any other way. Henry Cavill is the title character, Superman; born to parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara on the world of Krypton. Jor-El is concerned with the planet’s future, as it’s core is unstable. While pleading to the Kryptonian Council to evacuate, General Zod (played brilliantly by Michael Shannon) interrupts, asking for Jor-El’s help in leading a rebellion to take control of Krypton. Obviously Jor-El declines, initiating a war between Zod’s rebels and the rest of Krypton. Jor-El, knowing the end of his planet is eminent, no matter the outcome, steals the genetic codex of the Kryptonian race and infuses it into his son’s DNA; sending his son, Kal-El, to Earth in a spacecraft where he hopes he can find a better life. Kal-El is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent (enduringly played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name their new son Clark. Thirty years later, Clark is struggling to keep his powers a secret, having to constantly be on the move every time he uses them to do good. Throughout the film, Clark’s struggles of coming to terms with how to handle his power are shown through flashbacks; the last depicting the death of his father, who would rather die than have is son suffer because he revealed himself to the world. In his travels, Clark comes upon Louis Lane, a reporter for the Daily Planet, who eventually unravels Clark’s secret. However, she decides to keep it, knowing that mankind may not understand what Clark is and what his existence on earth means. Meanwhile, General Zod and his rebels were apprehended and banished to the Phantom Zone as punishment, but when Krypton meets it’s eventual demise, General Zod is able to escape from the Phantom Zone, heading for earth in search of the codex. Thus Clark, who soon becomes known as Superman, is drawn into the battle to save Earth and mankind.
In 2006, Brian Singer directed the return of Superman in the appropriately titled Superman Returns. Picking up the story 5 years after Superman II, Singer opted for a fun,lighter tone that the original movies displayed. Superman graced the bright, primary-colored suit of the comics and original films, while Kevin Spacey hammed it up in his role as Lex Luthor. Critics generally liked the film as well as audience members; grossing $391 million worldwide. So it’s interesting that Singer’s film has largely been forgotten; cast aside for darker, more grounded superhero films like Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and the Iron Man films. Thus, Man of Steel follows in the same vein, and for the most part, is largely successful. It’s only main flaw is also what makes the film so impressive- the sheer scale of the film. Zack Snyder is no newcomer when it comes to large scale action flicks, having previously directed 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. However, the scale of those films pale in comparison to Man of Steel. Even last summer’s Avengers feels smaller when compared to this film. But like The Avengers, the huge scope of the film is needed to sell the idea of indestructible super beings duking it out. A perfect example of why this is important would be in the climatic battle in Thor, where a fight between demigods takes place in a small town in the middle of no where. Mankind never really felt at risk, for it seemed as if the outside world really wasn’t aware of what was happening. Instead, Man of Steel brings the battle to Metropolis, among many other places, causing more destruction than any other action movie combined. And this is where the film falters. Battles seem to go on for forever for no explicable reason than to show off every CGI technique known to man. Man of Steel is a 2.5 hour CGI demo reel, with each subsequent showdown outdoing the last. The action scenes are chaotic and bombastic (as well as the film’s score) without an end in sight. It’s great to see how powerful these beings are, but it soon grows tiresome. Zack Snyder could have easily cut 30 minutes of action out, and the film still would have been impactful. This is mainly due to the acting in the quiet moments between the frenetic action beats. Henry Cavill is perfect as Superman, struggling with his identity and how to embrace the powers he has. He knows that he has the ability to do good, but doing so could also jeopardize his life on earth and how the world will view him. Some of the best moments in Man of Steel are of Clark and his parents. Kevin Costner is excellent as Clark’s father, who wants to see Clark grow up to be great, but not at the risk of the world rejecting him. It’s Clark and Louis’ relationship, however, that seemed a little forced. They hardly interact in the film, and yet in the end, are wrapped in a warm embrace, kissing. It also was a shame that we have to wait till the sequel to see the dorky-reporter alter-ego of Superman and his interactions with Louis that made the original films so great. As for General Zod, Michael Shannon once again proves electric when cast as a villain, yelling and hurling spit whenever he can. It’s a shame we won’t be able to see more of Zod in the future. Overall, Man of Steel was the quintessential summer blockbuster with lots of popcorn-munching entertainment. It was a tad too long, and a tad over the top, but the cast was excellent and the CGI destruction impressive. I found myself wondering how they were going to top it all in the sequel, and then released immediately that that may not be a good thing.