Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel; fantasy action, USA, 2013; D: Zack Snyder, S: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue

Jor-El and Lara realize their planet Krypton is going to implode because of the centuries long exploitation of its core. General Zod shares his opinion and topples the government, but gets into conflict with him when Jor-El sends his son Kal-El to Earth together with the Codex of the Kryptonian race. Zod and his gang are banished, but are freed after Krypton implodes. Kal-El is raised in Kansas as Clark Kent and uses his superhuman powers to anonymously help people. Reporter Lois Lane finds his secret, but just then Zod's gang shows up on Earth, also equipped with superhuman powers, and demands the Codex from Clark. They want to terraform Earth into Krypton. In a fight, Clark defeats them and becomes Superman.

The long awaited re-structuring of the "Superman" franchise, "Man of Steel" is a step forward compared to the previous instalment, "Superman Returns", but a step back compared to Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" that gave the superhero genre an entirely new twist and a sense of inventiveness. "Man of Steel" has three good things going for it: for the first time, it showed Clark having trouble adjusting to his superpowers, as opposed to always perfectly knowing how to cope with them, obvious in the effective sequence where he runs away from the classroom, since a child would be freaked out by suddenly having X-ray vision and seeing the bones of the people around him. Secondly, it avoided the cliche that nobody could recognize Superman's/Clark's transparent "disguise" by having Clark save people anonymously in civilian clothes, i.e. he has no Superman identity yet, he is just an ordinary stranger and thus nobody even knows his name, which works up until the last minute of the film. Thirdly, his human parents, played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, are fantastic and easily to connect to, and at least one image is iconic, the one where Costner's character goes to save the dog in the car from the hurricane, almost as an example to Clark that when normal people could do heroic deeds, what can he do with his super powers.

Unfortunately, once general Zod shows up, the second half becomes just an explosion/CGI overkill where it almost seemed as if they tried to make a new record with breaking as many things as possible. The comparison may be obvious, but in "Superman 2" action sequence were exactly the opposite, so meticulous and precious precisely because they knew they could not do anything. Likewise, Zod's motivation is lost in the logic: why terraform Earth, an inhabited planet, into Krypton and risk such an enormous opposition? If he wanted to rebuild Krypton, why not terraform a dead planet like Mars? Or numerous other dead planets that were once outposts of the Kryptonians? In the latter case, he would even have Superman's blessing, but one can sense they just wanted a ploy, a stretched excuse to have them "fight no matter what". In his final speech, Zod explains that he was bred to protect Krypton no matter the cause, and here he almost gets a more interesting character. Unfortunately, right after that the cliche "final showdown" fight with Superman follows, instead of something more unique and unusual. Amy Adams is great as always, but her character is blandly written and thus her interaction with Clark is often pale. She needed humor, charm and wit. Overall, though, the movie is better than expected, just not as great as the opening act hinted at.


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