Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" opens with a stunning sequence set on the
dying planet Krypton involving Jor-El (Russell Crowe), trying to
preserve the Kryptonian race via his newborn son, Kal-El. I put
emphasis on Snyder because this film has his stamp clearly all over it,
try as the marketing department might to fit in Christopher Nolan's
producing credit in every trailer they can get. But no matter.
If there was one thing I could pin Nolan on for this film, I would say, the mood of the film. This is definitely not your daddy's and grandaddy's Superman, or for that matter not your older brother's. Like "Batman Begins", emphasis is put on mood and atmosphere, with the lighthearted and campy factors virtually scrubbed out for a slicker, more down-to-earth feel. Unlike Nolan's reboot, though, "Man of Steel" opts to take a more action-oriented approach for its hero. And boy, do I mean action.
Once the action lands on Earth, the audience is immediately whisked off alongside the now adult Kal-El, or Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), as he ventures alone on his quest to eventually find a certain (not-so) solitude location, while intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) investigates that very same one. Along the way well-timed flashbacks offer glimpses into Clark's youth and inspirations, most notably his loving Earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who sufficiently provides as much inspiration as they can to properly shape up Clark as he nears his destiny.
I say sufficient, because "Man of Steel" paces itself thunderously with gigantic and spectacular action sequences from start to finish, giving little time for the audience to breathe. The admittedly bare-bones plot is made way for some truly awesome sights to behold, showing quite possibly the most honest depiction of how powerful Kryptonians can really be if they really, really want to.
I deplore "Transformers" for the very same reason I recommend "Man of Steel" - that is, non-stop action. This is because the former repeats an outdated formula that is aggressively forced onto the audience, while "Man of Steel" embraces its action sequences with style and technique. I usually deplore the excess of CGI in action sequences, but here I'm making an exception because this movie really shows that CGI can be used positively to create sights previously unknown to man, (a feat not seen since "Avatar", perhaps?). Buildings fall, planets explode, large objects are flying in the air, all done before, yes, but Snyder and his talented crew are probably influenced by Biblical catastrophes for their sensational action sequences. Imagine that.
Snyder has a firm grip on action sequences, and injects them with such energy that one would think he drank a gallon of adrenaline and decided to show it through this film, but again, his crew is key. The marvelous production design by Alex McDowell, which includes the planet Krypton is given a major rehaul and now resembles something Lovecraftian, made me grin at the details and atmosphere created. Amir Mokri's framing of the action compiled with moody, muted colors makes it hard to not awe at the sheer spectacle unfolding while gasping at sights at the same time, and Hans Zimmer's rousing score keeps the film moving at a high tempo while pausing occasionally to take a breather.
And what of our film's star? Cavill fits Superman to a T, he looks and sounds exactly what Supes would, but given the emotional mood of the whole movie, he manages to act convincingly in those emotional scenes. He looks like he has a bright future ahead. Michael Shannon, a character actor who is rising rapidly in his field, is intimidating as General Zod the villain, but most good actors can play the role well. As for the rest of the cast, they all deliver solid if unspectacular performances, though it was nice to see Costner on the big screen again.
This is what I wanted to see in a comic book adaptation. Retaining the essence of the Superman character while wrapping sensational action sequences around a moody and Gothic atmosphere. It's no "Dark Knight" in terms of depth and character, but it doesn't even try to be, and it still works. Of course there will be a sequel. There will be a Justice League movie while they're at it. Hell, I'll be there if they can make it as rollicking as this.
If I were to pick between this and "The Avengers", there is no question. I'm sorry, Marvel fans. Just my honest opinion.
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