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Man of Steel

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel
Monday June 17th, 2013

Man of Steel attempts to do for the Superman story what Christopher Nolan accomplished with his Dark Knight trilogy.  Where Joel Schumacher reduced the source material to pure camp, Nolan injected a dark sophistication by grounding the mythology in some plausibility and pathos.

The superman story is higher hanging fruit however and I was legitimately concerned it would exceed director Zack Snyder’s grasp.  While, Snyder would seem well suited to the technical challenges with his work on 300 and Watchmen, I wasn’t convinced he would be able to humanize The Man of Steel.

After all, Kal-El (his alien name) isn’t the kind of guy you might normally empathize with. He is a model of humanoid perfection from his good looks to his good nature. Oh, you say he is bullet proof, flame retardant, leaps tall buildings, faster than sound, stronger than a locomotive?  At least he’s American right?  What’s that?  He’s British? 

We hate him.

The funny thing is you won’t. Henry Cavill and this script do a solid job of grounding Superman in martyrdom.  This version of Clark Kent is overwhelmed by his abilities and conflicted by his desire to help without risking alienation.  Where Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan became increasingly aloof and distant from humanity, Superman learns empathy and humility while hiding under the wing of his adoptive parents.

The small moments in the film's first act that lay this foundation are the highlight of Man of Steel.  It’s a joy to explore his lineage, the history of Krypton, the motives of Michael Shannon’s General Zod, and the Humanity of Martha and Jonathan Kent played by Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner.  If Cavill is the Man of Steel, Coster is the Man of Steal because that’s what he did to every truly emotional scene he was in. But frankly, the entire cast is outstanding and the story soars when they are given the opportunity to perform.

Ironically the major action pieces of act two are pure Kryptonite.  Who could have imagined hand-to-hand combat between supernatural beings could be so boring, repetitive and condescending.  While the plot goes cold we are relentlessly showered with falling objects and debris as Superman and Zod collide with everything except a moment of mild suspense.

If Zack Snyder had taken the time to appreciate his own trailers he would have realized the appeal of this movie lie not in explosions and effects, but in his world class cast and another inspired score from Hans Zimmer.  Unfortunately the full-length version is subtraction through addition. What Snyder brings as a visionary stylist he loses as a storyteller.

While the film is entertaining enough for most it falls well short of Nolan's mark with the Dark Knight and it leaves me disapointed.  As it turns out Superman’s only weakness isn’t a green rock called Kryptonite.  It’s a green screen and a pair of 3d glasses.