Zack Snyder is a polarizing director. His resume runs the gamut from the near-universally loved remake of Dawn of the Dead to his only original property, the near-universally reviled Sucker Punch. And while both of those films have their hard cores of contrarians, audiences are pretty evenly split on everything else he’s made. His fans often speak of his keen eye and sense of visual filmmaking, but his detractors consider those to be his weaknesses, saying he values style over story and that he makes better trailers than movies. So now that he’s tasked with bringing one of (if not the) most iconic superheroes the genre has to offer to the big screen, how does he fare?
I can put many of your fears to rest now, Man of Steel is fantastic. It isn’t quite perfect, but there’s very little I’d change.
As I’m sure you know by now, the film is largely a retelling of Superman’s origin – with the destruction of Krypton, being raised by the Kents, discovering his powers, deciding to be a hero, etc. But there are just enough new wrinkles to make it seem fresh without it being a total rewrite of the story. This is a Krypton that actually looks like an alien world and not an ice hotel. It has alien creatures and the Kryptonians are given a semblance of a society for us to mourn when the planet is lost. The details of Clark’s childhood aren’t just given to us, they’re rationed out in flashback as we see him as an adult traveling the world, saving people before he ever puts on a cape.
One the film gets past that, General Zod shows up and threatens the Earth if Superman isn’t given up to him. You see, Zod wants this MacGuffin that will allow him to un-extinct the Kryptonians and he figures Superman has it.
Cue some really intense battle sequences. And, well, let’s just say it’s a pretty safe bet that Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer have probably seen the JLU finale once or twice.
But for a movie that’s obviously going to be big on spectacle, where Man of Steel really shines is in its small character moments. The momentary look of heartbreak on Martha Kent’s face when Clark tells her “I found them. I found my parents.” Perry White prepared to die to rescue one of his staff members. Pete Ross.
Obviously the question on everyone’s mind is how is Henry Cavill? He’s simply incredible and for generations not filled with nostalgia for Christopher Reeve, he will be Superman. Cavill might be the most perfect live-action Superman one could ever hope for – impossibly built with an easy, natural charm and a genuine humility He absolutely seems like he’d stop in the middle of a fight to get a cat out of a tree. And even when the script takes one really wrong-headed misstep with his character, Cavill’s acting choices go a long way to fix the error.
Michael Shannon goes a long way to breathe life into the very stale General Zod. The script gives the character enough of a reason to believe he’s right for the audience to understand why he’s so desperate, but Shannon brings a barely-hinged madness that obliterates any chance of sympathy (which is not to say his Big Villain Plan wouldn’t also do the same). And, seriously, kudos to all involved for never saying “kneel”.
The real secret weapon of the film, though, is Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. For years Erica Durance was hailed as the perfect Lois on Smallville, mainly for her sarcasm (and more than a little for her comic book figure), but Adams brings another aspect of the character to the screen that is all-too-often overlooked, even in the comics. This Lois is a goddamned good reporter. She is a journalist that people are afraid of. Adams’ Lois is not someone who gets herself in trouble because she knows/so that Superman will save her. She gets herself in trouble because she has a job to do and she’s going to do it no matter the risk. And regardless of how many times you’ve seen Talladega Nights, you never doubt Amy Adams in this role for a second.
As I said, the film isn’t perfect. But it is very, very close.* It’s easily the best DC movie that doesn’t star Heath Ledger but can sit right up there with that film and Avengers.
I give it 8.75 BILLION DOLLARS IN DAMAGE out of 10.
* – My main sticking point is one really odd choice that doesn’t really work for Superman, but does in the context of this film. I had had an issue with using other Kryptonians so early, but as was pointed out to me this gives Lex Luthor much stronger motivation later. He’s seen the destruction these aliens have caused, everyone has, so why is he the only one who doesn’t trust Superman?