Man of Steel (2013)
Although I was one of the few that actually enjoyed Superman Returns back in 2006, I can appreciate why it failed at the box office. It made the mistake of trying to bridge the gap between the iconic Christopher Reeve era and the post 9/11 world and ended up falling between two stools. Zack Snyder's Man of Steel does not make this mistake and reboots the franchise in completely the right manner for a modern audience. The movie takes quite a cerebral approach to its exploration of the character and wrestles with several weighty themes that previous adaptations elected not to tackle. However, as this is a very specific genre movie, the production has to make concession towards its core audience. Therefore, there’s a requirement for mayhem and destruction. As result the film does at times feel like it's pulling in different directions and the third act is more predictable and ponderous than the first two.
Man of Steel starts with a visually impressive opening set on the planet Krypton. The pace of the narrative is very intense and there is a lot to assimilate. Russell Crowe is well cast as Jor-El and successfully moves the plot forward with regard to the destruction of Krypton and his infant son's exodus to Earth. It is the story of Clark Kent's youth, told in flashback which provides the movies strongest dramatic punch. The scenes with his foster parent Jonathan and Martha Kent (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) is where the script excels. Both actors offer sublime performances, embodying the quintessential wholesomeness and decency of cinemas idealised notion of Midwestern America.
It is in the second act that Man of Steel finds its narrative depth. This goes beyond Spider-Man's "With great power comes great responsibility". Kal-El is a virtual deity but his fear stems from concerns that society will reject him, because humans inherently fear what they don't understand or more importantly can control. It is at this point Henry Cavill's performance moves up a gear and he becomes more than just the stereotypical national icon, with finely chiselled features. He is also provided with a better than average nemesis in the guise of General Zod, played by Michael Shannon. This character has a far greater depth than usually seen in this genre, driven by his genetic imperative. "No matter how violent, every action I take is for the greater good of my people" he menacingly states. When robbed of this purpose he becomes even more dangerous.
During the movies finale that Man of Steel settles into more familiar action adventure territory and suffers from one too many climaxes. It is at this point the story decides to focus on Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and his team but because we have had little exposure to them it's hard to connect emotionally. I get the impression that during editing, Director Zack Snyder may well have been under studio pressure to make trade-offs between dialogue and spectacle. A lengthier version of the film with greater narrative continuity may flow more evenly and be more cohesive. Sadly, four years on a longer edit of the movie has yet to materialise. Either way the theatrical version of the film is still very good with far more positive aspects than negative. Writers David S.Goyer and Christopher Nolan have successfully taken a character that is in some ways two-dimensional and given him a soul and the depth required for today's world.
Finally, it is rather telling that the name "Superman" only used three time during Man of Steel and on one occasion it's done with a degree of irony. The movie's ending clearly sets up a franchise, with all the key players, redefined and in place. Zack Snyder, a film maker of extremes, has certainly surprised a good many people by finding the exactly the right tone for Man of Steel and stepping away from the traditional perception of Superman that is indelibly linked to the late, great Christopher Reeve. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the contribution made by composer Hans Zimmer. Once again, he demonstrates his affinity to the genre, with a dignified, portentous score. It's central bi-tonal motif is very effective and in total accord with the story and its overall themes. As the first entry into the DC Extended Universe Man of Steel takes a strong lead.