MAN OF STEEL (M)
Warner Bros, 143minutes
MAN of Steel, the latest film version of Superman, is not just any origin story, it’s the origin story.
Deeply serious, it presents Henry Cavill’s grown Kal-El, the interstellar refugee from the planet Krypton who arrived on Earth as a baby, as a Christ-like figure. When exiled to save him from Krypton’s destruction, the infant’s mother, Lara (Ayelet Zurer), fears he will be considered a freak on the distant blue world, while his noble father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), believes he will be treated like a god. No pressure to deliver, then.
This 3D blockbuster was directed by Zack Snyder, whose previous films include 300 and Watchmen, but it was conceived, plotted and eventually scripted by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, the creative mainstays of a Batman reboot that gave us a stern Dark Knight trilogy obsessed with simplistic moral dilemmas and major cape fear.
The previous attempt to relaunch the DC Comics character, Bryan Singer’s now shunned Superman Returns from 2006, was very much in the tradition of Richard Donner’s Superman, the pleasurable 1978 film that possessed a healthy sense of humour when it came to Christopher Reeve’s Kal-El hiding out as bespectacled reporter Clark Kent and tangling with Gene Hackman’s villain Lex Luthor.
There are no gags to be enjoyed here, and even smiles are in short supply. This is as serious as a superhero movie gets – Tony Stark’s Iron Man would never hang with this guy – and, at a certain point, you may wonder if the stoic self-regard of Man of Steel occasionally stifles the picture. Even Nolan’s Batman, played by the intense Christian Bale, had a yen for gadgets and a cover as a playboy to lighten his dark demeanour.
Yet the strongly edited first 80minutes of this 143-minute epic are as good as Snyder has achieved. The digital effects are numerous, but for once Snyder has offset them with natural light and outside locations, and the film achieves a purposeful opening with Jor-El sending his newborn son (and Krypton’s genetic tree of life, the Codex) to safety even as a military coup rages against a ruling hierarchy that has condemned the planet to destruction.
On Earth, Clark wanders from the cornfields of Kansas to various extremes, reflecting on a childhood where he was urged to hide the great powers our sun bestows on him by his adoptive parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner respectively). They baldly reiterate themes that Clark also later muses on, such as how humanity will treat this messiah, but strong performances from the pair cushion the sometimes obvious material.
At the centre of it all, brooding even when he’s bare-chested, the 30-year-old English actor Henry Cavill is so impossibly handsome that it takes a while to appreciate how he underplays Kal-El/Clark.
As ace Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, Amy Adams brings a welcome spark to the movie (nearly all the aforementioned smiles emanate from her), but there’s hardly a flirtatious bond between Lois and Superman.
The concept of a superhero turning his back on his destiny is a juicy one, but Man of Steel is too besotted with the character’s mythology to explore the notion.
Great mountains of rubble are generated, but the final act’s perpetual fighting is too loud and too desperate for the worthy comic-book movie that Man of Steel initially tries to be. It isn’t a failure but, in a movie fixated on explicitly contrasting choices, it ends up trying to please everyone.
– Craig Mathieson
GOD COMPLEX: Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel.