Mania Review: Man of Steel -

Man of Steel Review

Mania Grade: C+

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  • Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni and Laurence Fishburne
  • Written by: David S. Goyer
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 143 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Man of Steel

He saves the world, but can he save a franchise?

By Rob Vaux     June 14, 2013

 There are so many great things in Man of Steel and yet none of them quite knows where to go. I can’t readily think of another superhero movie which has this much pressure to perform, or which responds by flying in a hundred directions at once. Like its hero, it carries an enormous burden of responsibility on its shoulders. DC lags badly behind its archrival in the theatrical films category, and without a game-changer to make up the lost ground, it may get buried completely. Man of Steel must not only reboot the long-dormant Superman franchise, but set up a whole line of DC superhero films… most notably Justice League, whose ambitions positively drip with Avengers envy.

Accordingly, Man of Steel tries to be everything at once, and succeeds only fitfully at its task. It’s doubly frustrating because we can see legitimate, awe-inspiring greatness there. The film just can’t get out of its own way. Director Zack Snyder finds threads of gold in his material – conceived by producer Christopher Nolan and developed by screenwriter David S. Goyer – but one can sense the Warners brass breathing down his neck at every turn. There’s too many cocks in this henhouse, and the movie ultimately fails in trying to please them all.

After the perceived misstep of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, Man of Steel wants to resolutely avoid all things Donner-y. And yet its early sequences – once again charting the destruction of Krypton and young Kal-El’s arrival on Earth – hit all the same beats as the original Superman: The Movie. Once again, wise Jor-El (Russell Crowe) foresees the destruction of his planet and can do nothing to prevent it. Once again, he sends his infant son to our world to serve as a beacon of hope for us. And once again, the criminal General Zod (Michael Shannon, who damn near saves this thing single-handedly) vows to destroy the boy before a sojourn in the Phantom Zone spares him the coming apocalypse.

The interesting stuff lies in the details, where Man of Steel finds its identity. Kal is extraordinary on Krypton as well as on Earth, for instance (I’ll spare you the spoilers and refrain from saying how), and Zod’s reasons for hunting him hold a lot more dramatic heft than Terence Stamp’s marvelous-yet-one-note version of the character. It also provides Kal with an interesting dilemma: which of his two worlds should he defend? Humans certainly give him few reasons to trust them, and while Zod and his henchmen have serious bad things in mind, they still offer a viable alternative to the squabbling savages whom Kal must now protect. That helps break the origin story out of the doldrums and give us some interesting material to chew on.

The same holds true with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the inevitable introduction of the Daily Planet. It always sat as one of the most problematic elements of the Superman mythos (he puts on glasses and nobody knows who he is?!), but Man of Steel seems to have cracked that code. It sets Lois off to discover this figure before he himself realizes his potential, making her more sly co-conspirator than hapless dupe. It also hands Lois a truly delicious conundrum. She’s a hard-core journalist, with credentials in Iraq and other serious hot spots. Now she’s confronted with a man from outer space – something straight out of the Weekly World News – and she can’t turn a blind eye to it. Adams makes the character tough and assertive without being bitchy, and watching her grapple with an outlandish yet undeniable truth constitutes one of the film’s great pleasures.

Indeed, the performances are uniformly excellent, starting with Henry Cavill’s decent yet conflicted Superman, and proceeding down through Crowe, Adams, Shannon and the whole of the supporting cast. Particular kudos go out to the women, notably Diane Lane whose Ma Kent finally gets something interesting to do, and German actress Antja Traue as Zod’s sinister right hand Faora-Ul.  They all feel so vibrant and alive, enraptured by the possibilities of this updated superhero and giving everything to bring it to life.

And yet, as much as it wants to deliver on its potent cocktail of themes, Man of Steel consistently finds a way to drop the ball. It doesn’t trust the quieter early sequences in Smallville, for instance, so it scatters them throughout the film in awkward flashbacks that constantly lurch us out of the action. Editor David Brenner can’t find a consistent follow-through for them, while struggling to link the film’s myriad other subplots together. Said subplots often end up tripping over each other’s feet, yanked away as soon as they find their footing and creating a hodge-podge of barely-connected scenes rather than a focused and coherent story.  The new components of the narrative help out a bit, but whenever Man of Steel slips into overly familiar territory (the last son of Krypton, raised by a loving Kansas couple, etc.) it terminally stalls.

The second half seems to resolve some of those issues, as Zod lands and his requisite Fiendish Scheme trumps all other concerns. And ironically, that becomes even less engaging, as we devolve into a mishmash of indifferently shot explosions and fistfights. The film’s Avengers envy comes to a head in the conclusion, with a battle over Metropolis that evokes the awe-struck horror of 9/11 with none of the social responsibility or dark meditations. More importantly, it fails to engage us as simple action: all bellowing noise and complex choreography without any dramatic heft to engage us. Or, more accurately, the heft is there but Snyder can’t connect it to the images onscreen, maintaining Man of Steel’s fatally scattershot tone.

It’s hard to pinpoint one precise moment where it all goes wrong, or separate the film’s numerous great qualities from its equally numerous banal ones. Whatever the reason,  Man of Steel ends up paying a frustrating price, as we catch glimpses of the classic it might have been lost in a sea of meaningless sound and fury. It’s a near thing sometimes, but the experience ultimately proves more disappointing than entertaining: a shaky first step for a would-be franchise and final proof that Marvel movies are still well and truly eating DC’s lunch. 


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irockdiesel 6/14/2013 12:17:37 AM

I just returned from watching it.  I would have given it a B.  However, I read a post from somewhere (could have been here or another website) where an individual just said one sentence that gave away the ending.  I thought it was joke by the laughable comment BUT I was horror struck when I saw it there it was on screen.  But, whatever, I thought it was good.  A lot of wonton destruction but it wasn't that bad for me.  After all, The Avengers trashed New York last year on the way to a billion dollar run and NO ONE mentioned 9/11 so why now?  Oh well... Enjoy

irockdiesel 6/14/2013 12:24:47 AM

...and I felt good about how they wove in his younger days growing up in Smallville.  It sped things up and got right into it.  I wasn't overly impress, but it was a solid movie for me.  WAY BETTER than Green Lantern.  I'm just saying...  It was.  Good night folks... PT in a couple of hours...

raa2001 6/14/2013 12:35:52 AM

 Well, I wont get to see it until Saturday but most of the bad reviews are coming from the "professional" critics but many of the average fans are coming back saying that they loved it.  I guess you just have to judge for yourself and not let the negative reviews kill the hype for you.  I don't watch superhero movies looking for Oscar worthy performances.  Most will know the basic story of Superman.  Just give us some awesome action and special effects with a decent non Oscar worthy plot to go with it.  It will make billions at the box office and we will get more sequels and Justice League and Justice League sequels.  This is just the beginning...

RedHood2010 6/14/2013 1:04:40 AM

Saw it at midnight and I liked and enjoyed it.  I do agree with the review on how it could have been so much more.  And the editing, there are a few transitions that could have been handled better.  Cavill does a fine job, imo.  I will post more later, like late Sat or Sun.  I will end with - GO see it.  It is worth a viewing in the theaters.  I am going back this afternoon with the wife.

ActionMovieGod 6/14/2013 1:35:57 AM

This guys smokin crack...That movie was EPIC easy A- for me...

kalonthar 6/14/2013 1:40:01 AM

Well, this is now my favorite movie (previously the Avengers) but I can tell that it was a bit rushed because of the lawsuit. At least that's how I see it. Still, loved the film (obviously). Of course, Superman has been my favorite since I was a baby wearing Superman pajamas and a cape, so I'm a bit biased.

iceknight52 6/14/2013 3:19:18 AM

Boy, I'm torn here. I have to leave today for business travels for an entire week and I so want to see this movie but now all the mix reviews between the critics and fans alike. *Sigh* Feels like one of those movies that everyone want so badly to like so they'll latch on to anything (i.e. The Duel of the Fates in the Phantom Menace). I'm with so many on here that I too grew up idolizing heroes like Spiderman, Batman and most importantly Superman. I can't tell you how many times as a kid I watched Superman 2 and simply loved it. Now this latest version comes to surface with a stellar cast who has the potential of making this great and more dimensional mixed in with talented writers, directors and producers...yet mixed reviews?! It is going to kill me as more of this stuff comes in this coming week and I can't validate it myself. I feel like Rob is a pretty straight shooter on his reviews and if he is conflicted than there is good reasons for that. Hope the rest of you maniacs keep chiming in this week with your reviews too. Give me some more hope that we might finally be capturing that Superman magic that will spark the 5 year old in me again with awe.

Sidenote: I've been a comic book fan for almost 30 years now and am I the only one who continues to scratch his head when Hollywood fails on any movie based on characters that in some cases have 70 years of material behind them? Always seems like a slam dunk if they just read some of the stories and find the heart of why these characters have lasted so long and have such a following. Too many egos and suits involved I suppose. :(

ActionMovieGod 6/14/2013 3:37:15 AM

Its the second best movie this year next too Star Trek into darkness...

doublec 6/14/2013 3:59:37 AM

 Boy, lots of folks went to  early shows of this, didn't they? I myself give it a B-Plus to almost an A-Minus. The plot is rather disjointedly laid but fairly solid once it's all there. The film is well acted over and above the summer blockbuster level. Cavill and Adams slip easily into their parts, Russell Crowe is great as a surprisingly humane (but still kick-ass) Jor-El and MIchael Shannon is truly awesome as theamazingly well-thought-out revamp of General Zod. And the action scenes are truly spectacular (although after Avengers we expect no less now).
I agree with what's being said that "professional" critics seem to be giving this  a "meh" while the average moviegoer seems to love it. I thought it just misses being a complete home run but a solid summer blockbuster nonetheless.

KyleRayner 6/14/2013 4:25:29 AM

 I just saw it and let me preface by saying that if your undecided, go see it, dont listen to reviews, i know its the best method to discriminate where to spend hard earned money and precious time but this movie is worth it, even if you dont end up liking it, you´ll realize its a must see, specially in movie theaters, if anything for the action sequences, probably the best super powered hero action fight scenes in cinema history, they´r very respectfull with the real life physics (with in sci fi of course) so every punch and throw feel like if there were trully super beings, that´s how their fights would look like. 

I liked it a lot but i cant disagree with this review, I dont think it affects the overall as the reviewer acessed but the transitions between scenes and the editing at times is less than perfect and it does cut into the flow of the movie but again, its not as bad, I would give this a  B  with the editing being its on real mistake.

It has heart, its different from anything with Superman you´ve ever seen on screen and the action is simply amazing, the Zod-Superman fight made me feel like a live action version of the Superman-Darkseid from the final episode of JLU.

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