Man of Steel
Following Bryan Singer’s dreary Superman Returns in 2006, and new helmer Zack Snyder’s previous picture, the diabolical Sucker Punch, both Joe Multiplex and acolytes of Krypton’s last son could be forgiven for approaching Man of Steel with caution. It’s a relief, then, that Snyder’s reboot provides not only breathtaking spectacle, but some unexpected depth and melancholy.
We open with the destruction of Krypton, although Supes’ home planet is much-changed from the franchise’s previous outings. Gone are the crystals and dry ice; this Krypton is a grimy, dilapidated wreck, with tech and design that suggests a canoodle between the Wachowskis’ Matrix and H. R. Giger. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El is doing his best to quell a coup led by General Zod (a terrifying and tragic Michael Shannon) while their world crumbles. As Jor-El’s newborn, Kal-El, is packed off to Earth with the key to saving his people secreted in his escape pod, Zod is imprisoned, along with his dissident forces.
Cut to grown-up Kal-El – now known as Clark Kent – in the formidable form of Henry Cavill (looking as if he ate Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh for breakfast), a tortured drifter who just can’t help but use his extraordinary powers to save the imperilled folk he encounters on his travels. Bill Bixby's itinerant Doc Banner looms large. A fractured narrative flips to Clark's Kansas childhood after each adult drama; these flashbacks to this demi-god’s heightened growing pains elegantly and economically illustrate the sadness and alienation now felt by our hero. The impact of his adoptive parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane), in shaping the Clark Kent side to his personality is brilliantly evoked in limited screentime. For perhaps the first time, the Man of Steel is effectively humanised.
Appropriate tweaks are also made to the relationship between Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) – the awkward issue of just how effective a pair of specs are by way of disguise is neatly sidestepped as Lois becomes more complicit in Clark’s deception. And Adams is a brilliant foil. Recalling Margot Kidder, she delivers more grit and sass in her first two lines than Superman Returns’ Kate Bosworth offered in two and a half hours. Her ballsy reporter plays a crucial role as an escaped Zod arrives on Earth demanding Kal-El’s surrender or humankind will pay the consequences.
This third act (at times reminiscent of Snyder’s own Watchmen) provides beautifully orchestrated action on a massive scale; visual effects, editing and sound design are all perfectly rendered and complimented by Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score. Some prolonged sequences of carnage prove almost unbearably tense – no small feat given the near-indestructible nature of the protagonist and antagonist. Among all the mayhem, Snyder and co. even manage to throw in some interesting commentary on the responsibility and role of Homeland Security and the Armed Forces, and the foggy morality therein. This is cerebral, exhilarating blockbuster filmmaking.