"Man of Steel" (2013)- Movie Review

Directed by Zach Snyder
Written by David S. Goyer (based off story by Christopher Nolan)
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon

‘Solid but short of expectations’

Anticipation produces ridiculously high expectations. Especially for movies. When a great trailer, or even a nice looking poster is released, people get hyped up due to the one thing that they cannot control: anticipation. It’s almost like a drug. Movie-goers start awaiting a film with such monumental standards that if isn’t perfect, they begin rants about how disappointing it is. Its the feeling one gets when they anticipate a film for so long, yet when they finally watch it, the movie is nowhere near as good as they were expecting it to be.

This perfectly sums up the case with the latest Superman reboot “Man of Steel”. It’s a solid but notably lacking approach to bring a long forgotten superhero to the big screen. Visually stunning and wonderfully acted, the movie benefits from a top-notch technical department that never lets you down. However, even with these factors in mind, one just can’t shake off an undeniable feeling of disappointment. With unforgettable films such as “The Dark Knight” and “Avengers”, the superhero genre has generated such great anticipation and high standards for it’s movies over the last few years. “Man of Steel” unfortunately doesn’t meet those expectations. Its an entertaining, somewhat emotionally resonant summer blockbuster that has depth, but ultimately not the great execution needed in order to fully show it’s prominence. What the viewer experiences is a movie with a few moments of greatness, but not enough to redeem an uncreative and rather lazily written script.

Yet audiences around the world can’t quite deny that this is an improvement, and big step up from 2006’s mediocre “Superman Returns”. Bryan Singer’s interpretation of the hero was a generic and conventional blockbuster. Although “Man of Steel” does step into that territory occasionally, its a more realistic and reasonably emotional approach to the superhero. Centering around the complex origins of the character, the film dives into immense detail about who Superman is and where he came from. For audiences that aren’t familiar with the superhero, this aspect of the movie is a sheer delight: both enlightening and insightful with a sense of originality. Sadly, however, its one of the only examples of out-of-the-ordinary material in a film that lacks uniqueness. The filmmakers reach for the stars and often find themselves at the top of their game, yet their final product is solely a small accomplishment that could have been something much more. Its like an appetizer at a restaurant. The appetizer is too limited in taste to fully satisfy, and as a result, one is left hungry for more.

While he stumbles when dealing with storytelling, director Zach Snyder is more than comfortable with the technical department. Given that he has a filmography consisting of visual spectacles, such as “300” and the stylishly shot “Watchmen”, it’s no surprise that Snyder uses a magnificent visual palette for “Man of Steel” as well. The film is a delightful visual treat, in which effective visual effects are used to assist spectacular action sequences. Amir Mokri’s gorgeous cinematography acts like a hook, engaging the audience immediately in the first few minutes of the movie. This component of the film holds it together even when the most mind-boggling storytelling is taking place. Various landscapes which include the world of Krypton as well as New York City are captured beautifully in a distinct, visually appealing manner.

The filmmakers also appear to be paying loads of attention to action sequences. These days, most films are nothing but a mindless collage of BOOM! and BANG! when it comes to huge, big-budget action sequences. Quite thankfully, what “Man of Steel” offers is more than just explosions happening on a regular basis. There’s a specific purpose for each of the movie’s action sequences. Whether it’d be to get one familiar with the character of General Zod, or to show Superman’s fighting skills, all of the action set-pieces occur for a thoughtful reason. This sets the film apart from usual action fare. Normally, directors of action movies such as Michael Bay, utilize various action pieces for no reason at all. They seem to be doing it only for fun and entertainment. The filmmakers of “Man of Steel”, however, have greater ambitions. They are more focused on purposes and that’s a refreshing approach that we rarely come across in an industry like Hollywood.

It’s hard to forget about Hans Zimmer’s sprawling and timely score that perfectly matches the epic tone of the movie. While not as breathtaking as the composer’s previous works which include”The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “Inception”, this piece of music still sends shivers down your spine. The main theme (a beautiful piano arrangement) is iconic, monumental in scope and memorable just like Superman himself.

A cast of talented actors play their roles with great panache and devotion. Arguably, most of them are the top of their game.

It isn’t easy to capture the absolute persona of a superhero, yet Henry Cavill is magnificent, almost sublime in the role of Superman. The actor seamlessly embodies the character’s pain, unfair sufferings, loneliness and heartbreaking confusion in life. He delivers a performance of such gratitude, grace and undeniable charisma that it makes you wonder: why is he so unpopular in the filmmaking world? He hasn’t had much of a career, and “Man of Steel” seems to be the perfect, star-making opportunity for him to be noticed.

Michael Shannon is perhaps the weakest link amid fantastic actors. He is slightly miscast, and only passable in the role of General Zod. However, its unfair to completely blame him as the faults of the performance mostly come from the character himself. It’s a character so under-developed and cartoonish that he comes across as utterly ridiculous when compared to villains in recent years. The standard for villains in superhero movies has risen significantly over the last decade, and as a result its no surprise that we come to expect so much from the ‘bad guy’. Consider the charisma, menace and terrifying demeanor presented by baddies such as the Joker and Doctor Octopus. General Zod disappointingly has none of that. He’s merely a cardboard cutout of the typical, conventional villain that Hollywood presents us with every now and then.

Apart from featuring a poorly constructed character, the script is also the main site for other problems. A few elements of the story, especially those in the beginning of the movie, aren’t clearly explained and are at times far too complicated to fully digest. Fast pacing is used poorly in this situation and doesn’t really need to be there. Yet the most frustrating fact is as an entire piece, the script lacks a sense of creativity and uniqueness. It takes conventional routes, such as a run-off-the-mill conclusion that takes away the spirit of what came before it. Given that the screenwriter here is David S. Goyer, the genius behind the origin story of “Batman Begins”, the screenplay could have been miles better.

Overall, “Man of Steel” soars but not high enough to exceed the expectations of anxious fanboys awaiting greatness. It’s propelled by a rare emotional connection with the lead character, but the ultimate execution of some other aspects of the film is carelessly handled. Unless you want your expectations crushed, don’t go into this movie expecting groundbreaking entertainment like “The Dark Knight”.

3/5 stars

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