Arguably DC Comics crown jewel immortalised on screen by Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner, hasn’t had the most prosperous of times in the modern era. Bryan Singer’s stab at the character ‘Superman Returns’ back in 2006 was undeniably affectionate, but struggled to form its own identity with his incarnation content to be immersed rather than step out of the shadows of its illustrious predecessors. Intertwined with a fellow superhero within his own ‘stable’ hogging the spotlight in recent years, the pressure is on for Supes to re-establish himself and prove that he warrants a place in cinema in the year 2013. Installing the architect of the Bat’s success Christopher Nolan as producer alongside director Zach Snyder, ‘Man Of Steel’ promised a grounded approach. But does it soar?
Only scraping the surface of its grandiose scale, we begin with the familiar world of Krypton on the brink of destruction. Resounding in his belief that the planet will no longer be able to persevere, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his newly born son Kal-El to Earth. Conflict inevitably ensues with the commanding General Zod (Michael Shannon) who is defiant in retaining Krypton’s long term future.
Into the present day, we find a emotionally tortured Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) based in the modest trappings of Kansas, still struggling to come to terms with the origins of his existence and the powers he possesses. Intercut with flashbacks showcasing the hardships of his youth and astonishing feats mere humans struggle to comprehend, it’s no wonder his parents Martha and Jonathan (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) are reluctant for his true identity to be exposed. Unfortunately for Clark, the lighter ‘threat’ of tough talking reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) becoming increasingly fixated by his ambiguous nature and the genuine, courtesy of Zod on the hunt for Clark and a starting point to rebuild and mould his own vision of Krypton doesn’t help his cause.
Snyder’s certainly grown accustomed to this style of filmmaking with 300 and Watchmen, but has often been accused of favouring slo-mo stylistics over substance. To much relief, ‘Man Of Steel’ marks his first crucial steps out of such territory. Peppering the film with genuinely emotive moments that have forever evaded his works whilst delivering his own stamp on the material with a vision that shifts from intergalactic opera to real world dramatics seamlessly, this is admittedly a Superman film that bears little resemblance to previous takes. However, whilst its tone may not be as brash and colourful as the originals, by questioning the moral compass of its characters in a world tarnished by warfare and resisting the temptation of nodding to the past, Snyder’s version succeeds in keeping Superman and what he stands for relevant.
Not to imply he’s abandoned his principles, ‘Man Of Steel’ is fully loaded with spectacular action sequences that are fittingly epic in execution. Effectively heightened by Hans Zimmer’s thumping score, Snyder seems intent on causing chaos and making you feel every crushing blow which he resoundingly achieves. The only drawback is that for all the impressive staging of such a core element, fans may feel a twinge of action ‘fatigue’ kick in during its explosive extended finale.
The limitations from a verbal perspective may initially puzzle, but Henry Cavill’s transition from a reserved figure struggling to fit in to kick-ass superhero is solid and his showing here leaves him room to grow in stature for the inevitable sequel. A key drawback from ‘Returns’ was Lois Lane, with Amy Adams here righting that wrong with a determined performance whilst Michael Shannon is truly menacing as the steely-eyed General Zod. Fuelling the emotion in gracious style are the wholesome pairing of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, anchoring the film with much needed gravitas.
You may not see a bird. You may not see many planes. But in ‘Man Of Steel’, you may just witness the beginning of Superman’s rise back to the top of the comic book pile. Minor niggles aside, a truly exhilarating and emphatic return.