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Man of Steel

June 12, 2014

Man of Steel (2013)
Director: Zack Snyder
Actors: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

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Synopsis: Kal-El, the last naturally born being from the dying planet Krypton, is sent off into the heavens before the callous General Zod (Michael Shannon) can get his hands on him. Kal-El lands on the planet Earth and grows up as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) in rural Kansas. It’s only the investigative zeal of reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Zod’s success in tracking Kal down, that forces Kent – now christened ‘Superman’ – to accept his destiny as safeguard for Earth’s citizens.

Review: The best way I can describe Superman re-boot Man of Steel is that it’s like a militaristic tone-poem (as paradoxical as those two terms together may appear), and it’s also one of those very rare films that seems to fluctuate wildly between registers both sublime and dire.

The opening Krypton segment is on the risible side of the equation as it sketches the birth and flight of Kal-El (aka Superman), his father’s death, and General Zod’s subsequent banishment, featuring ridiculously broad storytelling and CGI so naff it would give George Lucas’ Star Wars’ prequel a run for its money. Then there’s the cut to the silly, almost pantomime, first reveal of Kal-El as a man on Earth, going to the rescue of a burning oil rig, and walking through fire and holding up the collapsing rig with his bare body alone. There’s no sense of build up here, no subtlety and no wonderment as to Kal-El’s powers, it’s just all out there, bulging biceps and all in those opening moments. And in a sense, that nicely summates the weak points of Snyder’s film in their entirety. There’s a real obsession with the sheer, rugged unsophistication of Superman’s powers. He’s shown simply smashing into things…a lot – from the natural world around him, to the man-made structures that get in his way, to his enemies. It’s almost as if the film’s sole conceit is based around an awe at Superman’s might and godliness.

But then there’s another side to Man on Steel. It’s sensationally written, contrasting the near thuggery of its on-screen action, with a cerebral, sub-Malickian narrative schema, whereby Clark Kent’s ‘remembrance of things past’ is contrasted to his struggles with his present-day metamorphosis (the sequence where his adoptive father gets sucked into a tornado is particularly well done). As in work associated with Christopher Nolan (producer here) the musical score is spot on, and I really like the casting and performance of Henry Cavill. I can’t describe it any better, but Cavill has a very old-fashioned and heroic face, physique and sensibility, and it suits the simplicity of the Superman character so well. (June 2014)

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