Superman doesn’t do anything halfway. He can’t. As a near indestructible alien from a destroyed world, raised on a farm in the middle of America, the character simply does not know how to do things halfway.
This, however, is a double-edged sword – it means his failures are equally catastrophic.
The same goes for Superman movies, and after the failed last attempt to reboot the movie franchise, I will admit I was trying not to worry too much about how well Man of Steel would do with re-introducing the character.
It has been said that a hero is only as good as its villains. While I think this is not entirely true, it certainly has some weight within the concept of superhero movies.
To an extent, because of how powerful Superman (Henry Cavill) is, there is even more need for a solid villain to stand against him.
General Zod (Michael Shannon) certainly has the ability – as a fellow Kryptonian – to stand up against the Man of Steel, as far as power goes, but more importantly, his character – while certainly very tightly focused in purpose and logic – is very well presented.
This is important, as just because a character should be able to challenge Superman does not mean they are portrayed well in doing so. Previous movies with Lex Luthor as part comedy relief and part stupid crazy – rather than a cold and ruthless business tycoon – prove my point.
This is not a problem in Man of Steel. With the movie starting during the last days of Krypton, we get to see General Zod act in a cold and ruthless manner in a misguided coup attempt he believes is necessary to save the Kryptonian race.
This does a great job of placing the character and his motivations, while allowing the the reasoning behind the infant Kal-El – the someday-Superman – being sent to Earth to shine through, as well as how and why the General was banished to the Phantom Zone.
Unfortunately, while General Zod is a very ruthless and challenging enemy, especially with his Kryptonian technology and soldiers, the writing really struggles with him. As a being specifically designed to fit a military role both genetically and through training, he should be able to easily crush first the scientist (and Superman’s father) Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and later the untrained Superman.
The movie’s plot features a great central plot, as Zod invades Earth searching for the wayward Kryptonian, and does well in neither completely ignoring Clark Kent’s childhood growing up in rural Kansas, nor in spending too much time on it. While the movie did jump from the destruction of Krypton to an adult Clark Kent, it uses well-placed and written flashbacks to help define the moral growth of the character and his motivations.
Dylan Sprayberry – the actor who played young Clark Kent – does a great job, as do both Kevin Cosner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent. While there is a solid story woven throughout these flashbacks, and this manner of revealing things seems to work better at keeping the film from falling into three different stories of Krypton, young Clark, and Superman, it does also feel like there could have been a lot more to Kal-El’s development as a child.
The side characters seem to suffer from the same problem. It is great to see the strong human element of what goes on around Superman, and to see both the military and civilians like Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) stand up and act heroically against threats most humans would bail from. However, there’s just so many storylines and such huge town-shattering fights going on around the cast that we don’t get to see much character interaction, which is a shame.
Other than the poor depth of character interaction, another weakness of the film is the camerawork.
Far. Too. Much. Shaky cam.
During the battles, it’s not a problem as fights are actually very nicely demonstrated, but I don’t need the camera shaking during a council meeting. It’s distracting.
Other, calmer times where the camera was not steady also detracted from my ability to focus on the scene, which weakened it. I don’t even know where to start with how stupid I thought the close ups on Superman learning how to fly looked. They just looked poorly conceived and not any better brought about.
I do give credit, though, for some of the comic book Easter Eggs that managed to get worked in. Certainly, they aren’t needed to enjoy the movie, but if you do catch them they’re a nice touch.
Overall, I think Man of Steel was a successful action flick and a nice reboot. It doesn’t always hit the mark but generally it holds up well, and despite its flaws there was enough substance there that I left satisfied.
6.5/10 – Fun film, but points off for disappointing camerawork.