Metals… there seems to be a lot of emphasis on them in films nowadays. Not that there are films out there about smelting and how steel alloys are crafted, but you can’t help but notice how the combination of metals and humans has made some serious money in the past few years. OK, this is a really odd and tenuous link / introduction to the review, but you get my point surely? Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man and all of his related films have been a major earner in Hollywood. A major earner. They’ve taken comic book movies to the next level and showed the immense drawing power of these films. So what happens when you upgrade your iron? How about we put some steel into the mix? And switch from Marvel to DC? And add Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder into the mix? Let’s see how Man of Steel stacks up shall we?
Man of Steel is of course the story of Superman. The superhero that flies, shoots heat lasers, has x-ray vision, is super strong, is near invincible etc. etc. This is one of the main reasons I’ve never had any affection towards him from a comic book fan’s perspective. He’s just got too many damn powers. And his weakness? Kryptonite… an asset that everyone seems to have in his world. I won’t lie; I’ve never read a single page or panel of a Superman comic, so this review isn’t coming at you from a fanboy perspective. What do you think this is? A Marvel film review!? Nor can I attest to being a fan of Christopher Reeve‘s outings as Superman. If I’m honest, the closest I’ve got to this franchise was Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Yeah, I admitted it. What of it?!
Regardless, this movie has been touted as gritty and grounded; due in no small part to the success of Christopher Nolan‘s Batman franchise. This also explains his involvement as an Executive Producer on this movie. Couple that with Zack Snyder and you should have something to marvel at. I must admit, I was dubious of Snyder being given the gig, as I’ve been less than impressed with him since 300. Watchmen was okay, and Sucker Punch? Well, let’s not speak of it. But I’ll hand it to him… Man of Steel is good. Very good…
Man of Steel is the reboot the series has been yelling out for. It tells the obligatory origin story, but in a refreshing way. We see little Kal-El (Henry Cavill) on Krypton being sent away by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) as they aim to let him thrive off on Earth before Krypton implodes / he’s taken by the marauding General Zod (Michael Shannon). We skip a load of years and see his life with Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent. What’s refreshing is that his life is filled in through flashbacks throughout the film, which allows the central plot to progress (him coming to terms with his powers, discovering the hero inside, yadda yadda) whilst also colouring in the background. I liked it.
The story is quite straight forward in many ways, and is probably a bit cliché / has been done before. But what really sold Man of Steel to me was the sheer calibre of the acting on show. Everyone is pulling their weight and then some. Let’s, naturally, focus on Clark / Kal-El / Superman himself: Henry Cavill. This guy is perfect for the role – from his astoundingly broad-chested physique to his mannerisms and relatability. I was totally sold on Cavill‘s performance and can’t wait to see him return. My next favourites in the movie? Easily Costner and Crowe. I’m a big Russell Crowe fan, and once again he showed his acting chops off really well, as did Costner; giving one of his best performances in years. There wasn’t a single weak link in the line-up of main actors here. That’s hard to achieve!
As I mentioned earlier, the flaws with the film – for me – were the plotting (fairly obvious) and sometimes very dry tone. I’m not expecting Iron Man-esque laugh out loud moments, but it was the inclusion of two or three obvious spoken jokes that had me cringing. They fell so flat and left me feeling awkward. Some have bemoaned the lengthy running time, but I’ll disagree with them; I thought it worked well at its current length. Sure, there was probably one fight too many in the middle section, but I was entertained and that’s what matters with comic book movies isn’t it? On that note, I also felt the climax of the movie – the “big bad event” was fitting and felt suitably menacing. I’d argue it was a far bigger threat than The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers could muster. It’s nice to feel a true threat… even if you had no doubt about the ultimate outcome!
Also, I need to mention just how it looked… fantastic. Snyder does have a flair for filming beautiful looking scenes and Man of Steel doesn’t disappoint. I felt the sheer scale of his universe and felt drawn into it entirely. As I say, I can’t wait for the already announced Man of Steel 2… although I hope it’s not called that!
Man of Steel is the Superman movie fans have been roaring out for for years since the weak Superman Returns. Finally, arguably the most famous superhero of all time has a film to be proud of. The reason this film works so well is the way in which it’s an origin story, but told in a nicely succinct way, and the sheer calibre of acting talent on show. Cavill is the perfect Superman and his supporting cast are all firing on all cylinders. Although the film’s not perfect, and arguably not as fun as Marvel’s current stable of characters, it bodes well for the future of the franchise.
So who wins out of steel and iron? Although steel is actually the superior metal, there’s no competition here in the fact that Iron Man is superior to Man of Steel. But it’s close. And you could argue that they’re incomparable owing to radically different tonality. Whilst one is stern, one is jokey. Can you imagine Robert Downey Jr. as Superman though? Can you? Now that’s something to think about…