Friday, 14 June 2013

Man of Steel

12, 2013, Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe


When the trailer for Man Of Steel landed, fit with its Terence Malick art-house shots of billowing linen, butterflies and small-town America, it was easy to assume Zack Snyder's slant on Superman was to be much of the same ilk as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy: grounded with a humane realism. It becomes clear quickly, once Man of Steel begins, how this could be cited something of a mis-representation: the talks of Nolan-isation (with the director landing a writing/producing credit) a falsity. This is 300 and Watchmen director Snyder's vision, and as Russell Crowe's Krypton Father Jor-El looks over a destructing Krypton, the scope is difficult to deny.

The first act impressively sets up this generation's version of the classic comic, as newly-born Kal-El is sent to Earth in the hope that he will 'do better.’ Cue many scenes of Henry Cavill hoisting vehicles, saving schoolchildren and rather darkly locking himself in cupboards to escape his alienating alien abilities. Chronological sentimentality is avoided - as baby Kal lands on earth we’re treated to a jump-cut of a boat upon which he’s now in his thirties, dubbed Clark Kent, and is a full-time fisherman, part-time hero - and in its place is non-linear philosophy. Raised by regular Joe couple Jonathan and Martha Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner,) Clark is treated to Jonathan's teachings and regular bouts of dialogue about how the world is not ready for Clark to fly; Snyder presents these moments in a non-linear sequence, so as to get a glimpse of the humanity embedded within Kal when he needs to be most super.

The human element of this film is most certainly distilled upon the arrival of a vengeance-seeking General Zod, banished from Krypton before its destruction and now seeking Kal, hell bent on destroying earth so as to 'rebuild' foundations. Played with expert villainy by the ever-intense Michael Shannon, the showdown is more epic than could be imagined. Perhaps an understatement, but things break. Skyscrapers, tarmac, walls... with every new shot comes a new object plummeting to the ground in smithereens, usually around ‘Pulitzer Prize-winning’ Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams in a less fruitier role than one may have cared for.) It's a wonder the audience can follow what they're watching, but with some expertly-choreographed sequences, Man of Steel manages to escape the wearisomely-injected mayhem that plagues Michael Bay's Transformers films. 

But with a hero who if shot at would destroy the bullet, it remains questionable how much humanity could ever have been placed on Clark Kent's shoulders. At this film’s crux is that age-old story of somebody dealing with the mistakes of a past generation - or planet - and forced to embrace who they truly are, despite inevitable opposition from a world plagued with terrorism. Much has been said about the film’s lack of humour, perhaps unfairly; several scenes offer subtle chuckles by way of the script, most memorably a scene where Clark dons that outfit, allowing the police to put him in cuffs, before telling Lois Lane the symbol on his suit is not a letter. ‘Well, here it’s an S,’ she retorts.

Nothing is as top scale as it feels things should be, instead remaining enjoyable enough to pass off as a few hours of entertainment rather than proving show-stopping enough to be branded super. Cavill’s performance is secondary to Snyder’s action, leaving it to Crowe and Shannon to steal scenes. With teases galore and standout moments towards the film's end, not to mention tantalising ticks placed throughout, it seems Kal-El's foundations have indeed been built on earth – with introductions out of the way, and Bryan Singer’s 2006 effort defeated, Superman will return and promises to be superior.