Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: Man of Steel


I've always had a soft spot for Superman movies because the movies always had soft spots. The 1978 original might have started the superhero blockbuster boulder rolling and it sure looks pretty naff today, but every time Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent had a scene with Margot Kidder's Lois Lane it almost turned into a Woody Allen film.

And Bryan Singer's 2006 revival Superman Returns rewarded one's affections for that gentle Reeve franchise, rather than heading into the hard-boiled territory the Superman DC Comics had entered.

Returns came with memorable moments - like Brandon Routh's Superman in Christ-like pose way above the Earth he is compelled to protect. But that movie didn't have enough fanboy bait for a franchise.

So here we are seven years later in the post-Dark Knight age with Man of Steel by director Zack Snyder a style-over-content kind of guy who has taken on hard-boiled comic books in 300 and Watchmen both films of impressive destructive power and very little else.

With Snyder in charge and - Christopher Nolan and fellow Dark Knight writer David S. Goyer's script - this was never going to be a Superman movie with any soft spots.

And it isn't. In fact the last half hour or so is a prolonged demolition derby that just doesn't want to quit until it's topped The Avengers and Transformers 3 for the urban renewal possibilities it brings to the city of Metropolis.

Fortunately, and surprisingly, before it gets to the brainless and heartless mega-bashathon, Man of Steel has managed to establish itself as the sort of Superman movie that is equivalent to the great leap forward that Nolan's 2005's Batman Begins was to the Tim Burton films of the previous decade.

Sure it does a few familiar things. The mid-movie battle of Smallville between Superman and the baddies from his old planet of Krypton looks a lot like the Thor movie, only louder and throwing locomotives instead of hammers. And Snyder's shaky-everything visual style isn't comfortably compatible with 3D and Hans Zimmer's score attempts to outdo Prometheus for its honking synthesizers of death.

The old adoption tale is the same. Krypton parents put their only son in an escape pod which turns up on the Kent farm in Kansas where he is raised as their only boy. But this makes of fine job of making the origin story feel curiously original. It spends a good deal of the movie's opening on Krypton where Russell Crowe's scientist Jor-El - father of Superman - is playing Chicken Little to the powers that be, as their environmentally-damaged planet collapses on itself and the mad bad General Zod (Shannon in scenery-chewing form) thinks the only solution is a military coup.

Off the wee guy goes to Kansas to a childhood where his developing powers leave him increasingly freaked out. He becomes a loner and he's under orders by his caring parents (Costner and Lane) not to use his powers until the reason he was sent to Earth becomes apparent.

Snyder tells most of this story in fractured flashback, the teenage Clark wandering off, not to a newspaper job on the Daily Planet but off to sea in a fishing boat which only forces him into situations where he can't help but play saviour.

But there is a twist which involves Zod, who survives the Krypton apocalypse, coming to Earth in pursuit of the guy who has just discovered his mission in life and the suit that goes with it.

At first it appears Cavill is far too pretty to be convincing but he neatly grows into the role as his character morphs and he gets pursued by Lois Lane (Adams) who thinks something is up with this guy who keeps turning up at the scenes of apparent miracles, including one of her own.

Despite Adams, it's possibly the least romantic Superman movie yet and the only joke seems to be one about not putting a name to the giant "S" on that chest of his.

Yes, its deathless finale risks undoing the good work of its first two hours. But Man of Steel still emerges from the rubble as a fine, thrilling Superman movie. It might be heavy-handed - heck they get the Christian allusions out of the way by having Clark ask a priest for advice under a stained glass window of Jesus. But it's still one that smartly reworks the legend and promises great things from the coming franchise.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane
Director: Zack Snyder
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 143 mins
Verdict: Spectacular, loud, and super enough for now

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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