Friday, June 14, 2013

Snyder & Nolan Will Make You Believe a Man Can Fly: Our Review of "Man of Steel" (2013)

Directed By: Zack Snyder (300

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language

Run Time: 2 hours, 23 minutes

Synopsis: A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)


Andrew: Hello readers! Last night Sarah and I were some of the few in a crowd of about 50 people who bought advance screening tickets through Walmart to see Zack Snyder's new Superman reboot, Man of Steel - starring Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and a whole host of other famous actors that we'll get into during this review. This was a film that I know I was very much looking forward to ever since it was announced that Christopher Nolan would be producing and Zack Snyder would be directing.

But the interesting thing to me, and where I think the crux of this interview will come from, is that you, Sarah, told me as we were leaving the theatre that you did not know much about Superman and his story whatsoever prior to tonight!

Sarah: Yeah! I'm not very familiar with the storylines and characters of the DC Comics universe as much as I am with Marvel's. Before the Dark Knight trilogy I wasn't entirely familiar with Batman's backstory and his enemies and before this came out I was really under the impression that General Zod was his arch-nemesis throughout his entire history. And apparently I'm wrong! So yeah, I didn't know much about Superman, I didn't know much about his history and backstory, so everything in Man of Steel was very interesting for me to learn!

Man of Steel has the very clear DNA of Christopher Nolan's perfectly told origin story like we saw in Batman Begins, and I thought it was directed brilliantly by Zack Snyder. I love that it wasn't your typical origin story where you start at the beginning and move chronologically. I really liked that, because I assumed that's just how it would be. I loved that.

A: And what you mean is that Superman's backstory is told primarily through flashbacks. I mean, it starts at the beginning with the birth of Kal-El back on his home planet of Krypton, which is important because he's the first naturally born Kryptonian in hundreds of years. So that's a big part of the storyline. Then we see the destruction of Krypton, we see his parents sending him to Earth, all these things are are pretty well known to most people familiar with Superman. So I find it very interesting that this is your first exposure to all of this.

Man of Steel starts like most other origin films - from the beginning - showing Russell Crowe's Joe-El
prepping his newborn son to leave the dying planet of Krypton.

But yeah, once baby Kal-El reaches Earth the movie skips ahead 33 years Clark Kent as an adult, and the rest of his backstory is told through flashbacks - how Jonathan and Martha Kent, played brilliantly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, instill...

S: These Earth morals on him.

A: Exactly. So, the movie does start out on Krypton and it starts with a bang, really. What did you think of the introduction to this alien world and the whole background it has?

S: I thought it was so cool! I thought that it was perfectly sci-fi without it feeling unfamiliar. I mean, it's a dying planet, they've used up all of their resources, it's all very much a warning and sort of mirrors what we're going through today with our natural resources.

A: And this story is 75-years old, so it was way ahead of its time.

S: I liked that we saw Russell Crowe as Superman's father, Jor-El, right off the bat. This is the best I've seen from him since...I don't know when, actually. He's way better here than he was in Les Miserables. I thought he was so stiff in Les Mis and he was so much more in his element in this film. I thought his casting was brilliant and I thought he was great. To me he reminded me a lot of his Gladiator performance.

A: I would agree completely.

S: You know, with his screen presence. Russell Crowe brought his presence back to the screen in a perfect way here.

A: Absolutely. And the thing that struck me as so great about the movie, is right off the bat they are immersing you in...and you nailed it...that this is a sci-fi movie. That's what I find interesting about Nolan and David Goyer and Zack Snyder's have done - they have embraced the fact that, at its heart, Superman is a science fiction story. He's an alien! And they made this an alien invasion movie of sorts.

So you have to start with the home planet, and it's gorgeous. It's so amazing to look at, here's so much eye-candy. And I can see how some people might think it's a little overboard and/or distracting from the story, but I thought it was amazing and was a great way to kick off the movie.

S: For someone who's having such a hard time with the over-the-top blockbuster movies this year, and has found a lot of things distracting, to a fault, I actually didn't find this one so distracting because it was so new and so delicious. I just wanted to absorb as much of it as I could.

And then we get to Earth and Kevin Costner was cast perfectly in his role as Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane...that woman never ages! And she was fabulous here as Martha Kent. I thought she did an amazing job, too.

We haven't even talked about the three biggest characters in the movie yet! Henry Cavill, I felt, was an amazing choice to play Superman. He plays conflicted so well and he really got across the feeling that Clark doesn't know what he is or who he is, and I loved how he portrayed a man learning who he is. And I loved that we were learning right along with him. So I thought Cavill was perfectly cast, and I had questioned his casting at first.

Henry Cavill follows in the footsteps of Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh to don the cape and
"S" shield on film, and we think he's the perfect choice for the role.

A: I did, too, a little bit. Let's touch on this, and we'll go in order. I agree with you - I thought Cavill's casting was a stroke of genius. Originally, I remember when they were casting Superman, I had never heard of him before and I had been hoping for Matt Bomer to play the role.

S: I had heard of him because I had seen him in Showtime's The Tudors. But that was it. And he's British!

A: Which brings up a quick digression: look at all these American superheros who are being played by Brits now! Batman, Spider-Man, Superman are all being played by Brits! But Cavill just looks All-American, with his blue eyes, his pitch black hair, his chiseled know, to me at least he looks like the embodiment of Superman.

You know, I thought Brandon Routh did a fine job playing Superman in Superman Returns...

S: I thought he was too scrawny-looking for Superman.

A: But I completely understand a criticism a lot of people had with his casting in that he looked a little too much like Christopher Reeve, or that they primarily cast him because that's what they were going for. And even still, when most people think about Superman on film, they think of Christopher Reeve.

I myself have never been fond of the older Superman movies. To me, growing up, Dean Cain was who I thought of when I thought of Superman because I used to watch The Adventures of Lois & Clark, the TV series starring Cain and Teri Hatcher? (laughs) 

S: Ugh, that sounds awful!

A: It was great! (laughs) And then later on I guess I liked the portrayal Tom Welling gave on Smallville, but so I never really just thought of Christopher Reeve when I think of Superman, so I had absolutely no problems with Henry Cavill here.

You're right, he's plays conflicted very well. He looks like your wholesome, All-American Kansas boy...

S: Yeah, you're farm-raised boy who played quarterback in high school.

A: And he has the physicality, too. I think you're right that Routh might have been a little too scrawny for Superman, but there's no denying that Cavill really looks like the Man of Steel and can do all the fight scenes and action. I'm looking forward to seeing him as Superman in future movies.

Staying on the character of Clark, I thought the two actors who played the younger versions of Clark were great, too.

S: For sure! They were definitely believable in looking like they'd grow up to be Cavill's Clark Kent, and they did a good job playing tortured kids who don't quite understand what's happening with them or being a kid who can't fight back when bullies pick on him.

A: I particularly liked the scene where the youngest version of Clark runs and hides in a school closet because he's freaking out over his sudden x-ray vision, and Martha shows up to talk him down? That got me a little verklempt, and a lot of it had to do with the young actor playing Clark. So I'd say they casted the character of Clark pretty damn well all around.

S: And I think it'll be good to say that Cavill will hold up well in future movies, especially whenever they do a Justice League movie. I think he'll hold up well against whoever the cast as the new Batman and the rest of the DC characters.

A: Okay, let's move on to Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Lois Lane is the long-time love interest for Clark Kent and Superman, she's a successful investigative reporter for The Daily Planet...did you know who she was going in to this?

S: I know who Lois Lane is, yes.

A: So you knew who Lois Lane was but you don't know who Lex Luthor is?

S: I did, actually.

A: Okay, good. What did you think of Amy Adams as Lois Lane?

S: I thought she did a fine job. You can definitely tell this was a passion project for her. I've seen her on television lately talking about the movie and she's been saying that she always dreamed of playing Lois Lane and now she gets to play her and I think that's really, really cool.

Amy Adams takes her turn playing Lois Lane, a reporter for The Daily Planet who's on a mission to track
down a mysterious do-gooder with super-human strength in Man of Steel

I think she's a little old to play the character, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, she looks fabulous, but again I'm not sure how much of a part Lois has to play in the stories besides being the love interest.

A: Traditionally in the older movies and comics, Lois is really more of a damsel-in-distress  In the other iterations Margot Kidder played her just fine, Kate Bosworth was kinda meh, but I liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane because she actually gave her some heft. Some gravitas.

S: I will give her that. She's not the weak damsel-in-distress, for the most part. She's a strong woman, a strong journalist, and she plays an important part in the proceedings of the movie.

A: She definitely had more to do. She was very up and front in the proceedings, and it helps to cast a strong actress like Amy Adams if that's going to be the case. I agree with you that she does seem a touch old for the role, but...

S: That also could have been because of the way they had her hair and makeup styled, it could have been a number of things.

Okay, last but not least, Michael Shannon as General Zod. I've said it before, we've written down...not a big fan of Michael Shannon...

A: I am, you're not.

S: Right. Sorry. Andrew loves him, I'm not a huge Michael Shannon fan. I find him to be, in most things, very flat and boring to watch. I was proven wrong in Man of Steel. He played an amazing bad guy. He plays a bad guy on Boardwalk Empire, too, but he's different there. I feel like he never opens his mouth more than a millimeter in anything I've seen him in. But here he kind of showed his forces as a general, as someone in charge, as someone born and bred to be the protector for people he cares about. Another thing, too, is that he's misunderstood.

A: Zod?

S: Yeah.

A: Absolutely.

S: He's trying to protect Krypton and ensure that it will survive again, and he will do whatever it takes to protect the thing he loves the most.

A: Well and not only that, but the reason it's a big deal that Kal-El is the first naturally born Kryptonian in centuries is because until him, for years Kryptonians were born and bred for very specific purposes. You were a soldier, a worker...

S: A scientist...

A: Exactly. Zod was born to be a defender, to defend the Kryptonian race. So I think you're 100% right's literally in his DNA, his sole life's purpose is to ensure the Kryptonian species and propagate and flourish and not be destroyed. So that gives him an actual agenda, and it's not an evil one, it just happens to be that...

S: Earth and Kal-El are in the way.

A: Right. We, as Earthlings, root for the Earthlings to not be killed and for Superman to protect them, but it's a definite grey area because Zod is just trying to do what he's been doing his entire life.

Michael Shannon follows in Terence Stamp's footsteps playing Kal-El's fellow Kryptonian, General Zod.
What's great about Shannon's Zod is that while he may seem like a bad guy, he's motives
make him a misunderstood villain.

S: He's trying to do what he's been programmed to do at a DNA level to do. He knows no different, he never would be able to assimilate to Earth's living, he'd never be able to co-habitate. In his mind, the only way for him to survive and for his being to be any use to his world, is to protect Krypton and the Kryptonian race. And since he failed at both things, he's just trying to do what he can to kick-start it back again. He feels as though Superman has stolen his soul and it's heart-breaking, really. He's a man who has lost everything he's ever cared for. He's a really complex character.

I thought it was kind of funny when any of the Kryptonians and Superman fight, because it's an epic battle, forever locked together. It's like the Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbosa fight at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean when they're just locked in an immortal battle.

A: What I liked was the battle between Superman and General Zod, or even the battle between Superman and Zod's right-hand lady, Faora, was like a battle between two gods. From a human perspective, that is. These are two indestructible beings, the sun gives them their powers, so they can fly and their super-strong...when they punch each other, shockwaves are given off that destroy nearby buildings and roads. It's awesome.

And that brings me to the next point I want to make, and that's that Zack Snyder and his crew have made such an amazing looking movie. Visually and aesthetically it's awesome, and by that I mean the definition of the word.

S: They did an amazing job of highlighting all of Superman's super aspects. All of the Kryptonians, really.

A: X-ray vision, heat vision...

S: His super-strength, his speed, flight...they just did it all very well. A well done job by his team to bring it to the screen. For us to see it...I mean, we know Superman has X-ray vision, but to be able to see it like they show it here, to show us what he sees through his eyes was pretty cool.

A: Visually, I loved the way it looked. I'm very much looking forward to seeing this again just so I can look at it all a second time. Snyder has always been a very visual director, from Dawn of the Dead to 300 to Watchmen and even Sucker Punch, which wasn't a very good movie but was great to look at, all his movies have looked amazing. In fact, this is probably his best-looking movie to date.

S: So here's my last question: will it topple Iron Man 3 as the box office king this year? And will it pass it on the list of highest-grossing movies of all-time?

A: Well, obviously I wrote an article about this very thing yesterday...

S: Well now that you've seen it, do you still think it will?

A: Absolutely I do. I mean, we're going to go see it a second time, no question. This is the kind of movie that...the action is great, yes. So people will go back to see it again on the big screen. But it also has a lot of heart. The scenes between Clark and his dad, Clark and his mom...well, Clark and his dads I should say...there's so much there. It's not just a superhero movie, it's so much better than that.

Honestly, I liked Man of Steel better than I've liked any of the Marvel movies.

S: It's because of something that Christopher Nolan, and now Zack Snyder working with him, have been able to tap into something that none of the Marvel movie directors have been able to.

A: Here's the best way to put it: Marvel makes good superhero movies, but DC makes good films.

S: I think Kenneth Bragnagh came close with the first Thor, but Chris Nolan and Goyer and now Snyder have a way of pulling things out of these comics, I mean they're comic book characters, people.

A: It's just a great script by Goyer, with a story that he co-wrote with Nolan, and it's grounded in humanity to give it the duality that Superman has, plus all these other themes. And Snyder encapsulated it perfectly.

The music was phenomenal...

S: Oh my gosh, yes it was.

A: Hans Zimmer killed it here. I definitely want to buy the soundtrack to this movie. It's not overbearing, it fits perfectly...there's not like an over-riding theme per se, but there wasn't really for the Batman movies either. But you'll hear this score in the future and be able to go, "That's the Man of Steel score."

S: Yeah, because they didn't use the theme. I didn't hear the Superman theme song at all.

A: That's because they distinctly made the decision not to use any of John Williams' original score. And I think that was the right decision. You're starting over, go with a new direction. I thought it was great.

S: So what are our final thoughts on Man of Steel? I personally think it's one you definitely have to see in theatres. 

A: Absolutely. Overall, I think it's near-perfect. There really isn't one thing that I can pick out that bothered me, though I can see how some people might say the beginning feels rushed, or the flashbacks don't work, or that this isn't the light-hearted Superman we're used to, but I thought the beginning was perfect, I loved the flashbacks, and I like that this wasn't the same old Superman. I think it was proven back with Superman Returns that the Superman of old isn't the one this generation is looking for.

S: The tone definitely worked for me, and I agree - I think if this was any different I might have reacted in a totally different way. But as it is, I love it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A must-see in theatres!

(Individual Scores - S: 5/5  A: 5/5)

(EXTRA TIDBIT: During the climactic battle between Superman and Zod, keep your eyes peeled for a satellite sporting a corporation logo related to another DC character, making the first connection between Man of Steel and the rest of the new DC universe.)

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