Thursday, June 20, 2013

Film Review: Man of Steel

Grade: A-

When superheroes had their first big screen boom in the seventies and eighties, it was Superman who led the charge in 1978's film starring Christopher Reeves in the role. It has been said that Tim Burton's Batman and every other hero movie to come after was only possible in light of the groundbreaking success that was Superman. At that time Superman was without rival the most well known and loved comic book character ever, so it was only natural for the blue wonder to lead the charge from the comic pages to Hollywood. 

 Almost forty years later things have certainly changed. The new Superman film, Man of Steel, comes in the wake of a full decade of big budget, high grossing comic book adaptions and on the tail of 2006's not very popular Superman Returns. While other comic book characters such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men have been propelled to greater popularity than ever before with their blockbuster box office smashers, the current craze of superhero mania has been a kryptonite to Superman's long lasting status as top superhero.

 This is most striking in how Man of Steel must now live up to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Batman trilogy, a mirror parallel to the way in which Burton's Batman once had to follow in the footsteps of the earlier Superman success. So does Man of Steel succeed? Yes, for the most part.

It certainly helps that Christopher Nolan, director of the recent Batman films and architect of the closest thing we have to a DC Comics film universe, is a producer on Man of Steel. His guiding hand on the film is evident and manages to subdue director Zack Snyder from making it too much a Snyder film, a measure that anyone who has seen Sucker Punch will be thankful for. Man of Steel manages to tow the line between the gritty realism of Nolan's Batman and the inherently more fantastic and optimistic world of Superman. In comparison to the goofy, comic book feel of Superman Returns, Man of Steel is grave and somber but in comparison to The Dark Knight it's a feel good action flick - which is a good middle ground for Superman in 2013.

Many have wondered if perhaps Superman is just past his time - if the fundamental appeal of the all powerful, morally sound, good ole' boy alien was just more suited to the mid 20th-century than now. The role and significance of characters and mythologies is certainly relative to the time in which they exist, as is evidenced by the ever-booming popularity of the technology centric Iron Man character in the 21st century. However Superman possesses characteristics that are timelessly and universally admired and Man of Steel does a fantastic job of bringing the character into the modern age while retaining everything that he has ever stood for.

The film is what one might want or expect from a Superman movie: it is bombastic, action packed, big, loud, explosive, and good hearted. Man of Steel constantly teeter-totters between non-stop high-octane action to deliberately paced, philosophicalsoul searching drama and achieves this naturally, without jarring the flow of the narrative, through non-linear story structure. I was also glad to not have to sit through a thirty-minute exposition of Clark Kent growing up in Kansas.

Man of Steel hits full stride when the action peaks. As great as the characters and actors are, and as surprisingly solid as the script is, the movie is most in its element when we are flying through the sky with Superman or racing through a crumbling city in one of the many colossal, Transformers scale fist fights. In this way Superman has never been more suited to an age than he is now: finally the full speed, force, and potential of the character is achievable on screen. Superman is as grand and flashy as Batman is dark and brooding, which is exactly the way it should be.

If Man of Steel doesn't quite knock it out of the park it at least makes it most of the way around the bases. The stage is definitely set for a new franchise, one in which I hope star Henry Cavill stays at the helm of. In a very rare occurrence nowadays, I left Man of Steel thinking that a sequel couldn't come soon enough.

Posted By: Terry Pierson, Library Clerk/Page