MAN OF STEEL: A Retrospective by Joel Copling

Rating in Stars: ***½ (out of ****)
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe
Director: Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language)
Running Time: 2:23
Release Date: 06/14/13

Immediately, Man of Steel vaults over the necessity to make this the usual superhero origin story, and in the process, it stands out immediately. The character of Superman is only as interesting as he is when his alter ego Clark Kent exists to introduce the dynamic of one becoming the other and vice versa. With this film, though, screenwriter David S. Goyer dismisses this until the final scene positions that dichotomy to be featured in a sequel and instead centers his focus upon, not Superman, but Kal-El, the Kryptonian citizen whose birth was closely followed by the murder of both parents by a man who was bred with a militant mind.

We know the beats of that story, of course, but Goyer approaches it with as much theatricality as it deserves. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) have given birth (the first natural one in centuries, apparently) to a son they hope will inspire good. The move is one that follows a distinct feeling on Jor-El’s part that Krypton is going to Hell in a handbasket, a feeling exacerbated when Zod (Michael Shannon in a performance that is over-the-top because the sensation is necessitated), a general, attempts to overtake the council that might save the planet. Jor-El and Lara respond by sending their son to Earth, whose younger, brighter star will help to hone his powers among a more youthful generation.

We do get a glimpse of the younger Kal-El’s (Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline play him at the ages of nine and 13) life on Earth among the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), the family who takes him in and christens him Clark while grasping only guesses as to where he came from. He saves a school bus full of children using his super-human strength, and Dad warns him about revealing his other-worldliness, even at the sake of so many young and innocent lives. He, Dad says, is the answer to the questions of man’s solitude in the universe, and such questions are bigger than, really, any other, even that of complicity in allowing the bus to submerge.

It’s an act of planting stakes in Kal-El’s identity, so as an older figure, now played by Henry Cavill in a performance of great earnestness and as little outward personality as possible (and, subsequently, as much as is necessary), he takes up a job that will highlight his desire for anonymity: a worker on a fisherman’s wharf. He also saves a burning oil rig from killing most of those onboard before fleeing. Suddenly, a bigger threat awaits him: Zod and his lieutenants have escaped prison and arrived at the place they knew Kal-El to be, demanding that the inhabitants deliver him or suffer the consequence of annihilation.

The finale pits Kal-El, who has now been labeled “Superman” by the general public with the help of fearless reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), against Zod, who wants to preserve Krypton’s population through twisted and destructive methods (which afford the villain a motivation that is as cruel as it is easy to sympathize with) that include a massive engine that will align Earth’s atmosphere with that of Krypton, along the streets and into the buildings of Metropolis. The ensuing action goes on a bit, but it’s is as blustery and epic as director Zack Snyder (no stranger to either adjective when it comes to his movies) and cinematographer Amir Mokri can possibly make it. It’s also something of a secondary concern for Man of Steel, which is focused on uprooting our understanding of the title hero and laying down a different, more mythic foundation than we have known.

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