Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Man of Steal

DC's most iconic superhero gets another makeover in Zack Snyder's 'Man of Steel.'  Henry Cavill's Superman is the third incarnation of the Kryptonian do-gooder on the big screen, following Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, who only got to wear the red-and-blue tights once in Bryan Singer's 'Superman Returns.'  So why reboot a movie that made $200 million domestically and nearly that internationally?  Other than the fact that 'Superman Returns' cost $204 million to make and hence was considered a failure domestically, Warner Brothers wanted the franchise to be more akin to 'Dark Knight' and less like 'Lois and Clark.'  You know, the popular '90's TV series in which Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher were all lovey-dovey on each other.  In other words, they wanted to ramp up the action and dial down the romance.
'Man of Steel' achieved all this and more.  Henry Cavill is more rugged and muscular than either Reeve or Routh.  With Christopher Nolan ('Dark Knight' trilogy) producing and Zack Snyder ('300' and 'Watchmen') directing, this latest version is darker, grittier and more brooding than any that came before.  Even his suit is darker hued than those of his predecessors.  The movie also earned points for skipping much of the backstory, relying instead on a series of flashbacks to tell the story of young Clark's time on earth living with Ma and Pa Kent through selected highlights in his life.  Even at over 2 hours, the movie is tight and efficient in its storytelling, with every scene setting up for what will come later.  The movie's prologue, for instance, tells the story of Krypton's doom and the last days of his parents, Jor-El and Kara, but also sets the stage for the coming battle between Kal-El and General Zod.

General Zod.  I guess this would qualify as a remake of Superman II, the 1980 Richard Donner movie starring Christopher Reeve and Terence Stamp as Zod.  I fondly remember that movie and regard it as the best of that series, but Michael Shannon did a great job in the role of the Kryptonian villain in any case.
So why did I accuse 'Man of Steel' of being a thief in this review's title?  Because while the movie is indisputably exciting and action-packed, there is something too familiar and derivative about it.  The bio-mechanical designs of the Kryptonian sets, spaceships and smaller craft look like they've been ripped from 'The Avengers,' 'Prometheus' and 'The Chronicles of Riddick' to the point that I'm beginning to think H.R. Giger-influenced concepts are overused in Hollywood.  Then there are the numerous action sequences resembling those from all the recent Marvel movies: the jerky stop-and-accelerate movements, the asphalt-cratering pile driver landings, the sheer scale of the mass destruction wreaked in an urban landscape.  It's as if Zack Snyder watched Joss Whedon's 'The Avengers' and thought: "I think I'll do him one better!"
Regardless, 'Man of Steel' is an enjoyable romp and breathed new life in the Superman saga.  While the mythos of Batman is bleak and rather depressing, the world of Superman has always been a hopeful (and romantic) one.  After all, Superman represents "Truth, Justice and the American Way," does he not?  If nothing else, 'Man of Steel' whets our appetite for 'Justice League,' DC's answer to 'The Avengers,' due out in 2015 if David Goyer is to be believed.
Grade: B+
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