Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

Grade: B-

If you spent your days since The Dark Knight Rises weeping because Christopher Nolan’s genius might never be found in another superhero again, fear not.

While Christopher Nolan only produces and co-writes Man of Steel, the latest superhero reboot, traces of his grittier hero formula are found…to a point.

The details in Clark Kent’s backstory make this reboot a bit more unique than others and more akin to the The Dark Knight series. Zack Snyder, director, explores Kent’s emotional and social struggles growing up so differently from the rest of us.

The film gives glimpses into Kent’s past, showing him trying save those around him without giving away his gifts, out of fear that he would not be accepted. By the time he’s a young adult, he struggles to find his place in the world that so desperately needs him but would also be wary of his gifts should he show them.

But despite his own fears and those of Mr. and Mrs. Kent, Clark can’t ignore his conscience.  

Before I get into what’s wrong, I have to say, Snyder does so much right in this version. First, exploring Superman’s character itself humanizes him — much like we saw of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight. The best scenes in the movie are the flashbacks to Kent’s younger years, as the biggest challenge he faces is himself.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner give terrific performances as Mr. and Mrs. Kent, and Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, gives a soulful turn to both Kent’s vulnerable insecurity and Superman’s moral conviction in a way that balances both the human and super sides of him.

This film is also probably the most obvious about Superman as a Christ-like figure. He comes from another world, he saves humanity, accepts his role as savior at the age of 33. There are several shots in the movie when he falls or flies in the shape of a cross. There’s even a scene where Kent seeks a priest’s advice and Christ radiates through the stained-glass window behind him. Maybe it’s a bit too out there, but personally, I liked the reminder.

But, alas. Despite what’s going for it, we only see glimpses of an epic film with great potential depth until we are drowned in special effects and an overly-drawn out climax battling General Zod in New York City. I almost felt like all those poor buildings did. The film had such potential to revitalize our beloved hero but turns back to the same blockbuster formula of overdone CGI and a cliché climax — thankfully, it ends on a simpler note.

Amy Adams gives a feistier spin to reporter and love interest, Lois Lane, but as a pair, it doesn’t quite seem to work between her and Kent. There’s also very little development on any character other than Kents’s, even costing the film its romance.

As a whole, the movie is entertaining and is a more unique take on a hero, as opposed to, say … The Amazing Spider-Man. Here we actually have a reason to reboot and redefine Superman. And while the film has some great moments, it also loses some of its luster in the middle. Is it worthy of The Dark Knight reboot? No. But is it a good movie? Definitely. It’s certainly received the Nolan-esque “dark and gritty” facelift that most recent superhero movies seem to be applying.

Some critics aren’t gung-ho about the trend of making superhero stories darker. Gone are the “KA-POW!” days of our timeless heroes, but while I believe the darkness has a time and place, I also believe that the trend is a good thing.

 What the darkness does to the superheroes, in giving them some kind of inner conflict, a struggle to accept their responsibility or a struggle to choose the good, is a reflection of our own inner struggle.

We all have the capability for greatness — it’s getting there that’s the hard part. We all struggle with choosing good, with accepting who we are and doing the right thing sometimes. We all have a darkness within us and the battle between evil and good doesn’t just rage in fantasy stories. It happens in our own hearts, on a daily basis.

What the superheroes teach us through it, provided they show that they overcome those struggles and choose good, is there is always hope and always a chance to get up, even if we’ve screwed up.

Darkness isn’t a bad thing. Without it, we wouldn’t have light. But in dark stories, the light must always be shown, because there is the ineffable truth that hope and goodness always wins. And despite its weaknesses, Man of Steel shows this.