Sunday 23 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Year: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: David S Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne

Synopsis is here:

NOTE: This review begins with a small description of a scene that may feel like a slight spoiler to some. You’ve been warned. 

Clark Kent is sitting in school. He cannot concentrate on the teacher’s voice. The fact is; he hears more than just the teacher’s voice, he also hears the voices of the other children. But they are not talking. He is hearing their thoughts. He can’t focus on the teacher, as when he looks at her he sees her biological workings. He sees her insides.

The child, confused at this sensory overload, dashes out of class and locks himself in a nearby closest, trying to shut out the voices and gain sense of just what is happening to him.  He doesn't leave until his mother arrives sometime later.

Clark Kent: “The World’s too big, Mom.”

Martha Kent: “Then make it small.”

It’s a tiny moment of a very large and lengthy film, but to me it’s one of the most important.  A short scene in which we witness the Kyptonian’s powers first-hand but also notice how far these powers may reach. Call him Clark, call him The Man of Steel, Moments like this only help remind us of the largest allegory people often attach to Superman; Jesus. The film Man of Steel, much like Superman, much like The Lord and savoir, must be all things to all men. However scenes like the one mentioned are few and far between in Snyder’s loud and proud “Epic”. The world of Superman is huge. I often had issues with Man of Steel as Snyder struggles to make it small.

Not to say that I disliked Man of Steel outright. The film’s main objective to me is to create a Superman for a generation.  That generation may not be for those who reach for Christopher Reeve’s portrayal, or certain versions of comic book. It's earnest in some of its intentions and tries hard. Looking back, this new, more anxiety ridden Superman almost reminds me of the trapped young characters of Snyder’s own Sucker Punch. While Sucker Punch is the weaker film and although both are visually different, both have their young characters seemingly escape into fractured mind sets of themselves. Sucker Punch’s Babydoll steps into an alternate dream world to protect herself, while we observe the view point of Clark Kent through flashback as he tries to make sense of the man he will soon become.

At first I found myself at odds with the cinematic language utilised to inform us of how this new Superman would come to be. Hand held cinematography is rife, while the films screenplay does little to help out the films flashback structure with Individual scenes being quite effective while others pale in comparison. I didn't feel that Snyder’s overall direction was bad, but I kept feeling that some moments felt more at home than others. I know many enjoyed the films beginnings on the planet Kypton, and yet these scenes to be quite dull. Meanwhile; scenes in Smallville of a young Clark growing up, fared much better.

I found that despite the more clunker aspects of the script; Synder’s direction of the actors and their performances, kept my interest levels up, even if the very nature of the characters themselves sometimes went astray. Cavill gives us a Superman that isn't an aping of Christopher Reeves but does more than enough to show us that it shouldn't be. Michael Shannon’s tone as Zod is all fire and fury and yet he manages to capture a tragic aspect of the antagonist. Shannon, who said in interviews that he stay away from playing Zod as a villain, depicts a character who believes that what he’s doing is righteous in his own eyes. The crowning achievement goes to Costner, whose performance as Jonathan Kent, speaks volumes as an actor whose best roles were often ones of earnestness. Here he manages to take this even further, breaking hearts in the process. Even when questioning Jonathan’s motives, Costner nails the grey area that lies in all of us. Do we agree on his actions? Possibly not, however, not only does Costner sell his scenes (with limited screen time) but he also makes “Pa” Kent and more interesting character to get a handle on.

Unfortunately; in terms of the female’s roles, I was less impressed. Diane Lane was fine, but her turn didn't 
strike me as hard as it has others. Meanwhile, I found the usually brilliant Amy Adams to be one of the biggest chinks in the films amour. Gone is the ballsy, go getting portrayal laid by Margot Kidder, we are now given yet another entry into bland damsels in distress graduation year of 2013. A Lois Lane is one that "kicks ass" yet never feels organic while her romance with Cavil feels awkward and cold. Adams is not helped by a screenplay that doesn't seem that interested in her as a character.

Once the film finds its rhythm in the third act, set pieces become the real name of the game (as is name checking aspects of the DC universe). Snyder revels in the loud and proud destruction that takes place. Secondary characters; that are suddenly now more important than the film made out, are shoved into danger. The scale of carnage reaches Doomsday (the character) levels. I was impressed with just how overwhelming the scale was. You see where the money went and I can’t say I wasn't entertained.

Funnily enough, many have been disgruntled by the vast amount of collateral damage that is evident and how muted the response is considering the source. I found myself more annoyed at Iron Man 3 than here. Stark had hit the peak of his story arch at this point and I found his actions towards his antagonists problematic (due to certain story elements). I maybe wrong; but here we have a hero who is still learning who he is in the world and Snyder’s film still manages to execute a motion that helps address what we see.

Maybe Snyder and his crew will address some of this film’s frustrations with more clarity in the next instalment. Isn't that the way now? Just wait till the next one to answer your queries while supplying you with more? The scale and action is in the right place but other aspects are sloppy. Until Snyder can ground his story and characters as well as Richard Donner did with the first two films, then I feel we will once again have an uneven playing field. There was enough to keep me interested though. There’s room for improvement. It’s difficult trying to be perfect.