15 Jun 2013

Screen Time: MAN OF STEEL

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Ayelet Zurer
Director: Zack Snyder
Runtime: 143 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 14th June 2013 (UK), 13th June 2013 (US)

James R: What you think of Zack Snyder's epic Man of Steel will ultimately depend on how you view Superman. Those who still hold up Richard Donner's 1979 movie as a perfect embodiment of Superman might come away disappointed, while others who like to see Superman as representative of all that's good and right - the ultimate champion of justice - may also feel let down. However, if you're willing to see this as a new iteration of Superman in the same way that producer Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies were an interpretation of Batman rather than a definitive Batman, then like me, you'll love this movie.

In Grant Morrison's much-celebrated All Star Superman there is an outstanding sequence where Superman runs a simulation within a compressed universe to see what Earth would be like without a Superman. Much like Voltaire's maxim about God - "If he did not exist, then we would have to invent him" - Superman watches on as the people of the alternate Earth end up creating Superman as a fictional character out of a necessity to think of ourselves as bigger and better people. Morrison cleverly makes the point that there is something primal about Superman which in many ways represents us as a species and our dreams of being more than we are. The Last Son of Krypton seems to facilitate much higher ideas and concepts than other super heroes, and it's this ability that Zack Snyder and co-writer David Goyer tap into here.

As a man who teaches philosophy, I was dazzled with the amount of philosophical ideas that Man Of Steel throws at it's audience. In its two hours twenty minute runtime we get Plato, Kierkegaard, Utilitarianism and Darwin... and almost as an afterthought, the almost traditional Christian allegory. I won't bore you all to tears with how all these ideas are put across (Save a thought for my poor A-level students who will have to listen to my impassioned ramblings!) but I will stress that they are there, and for me it was thrilling to see these ideas being used to drive the plot on - as it doe in the best SF tales - rather than being used as a pseudo-intellectual aside. I find it fitting that Siegel & Shuster created Superman from the fertile ground of science fiction's golden era in the 1930s, and that's what Man of Steel does so right - this is the first proper SF superhero movie.
On top of this excellent bedrock, there is a feast for the eyes. As a boy who fell in love with the character of Superman, I've yearned for years to see a film where we really see Big Blue let rip - and Sweet Christmas, does the film deliver in spades when it comes to the unleashing of powers. There is a visceral feel to the action, and it was great to see a film where the 3D augmented the scenes rather than hinder them. I know it's an unfair comparison in terms of budget and scope, but if you compare this movie to Iron Man 3, Marvel Studios effort seems almost lo-fi. A quick look at IMDB tells me that Warners sank - deep breath - $225 million into this movie, and it is a cliche but every penny is clearly up on screen.

As a veteran of many superhero movies and countless summer blockbusters, I've really become aware of the importance and difficulty of pacing a big movie, and I think a special nod should go to the film's editor David Brenner. The film packs a lot in without ever feeling rushed or undercooked. Last summer Dark Knight Rises didn't quite pull this off (think back to the widespread criticism of the final third of that movie with Gotham under siege) but Man Of Steel takes a page from the Avengers playbook, and gets the balance of time, action and character development just right.

It was also great to see a blockbuster where there was no teeth-grindingly bad casting. Henry Cavill does brilliantly as a Superman, raised to fear his powers by one father, then told to embrace them by another. He underplays it nicely, and bearing in mind I still think Christopher Reeve was the best Kal-El, I never doubted Cavill, and I hope we get to see him don the cape again. Finally, it wouldn't be me if I didn't mention the brilliance of Michael Shannon as General Zod. As a big fan of Boardwalk Empire, I told all and sundry that he would make a brilliant Zod, and that's exactly what he is. Zod is a villain for whom you can feel sympathy (a man genetically bred to fight and unable to escape his destiny) while simultaneously fear - Shannon is the master of pent-up rage, and his presence gives Superman a perfectly balanced foe in many ways. Where Superman embodies freedom of choice, Zod is predestination made flesh.
By the end of the breathless finale to the movie, a natural question is 'Where do they go from here?'. Snyder relishes in showing the catastrophic damage super-powered beings would bring to a city when going toe-to-toe, but rather than being a point of ridicule, I found that the chaos and destruction sets up a sequel perfectly - will humanity be happy with a defender in their midst who brings with him almost limitless power but also horrific destruction? As I walked from the cinema, I felt electrified at the thought of another chapter for this Superman. I appreciate that it won't be for everyone, but it was everything that this fanboy could ever want from a Superman film. I remember Alan Moore's anecdote about cinema: he said that given the cost and the multiple conflicting opinions at work when making a film, it's a miracle that any good films are made at all. Given the iconic status of Superman, and the astonishing budget, this film is certainly a miracle.

As a boy who once almost fainted from over-excitement on donning a Superman outfit and 'flying' round my garden, Man Of Steel didn't just make me believe a man can fly, it made me think and it enthralled me from the first scene to the last. What more could I ask for? Go see this at the earliest opportunity! 9/10

1 comment:

Badger said...

Thank God,finally we get really positive review of Man of Steel.
Having read so many reviews already this one is by far the best of the lot,and most of the negative reviews I've read are coming from across the pond,dear God the fan boys and girls in the good old U.S.A. do take their superheroes way to seriously,I bet Mark Waid feels silly now after what he did in the cinema.
A really excellent review James,after reading it it makes me want to go and see the movie again.....in fact I think I'll do just that later today.