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“Man of Steel” Review

After reading reviews from around the web and seeing the movie for myself, I’m not quite sure what people are expecting from “Man of Steel.”  Spoiler alert: “Man of Steel” is a superhero movie.  It’s not a piece of art house cinema, it’s a movie about Superman.  There is fighting, flying and destruction.  I walked into the theater hoping to see a fun summer blockbuster, and I got just that.

It’s no secret that Superman’s recent history on the big screen has been a letdown.  The problem with past incarnations seems to be the one dimensional character portrayals and 1950’s comic book tone.  Having even Christopher Nolan’s pinky near the script gave hope that we would see something more, some different spin on things.  They haven’t rewritten Superman’s mythology, but screenwriter David Goyer delivered a new take on the story we’re all familiar with.  “Man of Steel” is a story of identity and free will.

Clark Kent’s origins on Krypton begin the film, and we get glimpses of his progression to public superhero through flashbacks of his youth in Kansas.  Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a nice job as Clark’s parents, with the former constantly urging him to hide his abilities even at the expense of others’ lives.  That is never an option for Clark, who continually exposes his powers to those around him.  Henry Cavill’s portrayal is strong and understated.  His Superman doesn’t flaunt a moral superiority, but seems to act heroically simply because he can.

Zach Snyder served as director, and put his own stamp on the Superman brand.  Snyder’s earlier films (“300,” “Sucker Punch,” “Watchmen”) have a distinct look, and he has brought a darker visual to “Man of Steel.”  There is still a lot of brightness from the sun and the ice of the Arctic, but gone are the bright primary colors of the comics.

Colors are more muted, complementing the tone.  Remembering that the primary interest in a superhero movie is the fight scenes, Snyder did not subdue anything in that respect.  The battles between the Kryptonians are fast-paced and camera angles are tight; it’s like up-close views of “Mortal Kombat” matches.  If you’re looking for massive explosions and crumbling buildings, you will not be disappointed, as Metropolis takes more than a few heavy hits.

Some of my biggest problems with the Superman franchise were addressed and improved on.  “Man of Steel” allows Lois Lane to be a character rather than a caricature.  Lois Lane has always been a reporter, but her main job has been love interest and the source of many bad one-liners.  While still suffering through a few clunky lines, Amy Adams managed to forego any overdone pluckiness and delivered a strong yet subdued performance.  She is able to play the role of damsel in distress without appearing like a weak or useless female character.

Along those lines, Lois’ inability to identify Clark as Superman once his glasses were removed had always seemed ridiculous to me.  “Man of Steel” eliminates this issue, creating a much more believable relationship between the two.  The cardboard, one dimensional Superman is also something we don’t get from Cavill’s performance.

The climactic battle between Superman and General Zod, played by Michael Shannon, is on the surface a simple fight between hero and villain, but it is a return to the issue of free will that runs throughout the movie.  To what lengths will Superman go to protect the innocent?  It’s that decision that makes the Superman of “Man of Steel” more complex than earlier versions we’ve seen.

“Man of Steel” is not without its faults.  There is some awkward dialogue, and there are action sequences that feel long and repetitive.  Plus, some Superman terminology is just downright stupid (I can do without something called a World Engine).  “Man of Steel” delivers on its intention.  It is an action-filled, entertaining superhero movie to lose yourself in for a few hours.  This is a must see summer blockbuster movie whether you’re a Superman fan or not.