'Man of Steel' (2013) Movie Review

Man of Steel movie review
Henry Cavill in Man of Steel
Photo: Warner Bros.

I don't know if I'd call it inspiration, influence or a not-so-clandestine effort to capture audience attention, but the weight of producer Christopher Nolan looms over Zack Snyder's Man of Steel in many ways. Working as producer and given a story credit, the man that brought us Batman Begins and the entirety of The Dark Knight franchise oversees a similar journey of self as another superhero sets out on a path to serve the world he's struggling to feel part of. Just as Bruce Wayne's father guided him from beyond the grave (albeit in the form of an aging butler), so is the same for Kal-El (Henry Cavill), the last naturally born son of Krypton, sent to Earth as a newborn by his mother and father (Ayelet Zurer and Russell Crowe) so he could live on, following the destruction of his home planet.

Man of Steel
Grade: B-

Man of Steel"Man of Steel" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by Zack Snyder and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. The running time is .

The cast includes Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, Antje Traue, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Harry Lennix, Laurence Fishburne, Ayelet Zurer, Richard Schiff and Michael Kelly.

The Earth's sun gives his alien body strength and powers beyond those of a normal human being and at a young age his Earth father (Kevin Costner) suggests he keep these powers secret, worried the world isn't ready for someone like him. He does so for 33 years, living like a nomad, picking up jobs here and there along the way. However, his identity will only remain secret for so long. A Kryptonian outcast by the name of General Zod (Michael Shannon) has finally tracked Kal down in hope of once again bringing rise to his people, and he isn't worried about eradicating the human race in the process.

There's an attempt at grounding the Man of Steel mythology in reality in whatever way possible, but where that was easy for Nolan's Batman, given Bruce Wayne is just a 1-percenter with his own gadget factory and no special powers, it's a little different when your central figure is an alien from another world whose wealth is measured in special powers, including X-ray vision, superhuman strength, eyes that can burn through metal and, oh yeah, he can fly.

In essence, Man of Steel plays like a deadly serious version of a Marvel movie and the comparisons don't end there. I was reminded of the narrative structure from Batman Begins, the big battle between superhuman figures in a small town a la Thor, the massive big city finale akin to The Avengers, Avatar-esque flying creatures, catchphrases from Inception ("take a leap of faith") and the numerous similarities to the Matrix trilogy. From a filmmaking perspective I can see why virtually every decision was made, but I can't help the fact that each and every one of them played like borrowed plot points and story details, even if some of those details were borrowed from the original Superman in the first place.

For as familiar as much of it felt, you can also see how hard they were trying to not be like any of the previous Superman films, or at least hoping to bring not only a grander size and scope, but a more grounded human story.

Beyond the opening 15 minutes (give or take), which take place entirely on Krypton, the majority of Kal-El's Earthly back-story is handled via flashbacks, which I normally loathe, but here they worked to the film's advantage, never feeling like we were treading old territory and instead giving us the information necessary to get to know Kal-El's (or Clark as he's referred to on Earth) struggles.

The longer he's on Earth the more he feels like an alien and the film plays heavily on this, though never abandoning his Earthly ties, specifically in a fantastic scene where he's asked to make a major sacrifice in order to protect his superhuman abilities. In fact, I'd say it's one of the best scenes Snyder has ever directed, displaying the level of subtlety he's always seemed to hope to achieve, though frequently screwing it up with too much ill-fitting music or too much slow motion.

For that matter, Snyder (Sucker Punch) tones it down quite a bit with Man of Steel. He gets to let loose in the film's final 45 minutes, which amounts to one big action set piece after another following the opening 100 minutes, which play much slower and about 20 minutes too long. But, in all, he freed himself of the impulse to over-stylize each scene, allowing the story to play a larger role.

Visually speaking it's impressive, but it's quite dark, which may be a result of the needless 3D I saw it in, but I can only speak for what I saw. While many may tout the overall destruction that takes place during the several superhuman battles we see, Man of Steel is best when it's at its quietest. My favorite visual move comes as Kal-El reveals himself to the humans, floating about 20 feet in the air above the desert floor as an army looks on. It's one of the many God-like metaphors in the film, but thankfully not as obvious as the Christ-like pose we see later on, which has been previewed in the film's multitude of trailers.

It's hard to decide if Henry Cavill in the lead role is the problem or if the script (written by David S. Goyer) ultimately fails him. His portrayal of Kal-El is quiet and reserved with about as much confidence in himself as doubt. This works, and it's probably why the sacrificial scene I mentioned earlier works so well, but in the end it proves difficult to accept him as the man the final moments of the film want us to believe he's become.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane is simply the latest heroine in heels we've seen, the best comparison being to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man films, but like the movie, she doesn't play the character for fun as much as she plays her for realism. It works, but the relationship aspects between Lois and Clark all seem forced into the story as Lois is wedged into several scenes.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Michael Shannon as Zod and you really aren't getting anything unexpected here. Shannon knows how to play mean and he plays it to the hilt here, but his ranting and raving gets a little tiresome. The more entertaining villain is his right hand woman, Faora, played by Antje Trau, whose every appearance is worth it. She isn't as garrulous as Zod, which gives her words more weight. Zod gets up on his soapbox and it gets to a point you want someone in the audience to say, "Would someone turn this guy's mic off!" A great twist ending would have been to reveal Faora as the one pulling the strings and having her blast Zod during one of his many diatribes.

I'm sure Hans Zimmer will earn his share of praise from the fans, but the score here is merely acceptable, especially when compared to his more impactful work from not only The Dark Knight franchise and Inception, but his many films with Ridley Scott and Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code.

Overall, Man of Steel is entertaining even though it runs about 25-30 minutes too long. It feels a lot like a film trying really hard not to fail more than trying really hard to work. With nearly 75 percent of it's 143-minute running time used to set the character up, I'm curious to see where they take the story in the future as I think the one thing this film manages to do is convince us a Superman film can be good, but can they make one that's truly great?


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Christian/ Christian

    Glad you liked it. :) Hope I do too.

  • Chris May

    I thought the slower parts of the film were the best. There was great emotion that was obviously swung over from the batman films. But when the gigantic action sequence at end happened, it made my head sore with all the 3D imagery for so long in a row. I have to disagree with your point on Zimmer's score though, it fit in almost perfectly with the film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    If Brad gives a movie a grade from B- to A+, it usually is worth the price of admission. So far this summer I have been pretty disappointed by what has come out. I have seen This is the End and The Heat which I would call the 2 funniest films so far this year, but nothing good so far in the dramatic/action realm. Hope I enjoy it more than you Brad, but B- is still pretty solid.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Well fanboys, you can give up on that Best Picture nomination.

    • http://www.rabidpictures.com Yaz

      Because one reviewer gave it a B-?

  • Adam James

    Variety mostly panned it, and the average review I've seen has been much like this one: The film works, does the job, but not much more. For this kind of film to get a Best Picture nomination (from this director) it would have had to be something really special to begin with.

  • Aidan Khan

    So far getting good, solid reviews. Brad giving a superhero movie a B- is actually quite impressive and a lot of other reviews have loved it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris138/ Chris138

    Where is all this 'potential for Best Picture' talk coming from? I knew the movie was getting hyped, but I didn't hear anything like that. Or maybe I'm just out of the loop with these things. Who knows.

    Anyway, glad to hear that it's better than Iron Man 3. After re-watching the first two original Superman movies recently, which are fun in an old fashioned kind of way, I did feel that the character could use an 'update' for modern audiences so hopefully I'll like the film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/EPayneDDS/ EPayneDDS

    Brad, would you say this is Zack Snyder's best film?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    300 was very good, so I know he can make a decent film. I'll check this out when it hits Blu Ray.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    Were people actually expecting this to be Best Picture nom worthy?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Akd/ Akd

    So, in your opinion, Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a better film than this? WOW, I'm speechless.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

      He has said over and over that grades don't matter. I bet he'd say right now Man of Steel is better.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

        Also, I bet he gave it a B, since he was expecting it to be terrible and was surprised that it was better.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    im still looking forward to seeing this over Iron Man 3 or Star Trek, i've been a bit lazy on the blockbusters so far, only cuz they're often done to formula but i'll definitely see all three but likely on bluray

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I'm insanely excited to see this this weekend!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

    Hmmm, going by that review it seems like I am going to love the film, can't wait to catch it this Saturday!

    Brad would you say this is the best Superman movie you've seen?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    I am looking forward to it. I haven't read the review but I'm just happy to see a superhero movie that hopefully doesn't follow the same repetitive Marvel format.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    "A great twist ending would have been to reveal Faora as the one pulling the strings and having her blast Zod during one of his many diatribes."

    You know you just basically asked The Dark Knight Rises' twist, right? I don't know if you were trying to be funny or if you genuinely wanted the same twist again.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

      Maybe the same twist less hamfistedly delivered would have been a compromise?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kash/ kash

    I actually appreciated the story telling done throughout the movie, they allotted much more time to the kryptonian saga, and put more detail into the events of Kal-El's origins. Expect gratuitous amounts of "super bouts", something that was utterly lacking from Bryan Singer's snooze-fest Superman Returns. Kudos to Crowe and Shannon for their performances. And Amy Adams? I could think of a dozen actresses who could have done Lois Lane way better than she did. Absolutely no chemistry between Lois and Superman.

    Overall, a great movie, definitely a franchise starter.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/GothamCity151/ GothamCity151

    I am pretty much on level with you here, Brad. Things that could be great were undercut by things that we have seen a thousand times before. It is an instance of the pieces being better than the whole, which is too bad.

    If anyone wants to read my review, they can here: http://reelprojection.com/2013/06/12/man-of-steel-review/

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I'll not get to it this weekend but probably midweek.

    Reviews are certainly indicating to me the hype was overdone. Which I guess doesn't surprise me too much. I think if I expect to be entertained for a couple hours and not a lot more then it can only meet my expectations.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Risa/ Risa

    Well, that 40 minutes of lead up to the finale (the last 5-10 minutes) was actually necessary given what was happenning in the story. At least that 40 minutes didn't include non-stop punching and dancing whereas in Avengers and in all of the Marvel films the last 20-30 minutes are used primarily for the punching festival as a routine, there's no other way about it. Once again, the actual battle sequence between Zod and Superman happened right at the very end which resulted in something more unexpected, so, no, it really wasn't about the one set piece after another in those last 40 odd minutes or so. As much as I loved the Avengers for what it was, that overlong final battle sequence could've ended a long time ago but how else would our kids would entertain the idea of "having some fun" when they are not infront of a television? The effects looked a lot richer than the Marvel films thus far, I can assure you that the next Avengers film will definitely have better CGI effects than the superhero films made up to that point. But for now, Man of Steel is the best looking superhero film, hands down.

    My problem with Man of Steel was mainly the editing here and there and that's where the film could've lost another 5-10 minutes but then again, I wanted more of the 'Krypton saga' at the very beginning, it was just that good. I also didn't think the "reappearance" of Jor-El was necessary, at least not the way they showed it which I found to be rather silly. My one last issue was the application of Zimmer's score - I liked the score overall but at times, it seemed a bit lazy and repetitve.

    But yes, overall, if you are a hardcore Superman fan, you will revel in the moments of little nuances and reservations of the character that we see for the very first time. Then there's the scene that Brad mentioned on here, that, and the other scene at the very end are worth the admission fee. And we won't have to deal with 'is Lois that stupid to not recognise Clark as Superman' issue anymore, thankfully. I am looking forward to see Clark Kent, the reporter, at work in the sequel with higher hopes.

  • http://lifein70mm.wordpress.com ViralVora

    Brad you've been too kind ! I was very underwhelmed by the second half. and whoever did the editing should be fired! that bit where Lois tells Clark that zod and his men have been inside her head was a very weird choice. the second half lacked any sense of continuity it was just one giant action sequence after another and the whole bit about christopher meloni was just plain awful. I have no interest in the justice league now.

    Jonathan Nolan was sorely missed.

  • rvastar

    [Proves a Superman film can be good, but can it be great?]

    I think the answer is "yes". They had all the necessary elements for this to be a great film but it just didn't quite get there.

    In a nutshell, Snyder should have shaved 20 minutes off of the BOMBASTIC final action sequence so that he could have spent an extra 20 minutes or so on letting a few other scenes breathe a bit.

    A couple of examples of what I mean:

    ***SPOILER ALERT (though I will try to keep them vague)***

    The scene where Clark finally reveals himself to the US army in the desert was a wasted opportunity for a well-developed scene. Snyder opened the shot with Superman already hovering in the air, camera behind him looking down on the soldiers and vehicles. Instead, open from the same vantage point, soldiers and tanks coming towards the camera. Camera slowly descends until it's ground level, with Superman's back coming into view...same way the shot in the movie did. Have an exchange between Superman, General Swanswick, and Colonel Hardy, THEN have him slowly rise into the air, followed by the rest of the sequence as it was filmed.

    Another is the tornado scene. While it was - in my opinion - the most emotionally gratifying scene of the movie, it could have been made far better with the inclusion of two simple lines from Jonathan Kent..."No matter what, you stay by your mother, Clark. You keep her safe."

    ***END SPOILERS***

    Other scenes could have been done away with all together - for example, the first scene between Lois and Clark...and the bullying flashback where young Clark is pushed to the ground, which I believe was the 3rd bullying scene in the movie.

    Finally, IMO the Smallville battle was FAR MORE gratifying than the Metropolis battle, with the best part being the showdown between Faora and Colonel Hardy.

    In short, Mr. Snyder, sometimes less is more.

    All that being said, this is a good movie, very much worth seeing in the theater. And I will probably go see it again because 1) I'm a Superman fan and 2) I want to be able to absorb it a bit more with a second viewing.

    So I have to agree with the B- from Brad.

  • rvastar

    One last thing: they should have hired Bryan Singer to do THIS movie with THIS script. His sense of pacing and tone would have resulted in a far more balanced movie than Zack "The Sledge Hammer" Snyder appears to be capable of making.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/austinjoel/ austinjoel

    About half way through the movie I was thinking to myself....how is this getting so much negativity .... Then the massive destruction scenes happened and really took me out of the film. It was so over the top I felt it removed itself from the reality it was trying so hard to create. I also liked Amy Adams as Lois but thought she was forced into scenes awkwardly at times.
    I enjoyed Man Of Steel but certainly didn't love it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/gogo230688/ Gagan Deep

    Honestly saying, Man of Steel is not as expected. The script is having some loop holes during screenplay. Scenes are good effects are not, Casting is good performance not, dialogues are not strong enough, emotions are good but movie is fast, rather than that lengthy action sequence in climax, they can give some time to Superman while he was reaching his father's space ship. Overall its good but not great, as we had some good flicks recently i.e. IRON MAN 3

  • http://www.fairytalepictures.wordpress.com Satu

    "It feels a lot like a film trying really hard not to fail more than trying really hard to work."

    I thought the same and to me that was a huge problem. The film didn't feel anything except boring. I even started to undo my shoelaces during the last "epic" fight scene. It was that boring. Way too long, too much action without any tension and characters you didn't care about at all. What a waste of money and talent.

  • https://twitter.com/delaney_david David Delaney

    Overall I liked it. The first half is very absorbing. Good set up, well told back story and some nice visuals. I thought the Jonathan Kent twister scene was a bit contrived and that handled differently we may have gained better insight into Clark/kals character. Then it just descends into masturbatory carnage. Which looked great but was of no value to the overall story. It's a shame cos all the elements of an interesting story/character study were there. A conflicted and directionless hero, a justified villain and sone bice meditations on terrorism, American paranoia and the father/son relationship. But they got scared and felt the popcorn eaters needed to be appeased. Pity. What I will say is that I rather some of these movies take themselves this seriously. Try and tackle big issues. I for one am sick of the throwaway & fan servicing commercial excercise that is the current Marvel movies.