Is Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel the gritty and realistic take on Superman that we’ve all been waiting for. Well, not really. It’s part of the new wave of dark superhero origin stories that has been on the rise ever since Christopher Nolan dropped Batman Begins on us. Man of Steel mostly benefits from the new approach, allowing us to see the birth of Superman through an entirely different light.
Unfortunately, as promising as that concept sounds, Snyder’s strong and moving direction is a poor match for David S. Goyer’s limp script. Man of Steel is a good summer blockbuster that boasts impressive effects and a strong lead, but most of the supporting cast is dwindled down to nothing as Goyer’s script tries to cram in as much action as possible, leaving the supporting characters to suffer.
The film covers the origins of Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill), following the character in infancy as he drifts through the stars and makes his way to Earth after being jettisoned from a dying alien world called Krypton. Kal-El’s Earth parents, the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), adopt and raise him as Clark after his shuttle crashes, knowing that someday they’ll understand why he was sent to Earth. Kal-El finally discovers his true purpose when Earth is visited by General Zod (Michael Shannon), the former military leader of Krypton who seeks to destroy Earth and rebuild Krypton in its place.
Snyder tackles a lot of themes with Man of Steel. The focus on this particular Superman film is the character finding his purpose and figuring out his destiny. Snyder wisely flashes back to Kal-El’s childhood, while primarily focusing on present-day events as they unfold. This is where the range in the film’s writing quality appears the most, with Goyer’s script offering up plenty of great flashback sequences but not much material when it comes to the remainder of the film.
The reason these flashbacks work so well is because Snyder cast strong actors like Costner and Russell Crowe. These two men carry most of the film’s weight, providing two very different father figures for Kal-El to look up to and question. Crowe’s wisdom and constant fight for peace and equality is courageous and noble, while Costner’s approach delivers much-needed hope and optimism. Together, the two help Kal-El determine what course his future should take.
Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast is dead weight. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is cut down to a pointless side character who occasionally drives Kal-El and makes him focus on saving those around him. Meanwhile, Shannon’s Zod, though menacing and cruel, is mostly just another obstacle for Kal-El to overcome. Shannon works wonders in the small role, providing us with a villain to really hate, but Goyer’s writing doesn’t give him nearly enough content to chew on or engage with. He’s a serviceable distraction.
Cavill’s Superman is definitely a fresh take on the character, but his effectiveness depends on what you’re personally expecting. If you’re okay with a new Superman who is much more troubled and uncertain, then Cavill is your man. He’s nothing like the character played in previous films, and that’s perfectly fine, because he and Snyder have established a completely different take on the character, one faced with tremendous inner turmoil and confusion. His ideas about the function of peace (ultimately a small part of the film), however, are somewhat neutered by a combination of Goyer’s script and Snyder’s hunger to shoot large-scale action and destruction, but the film as a whole doesn’t suffer too much from it.
Man of Steel isn’t Superman’s version of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. It keeps the same tone and themes, but its execution is very different, mostly because of Superman’s interstellar origins and extensive backstory. Snyder is one of the most gifted directors working today from a visual standpoint, and he does more than enough to get that point across in Man of Steel. The film is a marvel to look at and features many richly detailed, downright beautiful shots and sequences.
Snyder also really knows how to shoot action and how to evoke strong emotions from imagery, perhaps more than anyone else today. So, it’s a real pity that he’s let down so colossally by Goyer’s unfocused, unpolished script. With that fatal flaw working against it, Snyder’s film never becomes something amazing. Instead, Man of Steel is a hybrid, really good in some areas and really poor in others.
Man of Steel‘s 1080p video transfer is another reference-quality presentation from WB. The film’s overall color palette remains murky and full of grays, but the presentation is always as sharp as can be and full of strong edges. Skin tones are natural and lively, while the film’s many CGI-heavy sequences blend in almost effortlessly. This is a strong picture from top to bottom and one that will no doubt be viewed over and over again.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a rumbling masterpiece. This track is full of sonic boom and thumps, with action spilling out onto every single channel in very frequent bursts. There’s a lot of high and low range to this track that constantly keeps the channels active and loud, yet detailed when on the quieter side, which is rare, but it does happen. Dialogue sticks out on the front channels without much distraction.
Here’s a list of bonus material found in this combo pack:
- Strong Characters, Legendary Roles (HD)
- All Out Action (HD)
- Krypton Decoded (HD)
- Superman 75th Anniversary Animated Short (HD)
- New Zealand: Home to Middle Earth (HD)
- Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel (HD)
- Planet Krypton (HD)
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a flawed summer blockbuster that attempts to peel back the layers of a quintessential character. It mostly succeeds as a brand-new take on such an iconic hero, but David S. Goyer’s writing holds it back from becoming anything more than a grandly staged action film sprinkled with occasionally great character work. Henry Cavill, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner really shine in their roles, while the rest of the cast limp along thanks to a script that cruelly limits them.