Review: Zack Snyder's 'Man Of Steel' delivers a whole new level of superhero thrills
I could spend page after page talking about what I love about this film. First and foremost, I am blown away by the sheer scale of it. Marvel's biggest film so far, "The Avengers," looks like a charming episode of the Bill Bixby "Incredible Hulk" by comparison, and while size doesn't always make something better, if you want to sell the idea that these are godlike beings battling, then the only way to truly sell that idea is to show what they would do to our planet in the process. No one has ever staged superhero action like this. No one. The climax of the film begins about halfway into the movie, and then it just crescendos bigger and bigger, and Snyder more than proves himself to be one of our most ingenious visual stylists. It's not just the big stuff, either. There are boundless small details that sell all of this as "real," and I was shaken by just how aggressive and percussive it all is.
I was equally impressed by how moving the film is. Almost from the start, I found myself completely hooked in, and there were several places where it broke me. I'm not surprised that Kevin Costner crushes it in scene after scene, and he features in what may be one of the most painful scenes of the summer. Diane Lane as Ma Kent is equally good, a figure of quiet strength who also lands some of the biggest emotional punches. The movie understands that in order for myth to really work, we have to have a human, emotional stake in what's going on, and unlike the Donner films, there is a consistency of tone that builds over the course of the film's running time. There is a sense of urgency that just keeps building and building, and yet even when the film is at its most epic, Snyder keeps bringing the focus back to the personal. The fights, for example, are not just about kinetic motion. Each one has an emotional rhythm, and they mean something. You see Superman and Zod testing each other, and you see Superman slowly starting to realize what he's capable of, and what that means. Because the fights are all driven by character, it never deteriorates into the random chaos and noise that so many modern action films are guilty of.
Perhaps the highest praise I can offer to Henry Cavill is that I never once thought of Christopher Reeve during the entire running time of the film. One of the things that turned me off completely about "Superman Returns" was the almost slavish devotion to Donner's films, and while I think Brandon Routh was fine in the role, he was handcuffed because of what Bryan Singer was trying to do. The reason there's no comparison to be made here is because this imagines a totally different version of the character. The same is true of Amy Adams, who doesn't seem to be drawing on anyone else's interpretation of Lois. The chemistry between the two of them is very strong, and it sets up a very promising dynamic that I look forward to seeing play out in future films.
Michael Shannon and Antje Traue also do great work in the film as Zod and Faora-Ul, and I particularly like the way Faora is part of the action and not just relegated to the sidelines. She's terrifying precisely because of her lack of conventional morality. Anything they have to do to accomplish their goals is allowed, and that distinction gives them the edge. Shannon is the last guy in the world I would have imagined in the role of Zod, but seeing how he approaches the character, I can't imagine anyone else playing it now. His fanatical devotion to the civilization that banished him before being destroyed doesn't make sense on a logical level, but when you take into account his genetic programming, Shannon does a great job of playing the damaged soul of this warrior.
The supporting cast is strong across the board. Russell Crowe is very good as Jor-El, and when you see how he's brought back for the middle of the film, he makes some very interesting choices. Ultimately, the way Kal-El/Clark incorporates the teachings of both of his fathers is what makes him stronger than Zod, and when you see how he wrestles with every choice he makes, and one in particular, it's apparent that this is not a superhero on cruise control. Everything he does, he's doing for the first time, and he is still struggling to figure out who he wants to be. The face of the regular humanity impacted by these events is ably represented by Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, Rebecca Buller, and Joseph Cranford, and it's important that they connect in their relatively brief screen time because it establishes who it is that is ultimately affected by this clash. Yes, there are stakes for Superman and for Zod, but when you see Buller, terrified, about to be destroyed as mere collateral damage, it makes it all feel more real.
Hans Zimmer's score is an exercise in dynamics, and while there may not be a theme as instantly iconic as the famous John Williams one, it fits this film perfectly. Amir Mokri's photography is rich and moody, and it serves Alex McDowell's bold production design quite well. And while I agree that the new Superman suit, designed by James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson, is a departure from what we're used to, by the time the film was done, I completely bought it. I think that may be the thing that Snyder and his team did best. While there's nothing inherently more realistic about Batman than Superman, it's always seemed like there was more you had to accept to buy into the Superman mythology. With this version, Snyder's done far more than convince me that a man can fly. For the first time, I believe that Superman is the most important hero in the world of this movie, and that we need him, not just as a protector, but as a symbol of what we can be when we are raised by the right people and given a chance to find our way in the world.
Oh… and the last exchange of dialogue in the film? Perfect.
"Man Of Steel" opens Friday. You are not ready.