Film review: Superman bends, but doesn’t break

Film review: Superman bends, but doesn’t break
Henry Cavill is the latest to take on the role of Superman in “Man of Steel.” Photo by Clay Enos

Although it’s not quite as indestructible as we’d like it to be, “Man of Steel” triumphs as an action-packed summer movie, distinguished by its sensation and scope. 

Was bringing back Superman into the public consciousness necessary? Not really, considering how much people have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the first two Christopher Reeve films.

Of course, that didn’t stop “Superman Returns” from trying to relive the franchise’s golden years; sadly, that attempt didn’t reignite as much interest in the character as the crowds had hoped for.

Poised to resurrect the Kryptonian superhero is “Man of Steel,” a grounded, realistic reboot designed to breathe new life into the character’s history.

While it’s too early to tell if this new take on Superman will stand the test of time, I can say for sure that it brings a fresh quality to a mostly dead film series and will excite fans eager to witness the famous superhero make the comeback they’ve been waiting for.

I appreciated the confident direction Zack Snyder (“300” and “Watchmen”) displayed in terms of tackling the Superman mythos; he advances from one stage of the character’s life to another without showing any signs of uncertainty.

He quickly establishes a complex mythology from the get-go that, surprisingly, neither wears down the story’s flow nor bores the audience.

While the pacing may seem slow to some, it pays off in the end when you come to realize how “Man of Steel” needed to take its time developing the superhero’s human side.

I found myself enjoying the film’s use of a nonlinear narrative, which I believe served as an advantage in terms of guiding the audience through Clark’s overly familiar journey towards becoming Superman.

The dichotomy of his two families — one of Earth, the other of Krypton — is an interesting device that imbues his emotionally charged story with exciting dramatic gravitas.

“Man of Steel” also intersperses the titular superhero’s origin story with Lois Lane’s search for the truth about him, giving the human side of the film a greater relatable angle.

As for the technical aspects, Snyder’s decision to shoot the film with handheld cameras worked rather well; it didn’t produce the usual disorientating sense of dizziness.

In fact, this technique immerses the audience even deeper in the journeys undertaken by Clark and Lois to uncover the secrets of Krypton. It’s a relief we don’t have to worry about walking out of the theater with a throbbing headache!

While the action set pieces are well executed and spectacular, I felt overwhelmed at times by their nonstop presence.

This problem is most apparent in the third act, when Superman battles Zod and his band of Kryptonian followers.

As visually impressive as these action sequences are to the naked eye, they didn’t leave a lot of room for character development, thereby forcing Clark’s journey of self-discovery to be placed on the back burner.

There are times when Henry Cavill takes his role of Clark Kent/Superman a tad too seriously for his own good, but for the most part you can believe the emotion in his eyes and the power in his punches.

If only Christopher Reeve were still around, he’d be proud to see this new incarnation of the iconic superhero.

Amy Adams delivers a strong, hands-on performance as Lois Lane, infusing her with equal amounts of courage, intelligence, ambition, and heart.

The standout cast member is Michael Shannon, who relishes the opportunity to unleash General Zod’s deluded sense of purpose and frightening rage.

Russell Crowe is in full teacher mode as Jor-El, Superman’s father — his performance is defined mostly by his sage counsel and solemn facial expressions. In contrast, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, as Jonathan and Martha Kent, respectively, are exactly what you’d expect a loving Midwestern American couple and the source of Clark’s moral compass to be.

Despite some obvious flaws toward the end, “Man of Steel” finds its voice and succeeds as an exhilarating summer blockbuster — one that is worthy of donning the “S-shaped” logo.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
Running time: 2 hours and 23 minutes
Playing: In general release


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