Friday, June 28, 2013

Man of Steel

"I have to believe you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is."
This summer's remake of the Superman movie is absolutely everything fans of the comic hero will love. Man of Steel starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane is really the Superman movie we've all been waiting for years to be made. It takes the original concept of Superman into somewhat new ground by presenting a more "realistic" view of the superhero, one that people can relate to. And because of the amazing special effects that are available today, allows viewers to truly experience the the battles between super aliens very, very realistically. The movie's storyline is based on a story written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan using the Superman characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and published by DC Entertainment.

The movie spends more than an hour and a half developing the backstory of Superman, opening with esteemed Krypton scientist, Jor-El, confronting Krypton's leaders and begging them to evacuate their dying planet. Their planet has been irreparably damaged because its core has been destroyed. They refuse and the meeting is interrupted by the head of Kyrpton's soldiers, General Zod, who attempts to overthrow Krypton's leaders.

Meanwhile, Jor-El's wife, Lara Lor-Von (Ayelet Zurer) has naturally given birth to a son, Kal-El, which is considered a form of treason. All Kryponites are genetically engineered with their duty in life predetermined and are birthed from special pods. Seeing that a civil war has broken out and that his planet is doomed, Jor-El steals the Codex the which contains all the genetic material of every Kryptonite and has it placed into his son's body. He and Lara then launch their son in a spacecraft which travels to Earth. Their hope is that Kal-El will grow up to lead Earth's people.

General Zod and his group, including his wife Faora-Ul, are captured and placed in special capsules and then imprisoned in a black hole. However, when Krypton collapses and explodes, the forces that keep them imprisoned are dissolved and General Zod and company are freed. They spend 33 years searching their colonies and the universe for Kal-El's location until they are led to Earth by a homing beacon.

During those 33 years, Kal-El, rescued from his spaceship by a Kansas couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), is raised as their son. They name him Clarke and hide Kal-El's ship in their barn. As Clarke grows up it becomes evident that he has special abilities and the Lane's are convinced that he has a special purpose on Earth. Clarke get his biology from Jor-El but his character from Jonathan Lane who encourages him and advises Clarke that the person he becomes will influence the world either way. Jonathan Kent tells the young Clarke,
"You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he's going to change the world"
The movie doesn't begin with Clarke's life as a child, instead we see him as an itinerant worker, moving from job to job, trying to figure out just who he is. But every time a disaster strikes, Clarke is there to save the day, rescuing people in mortal danger. During these times we see flashbacks of Clarke as a child, saving fellow students and being bullied for being quiet but different. During this time he struggles to understand his identity.

During a stint at a job in a restaurant, Clarke overhears army men talking about a top secret investigation by the US military in the Arctic. At the same time at The Daily Planet, Lois Lane is also sent on assignment to the same location to investigate the unusual discovery. Both are there to figure out what is going on. Clarke, investigating on his own, discovers that this is a ship from his home planet, but we don't learn until later on that this was a ship sent thousands of years ago to investigate possible other worlds for the Kryptonites to colonize. Inadvertently, Clarke sets off a homing beacon that will lead General Zod to Earth. It is at this time that he also meets Lois Lane and heals her from a serious wound.

Two things result from their meeting. The first is that Lois Lane manages to get someone to publish her story about what has happened in the Arctic. The second is that General Zod arrives on Earth demanding that the humans hand over the Kryptonite who has been masquerading as a human for the past 3 decades. Clarke decides to turn himself into the US Military and assures them that his intentions are not to cause harm to either Earth or it's people. He tells General Swanwick that he suspects Zod is not to be trusted.

However, when he meets General Zod, he learns that his intentions for Earth are not quite so benign and Kal-El now knows he must fight for his adopted race or they will face extinction. What follows is an epic battle on a world level for the future of Earth. With the humans witnessing the first of these battles, it soon becomes apparent that Superman is on their side. But if he is to win, he's going to need every bit of help they can muster.

Unlike previous movies, where the relationship between Clarke Kent/Superman and Lois Lane, intrepid reporter from the Daily Planet was paramount, in this adaptation, the feud between Kal-El and General Zod dominates. This changes the entire dynamic of the movie, turning the focus from Lois and Kent and her incredible naivete about who Kent really is (which now becomes a subplot), into a battle of super-men for the future of Earth. The other most important relationship in the movie is that between Kal-El and his human father, Jonathan Lane. Again and again, Jonathan preaches patience and tries to teach Kal-El how to distinguish between right and wrong. Little does he know his efforts will likely determine whether or not Earth is saved.

The casting for the movie was brilliant. Henry Cavill is a good Superman with his obviously amazing physique. In this version of Superman, Cavill plays him as an intelligent, thoughtful man, leaving behind the bumbling, socially awkward Carke Kent of the mid-20th century. He's still the alien man struggling to figure out his identity and having to make a huge choice whether to side with his fellow Kryptonites or with his adopted, weaker humans.

I wasn't certain about Amy Adams being cast as Lois Lane, as I felt she might be too old for this role, but she was surprisingly good. This Lois Lane is more savvy and realistic as she quickly follows her leads back to learn who and what Kal-El is. She decides not to reveal her source when pushed to do so. She's believable as someone, an intelligent extra-terrestrial like Kal-El, might actually like.

General Zod was well played by Michael Shannon, who captures the intensity and cruelty of the Krypton soldier bred to preserve and protect his people to the very end. He too is a character striving to do what he thinks is the right course of action to save what remains of his race. He doesn't seem to care though that for his race to survive, another must die.

General Zod's wife, Faora-Ul (Antje Trau) is a total badass. Cruel and ruthless to the core, she is a fitting partner for General Zod. She considers Kal-El's compassion to be a form of weakness. "You have a sense of morality and we do not. And that gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if there's one thing that history teaches us it's that evolution always wins."

The devastating battles between Zod and Kal-El are epic and dominate the last half of the show. They are intense and prolonged perhaps overly so. Action junkies will love them, with bone crunching punches and throws that send these supermen through blocks of office towers, into locomotives and into the stratosphere. The devastation to cities is remarkably well portrayed lending a terrible realism to their battles.

Despite the plot holes here and there, the lengthy backstory, and the poor pacing of the movie overall, Man of Steel is a much better effort than any of the other previous movies. (The 1978 movie starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder would have been good except for the ridiculous time altering ending.) With its themes of identity, faith, trust and choosing between right and wrong, Man of Steel offers much more to viewers. The scene where Kal-El goes to see a priest is particularly interesting.

Thankfully, Hans Zimmer, whose beautiful score graced the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, was commissioned to write the music for Man of Steel. He appropriately ditched John Williams' March of Superman and replaced it with his characteristic dynamic, rich scores.

One last thing: more than annoying is the jarring last scene where Superman takes down a US military drone and tells the General that he does not take being monitored lightly. This scene, so obviously a political statement against the recent US drone controversy, was out of place in the movie and completely ridiculous as an ending to a great action film.

Man of Steel will undoubtedly be one of the best movies of 2013.

This short featurette explains some the reasons why this adaptation of the comic book hero, Superman, was made they way it was including details about the designing a new suit for Superman, the evolution of Lois Lane's character, and creating a more realistic, updated movie for this superhero.

Check out these great movie trailers:

Check out The Man of Steel website for more Superman stuff including wallpapers, posters and actor interviews.

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