“Man of Steel” arrives into the summer blockbuster with more fanfare than the last son of Krypton himself. The history of the character’s demise as a film series following the outstanding “SupermanII” (1981) and the various attempts to revive it have been well documented (remember Nick Cage as Supeman in a Tim Burton version?). Suffice to say, Warner Bros. and DC Comics have an awful lot riding on this film.
And what is the verdict?
“Man of Steel” is a difficult film to review because the stuff that is good about this film, is fantastic. On the flip side, the failures of the movie are made that much more frustrating because they keep the movie from soaring into greatness and becoming the classic it should have been.
The first twenty minutes of the film are absolutely dazzling. Russell Crowe brings his heavy weight presence to film as Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El and anchors every scene he is in with his trademark charisma. This is the best origin of Superman segment ever put on film and the Krypton in this film feels like a real world, and a really cool one to boot. One of the best scenes here, and in the movie, features a “Avatar” type flying beast.
When Superman arrives on earth and the second act begins, this is where the film really shines. The scenes of Superman growing up as Clark Kent are beautifully handled and contain just the right amount of realism. Diane Lane is absolutely wonderful as Clarke’s earth mother Martha Kent. But the real standout here, and in the he film as a whole, is Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.
Costner is fantastic and and exudes such wisdom and warmth in every scene he is in. There are many moments in this film where you will have a lump in your throat and Kevin Costner is in almost every one of them.
Amy Adams shines as well and brings a depth to Lois Lane that will surprise and move you. The emotional and sexual chemistry between her and Henry Cavill is off the charts. If only this film had more of those magical moments between Lois and Superman. If only the film had spent more time on Smallville and character.
Which brings us to where the film falters, in the third act.
Everyone likes action. Everyone one wants to see Superman face off against General Zod and his super-hot second in command Faora. And “Man of Steel” does have some exciting action sequences backed by amazing (if overly noisy) special effects. The problem here is two-fold. One is the pacing. Action always works better when properly paced with character. The other, and more pressing, is the lack of variety in the fight scenes. The last hour of the film often feels like one long repetitive action sequence. You can only watch a building blow up and collapse so many times.
Still, in the end, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams save the day and the film. It is heart and character, deafening explosions, that make “Man of Steel” soar in the end.
Bottom line: Outstanding performances, especially by Kevin Costner, and some great character moments help save this film from a loud, repetitive third act. In the end, people, not explosions, are what matter most in “Man of Steel”.
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