At a pivotal moment, our hero (played by Henry Cavill), asks a pastor for guidance. His advice on whether or not to trust the humans is, “You must take a leap of faith. Trust will follow.” “Man of Steel” proves that a leap of faith will be rewarded. Both Warner Bros., and its audience, have taken the big leap. Warner Bros. chose to create a movie with some bite to it. And audiences have chosen to give it a chance. Since “The Dark Knight,” it seemed all superhero movies were destined to go dark. However, the script by the same talent behind “The Dark Knight,” David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, remains true to Superman’s innate power to uplift.
“Man of Steel” mines fertile ground in what is far more than just an origin story. This is simply one of the best Superman stories, period. The trailer and the publicity photos don’t do it justice if you can imagine that. You really just need to see it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but this is an exceedingly good movie. It’s as if everything you know, or thought you knew, about Superman has been cleared aside and you go into this completely fresh.
Come to think of it, you do briefly see a young man out in the Alaska wilderness in one of the trailers. That’s the spirit to this film: cut to the chase, rough and tumble, direct and honest. You’ve got Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”) directing so you can expect a gritty vibe. Snyder lets all his men be manly men with a strong sense of purpose. You get impressive male performances, notably from Russell Crowe, as Jor-El; Kevin Costner, as Jonathan Kent; and Michael Shannon, as General Zod.
Looking back to 1978 and Richard Donner’s “Superman,” what “Man of Steel” accomplishes is to naturally present a thoroughly contemporary Superman. There is room for pauses, and even hesitation, but it’s at a quicker and steadier pace. There is a sense of urgency running throughout “Man of Steel” that is a lot of fun to watch. Does Henry Cavill measure up to Christopher Reeve? Does Amy Adams measure up to Margot Kidder? Yes, in very different ways. It’s a more no nonsense approach. You won’t find Henry Cavill endlessly fumbling with his fedora or Amy Adams looking just a bit hung over from partying with a rock star. There just isn’t time for it. Even the name, “Superman,” is barely uttered by Lois Lane before the plot pushes us elsewhere. There is so much invested in this very purposeful story that we don’t even need to worry about Clark Kent, ace reporter, at all. Save that for another story.
Krypton is anything but window dressing in the story. The opening scenes on Krypton are so vivid and well put together that you feel you could linger there much longer. Russell Crowe commands the screen as Jor-El. The dispute over how to save Krypton escalates out of control. Michael Shannon, as General Zod, makes for a satisfying villain with just the right sense of menace. In this case, it’s not mere jealously or some maniacal thirst for power that drives the bad guy. General Zod sincerely believes in what he’s doing and will stop at nothing to get there. The fact he’s trying to save his people gives our plot that added weight and clarity.
Thankfully, this Superman movie got it right. It just feels right. It’s the Superman movie for these times without trying too hard to be so. Henry Cavill gets to be a young man trying to find himself without once coming across as a brooding self-loathing Eddie Vedder wannabe. Maybe if he’d worn a hoodie that would have been too much. But no hoodies to be found here. Amy Adams is so natural as Lois Lane that we don’t even care that she’s not a traditional brunette Lois. And yes, she’s every bit a woman matched up to the salty Margot Kidder. And leading the Daily Planet is editor-in-chief, Perry White, played with gusto by Laurence Fishburne. An Afro-American as Perry White in 1978 would have raised some eyebrows but not today.
1978’s “Superman” seems to have had the luxury of playing things a bit slow and off tempo and hardly veering off the well-worn path Superman movies and comics had known since they’d started. But, in 2013, you snooze and you lose. Superman might have appeared a daunting task to get right but “Man of Steel” found a way to make it look easy.
“Man of Steel” keeps that leap of faith flying steadily in the air. It will not only make you believe a man can fly. It will give you faith in more Superman movies to come.
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