19 June 2013

Man of Steel Review

If you're going to be making a Superman movie and you want it to be decent, you need two things. Well...three. First of all, obviously, you need Superman himself. Second, some heart - we need to be forming an emotional bond with this character, because otherwise, we just won't give a shit when the third thing starts. The third thing? Action - because what's the point of an invulnerable man if you can't chuck him about a bit?

Sadly, the movie falls shortest in the heart department - though it's clear that the film had more at some point. Whilst Kal-El's exodus from Krypton is examined in detail, his time from landing on Earth to becoming Superman is more-or-less skipped over. You can practically feel Warner Bros - wary of Superman Return's lukewarm reception - breathing down your neck as snippets of this essential part of his story flash across the scene before being abruptly replaced. It ultimately means that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are required to do quite bit with not a lot - the parental bond that humanises the character given a flashy, high-impact makeover here that smacks more of Spider than Super.

It's a shame, because what is present of that aspect of the story is beautifully scripted - the scene where Martha rushes to school to coax a young Clark, terrified of his new-found power, out of a janitor's closet is rather wonderful. "The world's too big, Mom." I think we can all relate.

There is of course the argument that Superman stories are about nothing if they are not about his heart. But it'd be unfair to say that the film has no heart. It's verging on bare bones, but it's there - hence my cunning use of 'shortest' - a groundwork upon which you are expected to lay your own familiarity with the character. It's difficult to hold this against them, given how firmly embedded our Friendly Neighbourhood Kryptonian is in pop culture's psyche.

It's more than enough to invest you in the action, and as said, there's a lot of it. Thankfully, it's really quite enjoyable - no choppy wire-fu, rubbish CGI Bizarros or forced camera angles here. These are glorious, large-scale, effects-driven punch-ups, with actually rather concerning amounts of collateral damage as various Kryptonians barrel through the toughest human constructions, and humans themselves, like so much tissue paper. Snyder, ever the pop-culture masher-uperer (is that a word? Is now), references everything from The Matrix to the film's own predecessors as he wrecks various locales with gusto.

He also cleverly subverts his own precedent - having filmed both of his previous comic-book adaptations with the stop-starting slow-motion that ostensibly became his trademark, here the action only ever plays out at full speed. Overall, this gives the action a velocity that nicely emphasises our hero's core powers, and serves as a neat counterpoint to Whedon's wit, and Nolan's muscularity.

Cavill is a revelation - not only convincing as a flying man, but making us forget the ones that flew before him. No longer a clean-cut stalwart, this Superman is a something of a dashing rogue (is that... chesthair?!). But he doesn't just bring looks that will have folk swooning the world over - he nails a new physicality of the hero too, a brawler lacking in finesse, little more than instinct and determination overwhelming odds. Then there's a very cute twisting of the whole Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy throughout the film - almost like Goyer was intentionally referencing Tarantino, but I digress - and Cavill plays it brilliantly.

The support is good too, despite Michael Shannon's Zod not quite feeling right - as if he's both taking it seriously, but phoning it in at the same time. Antje Traue's Faora is, surprisingly, the far more effective villain, an entity entirely replete of morals, the ferocity with which she fights for her cause unsettling in the best possible way. Amy Adams is decent as Ms Lane, and Lawrence Fishburne, whilst given precious little to actually do, is actually rather memorable as Perry White.

Final mention must go to the composer. John William's iconic score (you know those first two bars by heart don't you, you nerd) was a tough act to follow, but true to form, Hans Zimmer forges a new musical iconography, and it's a soundtrack that is worthy of purchase by itself.

What's here is great. So indeed, it's not quite what you might've hoped for - it was perhaps a mistake of the marketing that people were expecting blown minds on a scale akin to The Dark Knight - but saying that doesn't do it justice. It's less a reboot, and more a modern clarification of an existing character - throwing an otherwise fully-formed iteration of Superman onto the screen, and creating the foundations of a DC Cinematic Universe whilst it's at it. It does both of these rather triumphantly - keep your eye out for various name drops throughout. Thrillingly shot, neatly written and well performed - even, on occasion, funny - it's far more than we could've possibly asked for, and was more than worth the wait.

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