‘Man Of Steel’ Review: Henry Cavill Battles Green Screens As Superman

Thu, June 13, 2013 12:46pm EDT by 6 Comments
Man Of Steel Review
Courtesy of Warner Bros., Getty

A ripped Henry Cavill takes his turn in the blue tights in Zach Snyder’s super-sized Superman reboot. But can a ‘Man Of Steel’ origin story with so many suspect special effects really take flight?

Call it the curse of Christopher Reeve. The man was just too iconic for his successors’ good. From the admirable but endless Smallville, to Brandon Routh‘s one-off crash landing impersonation of Reeve in Superman Returns (2006), no one has been able to replace the original man of steel in the 35 years since the the 1978 classic, Superman. Now, director Zach Snyder (300, The Watchmen) takes the helm of this deceivingly tricky franchise with a visually dense digital origin story that harkens the return of the evil Kryptonian General, Zod!

‘Man Of Steel’ Review — Henry Cavill Battles Green Screens As Superman

Full disclosure, I wore Superman pajamas to school until I was about 14, so it’s no surprise, Man Of Steel did move me in its finer moments of soaring heroic bliss. But then again, no one said Zach Snyder wouldn’t know how to take pretty pictures of a super buff Henry Cavill, 30.

Trouble starts early in this reboot, both in the movie, and for the movie. Man of Steel opens with the birth of the baby Kal-El (Superman) on a dying planet Krypton. Krypton, for those who don’t know, is an alien planet far, far away, made mostly of rubber, green screens, and what looks like leftover set pieces from The Matrix sequels.

Soon, Jor-El (Russel Crowe, 49) as the baby of steel’s young father, is battling the menacing Zod (a thrillingly good Michael Shannon, 38) and flying around on butterfly-winged dragons in wall-to-green-wall CG environments that look about as real as a solid Star Wars video game. The only thing missing was Jar Jar Binks.

Meesa love these special effects!

Man Of Steel Gets Grounded By Its Own Weight 

The gravity might be lower on earth than Krypton, but universal big budget Hollywood movie kryptonite has been over-reliance on special effects and under-reliance on the imagination of audiences. The fall of Krypton, when told in an ice cave in the original Superman by a ghostly Marlon Brando, is inspired and haunting. When actually depicted down to the last digital pixel, with chintzy looking costumes and graphics, the death of an alien planet is more relief than tragedy.

So here’s an open letter plea to Hollywood producers: please, for the love of the cinema gods, just because CGI means you can create any fantasy planet you can imagine, it doesn’t mean you should (Green Lantern, anyone?). Some things are just better left to legend.

The Boy Of Steel Just Can’t Catch A Break

Dark Knight director, and certifiable genius, Christopher Nolan, helped craft the story for Man Of Steel. Nolan is of course known for his realistic and painstaking orginin story in Batman Begins (2005). But though the writer-director feels the freedom to develop character — before the bombs start to fly — when he is working solo, he and Snyder clearly didn’t believe audiences would have the patience for another true epic told from the beginning.

As a result, Man of Steel isn’t really an origin story. (Don’t be fooled by that beautiful trailer, below.) This movie jumps back and forth in time more than a scratched up DVD of Inception. Practically every time Superman gets knocked out cold by a hard whack (which is a lot of times) he’s suddenly back in Kansas. And pretty much every time he’s back near the farm, there’s a bus crash, or a fire, or a tornado, or a bar fight. It’s as if Snyder and Nolan felt like if they were going to have scenes where there’s not any alien worlds exploding, they better at least threaten to drown some school children in a bus.

Man Of Steel Raised By The Farmer Of Fear

Fortunately, for the young man of steel, his pappy, a comfortingly weathered Kevin Coster (58), as Jonathon Kent, is always there to tell the adolescent Clark the world will reject him when they find out how awesome he is.

That makes sense right? You can imagine how Americans would react if we discovered a super handsome, white, unfailingly polite adonis with superpowers he only uses for the good of mankind.

Get the pitchforks! Kill him! . . . Oh, wait, pitchforks can’t hurt him and he’s invincible.

The Good Part Is Usually The Bad Guy — General Zod

Kind of like the trickster Loki was the best part of The Avengers, Zach Snyder has scored a coup in casting the unbeleivably committed Michael Shannon. I spoke to Shannon at the premiere of his last film, The Ice Man, and even though the actor was playing a mass murderer then too, the guy couldn’t be less of a Zod in person. He’s boyish, affable, and charismatically awkward. He’s been type-cast as a baddie because of his grim features and big frame.

And don’t let that sound like a complaint! Shannon dosen’t let the ridiculous Kryptonian armor he’s wearing (much of which he’s not even wearing, because it’s CG) or the fact he has to talk about destroying the planet with a straight face, put a kink in his diabolical swagger. Only a true actor could find himself so far from the genial man he is in real life, to fully embody the raging, maniacal destroyer of worlds in General Zod.

Shannon is the answer to the biggest problem Superman adaptations always face: the man of steel is just too strong! He has no weakness (besides Kryptonite, blessedly absent from this movie) and so it often takes a real, or really contrived, super-villain to even pose him the slightest problem. But Shannon has the presence of true crazy-eyed malevolence to be a legit foil here, and that goes a long way in salvaging the last hour of this movie from the drudgery of yet another special effects orgy.

Man Of Steel Smash —  Zod Smash — Repeat

In Superman 2 (1980), when Zod made his first cinematic journey to earth, all the man of steel could think about was trying to lure the mad general away from the city center so their battle wouldn’t kill innocent civilians. Henry Cavill’s man of steel has no time for that kind of crap. Their brawl rages through the streets outside the Daily Planet offices, destroys what looks like half of Metropolis, and pretty much all of Main Street in Clark’s Kansas hometown.

I don’t go in for these arguments that it’s unsettling or somehow offensive post 9-11 to see stand-ins for New York destroyed in blockbuster franchises. Blowing up Manhattan in action movies is our right as Americans! And no one should stop us from having that kind of fun.

So I do have to give Man of Steel some dap for just achkowledging that if General Zod attacked Earth in the heart a major American city, that’s just where the battle has to go down. Even if Metropolis gets leveled in the process, at least it looks cool, unlike Krypton, which I assume was designed on the free trial version of Microsoft Paint.

— Gino Orlandini

Watch: Man Of Steel Review

Watch: The Man Of Steel Trailer

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