Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man Of Steel (2013) review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: Hyperkinetic action, emotionally powerful, strong performances, flawless visual effects, rich in underlying themes of moral philosophy and choice, magnificent soundtrack.

The Bad: truncated plot that feels rushed.

3D Readiness: post production 3D conversion
IMax-ability: hyperkinetic action decreases imax enjoyability


 Said to be the second most recognisable symbol on the planet, Superman has for the longest time been a mainstay in comic books and animation across the globe. On the big screen however, he is a product of a cheesier time. Richard Donner created a magnificent fairy tale in 1978, Richard Lester showcased campy comedy (we will not speak of Sidney J Furie) and Bryan Singer gave a dramatic yet mellowed epilogue to Superman. Now Man Of Steel seeks to bring Superman out of the realm of fairy tales and into reality by looking at the man behind the symbol and what events in his life made him choose to become the much loved protector of mankind..  

That man is "Kal-El". Sent to earth as an infant from the doomed planet Krypton, young Kal grows up knowing only alienation and mistrust. His pillars of strength and guidance were his adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent who gave him the name "Clark". Wanting to spare their son a life of solitude, the Kents teach him to hide his powers for his own safety, afraid that if people found out about him, they would use him or fear him. Yet Clark feels he has a moral obligation to use his powers for the greater good.

One day tragedy strikes and Clark sets out on a journey of self-discovery, unearthing his alien heritage while performing selfless acts of heroism to those in need. Hot on his heels intrepid reporter Lois Lane, determined to track down the heroic super-stranger through urban legends and rumours. Just as she is about to solve her mystery, an alien vessel appears in Earth's orbit demanding that Earth surrenders Kal-El to it's commander General Zod. But there is more at stake and the world soon beholds an invasion force hell bent on genocide. The very survival of the human race rests on the tough choices Kal-El has to make.

Those coming expecting a "superman" movie are bound to be disappointed. There is a reason why the title is "MAN of Steel". It focuses on the humanity of Kal-El. "Superman" is the symbol, and we have no interest in such a symbol of perfection. Here is the story of Kal-El, with all his human imperfections, all his doubts, his inner conflicts of morality and choice. This is the tale of the man behind the symbol and in telling that tale, the production team makes Superman easy to relate to.

Childhood alienation for being "different", choosing to do what is right over what is necessary, to listen to dad or to disobey, being put in a hopeless situation where any choice would have dire consequences. All these are things people go through everyday, and here Kal-El runs the gamut of truly human experiences writ large.

What is immediately apparent in this movie, especially to those who had watched previous Superman films, is how the creators built upon feedback from fans. Previous movies were too talky and draggy, hence the absolutely brisk pace of this one. Previous movies had campy romance, a light hearted tone and cheesy plots, hence this one is dead serious, barely hints at romance and contains a deep story. Previous movies had feats of strength but disappointing action and no immediate physical equal to Superman, well this movie is just brimming with stunning action sequences and hyperpowered fights.

 The latter of course is the main draw for most action blockbuster fans here with Zack Snyder bringing his keen eye for comic book action to the forefront. Here, he eschews his usual slo-mo ramping and long pans for hyperkinetic handheld filming with almost no slow motion at all. The resulting battles reflect clashes between beings blessed with superhuman strength, speed and invulnerability, giving their all and pounding the crap out of one another.
Where Man of Steel truly shines however is not in its action but in the softer moments. The flashbacks where we see pivotal events in young Clark's past that affects the choices he makes in his present. The chemistry of the cast, particularly Henry Cavill as Kal-El, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Russel Crowe as Jor-El, cements the fathers/son relationship and makes for emotionally powerful moments. All this is set to the awe inspiring soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Explosive at times yet poignant and pensive, Zimmer's score reflects a man, a stranger, struggling with the weight of the world on his shoulders. At points, the score adopts a haunting and alien sound evoking Kal-El's kryptonian heritage.

For all it's worth, Man of Steel does feel a tad bit truncated. It feels like reading the study notes of classic literature instead of reading the story itself. Plot threads are opened and resolved in what feels like minutes. Clark Kent's journey of self discovery across the globe suddenly segues into his quest to uncover an ancient kryptonian vessel, then all of a sudden he is fighting Zod. Lois Lane spends all of 10 minutes obsessing about her mysterious savior. The way our narrative leaps from subplot to subplot feels like there was a lot more planned for this movie but was cut for time. It feels like watching the theatrical cut of Zack Snyder's Watchmen, only with the subsequent Director's cut and Ultimate cut was the full Watchmen story realised. 

But dig between the lines, and Man of Steel reveals itself to be a true thinker's movie. From the get go, we are faced with the question of nature vs nurture: does one's genetics determine one's course in life or is it one's upbringing? The moral ups and downs of eugenics leads into larger musings on moral philosophy: does the ends justify the means? Can survival of one come at the cost of another's life? And finally, the all famous "free choice vs pre-determinism" question seen in the Kal-El/Zod dichotomy

So is Man of Steel a good movie? Definitely. It is solid entertainment, it takes its comic book roots seriously instead of turning it into a comedy like what Marvel does, it ramps up the action yet finds the time to rope in some deep thinking themes. It's brisk pace still manages to develop its characters in a refreshingly concise manner, never dragging it's time. Is it a good "Superman" movie? highly questionable. It is not a "Superman" movie per se. Ultimately, one must remember that this is not a movie about the symbol of "truth justice and the american way" that is Superman. This is a brilliant story about a man. A man with the powers of a god, but ultimately still a man with all the trappings of his humanity. A man out to discover himself and his purpose in this world.
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Acting: A-
Characters: A
Music: A-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": A-