Is Man of Steel worth your time? by Marc Madrigal

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This is the first of several articles by guest authors for the Storyboard. In response to the editor’s review of Man of Steel, which gave the film a disappointing three stars, Marc Madrigal explores why critics weren’t impressed with the latest superhero movie, and exactly why you should go see it. 

Is Man of Steel Worth Your Time?

Clearly many reviewers were not impressed with Zach Snyder’s latest effort last weekend, and while faring better than say Green Lantern, the revised Man of Steel doesn’t quite seem to have that Dark Knight quality (yet). But audiences seem to be flocking to the theater anyway, either a testament to Warner Brothers marketing onslaught or the enduring appeal of the world’s first superhero.

But is Man of Steel another portent of the imminent demise of seven figure superhero blockbusters? Or does it inject a fresh concept or two into the genre ala Nolan’s Batman or Whedon’s Avengers?

In other words, is it just another big stupid action movie?

Man of Steel has its strengths, and it’s far from decided whether or not this film is a creative success or not. Superman will likely win with audiences and exceed the expectations of others for one reason: it’s not half bad.

When thinking about these big spectacle movies (The Hobbit, Oblivion, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness) the question I have to ask, ‘Is this movie worthwhile?’ Does it say something, mean something, show me something that I can appreciate, even if its flaws are obvious and its potential seems to hover just out of reach? In this regard I would argue Man of Steel works beautifully on several levels.

The first and absolute highlight of the film is the action. Zach Snyder fluid and stylized sequences may not be for everybody but for cinematic thrill seekers, it is a sight to behold. I would go as far as to say that Man of Steels boasts the finest superhero action scenes of any recent film. The Kryptonian brawls, aerial combat, and supersonic acrobatics are a visual feast, usually complemented by exploding jets and toppling skyscrapers. Krypton, its technology, and its spacecraft feel alive bristling with sleek sci-fi designs.

None of it feels “real” but neither does it feel like mindless action. Man of Steel’s action sequences read like the signature work of a purposeful director (and visual effects team) who have perfected their own particular brand of highly stylized action pieces. When Kryptonians fly through walls and buildings turn to rubble, it feels like an epic Superman comic book/cartoon fully realized in cinematic form. I definitely don’t recall feeling that same awe during the sequences of urban destruction in Avengers or Star Trek Into Darkness.

The second area where the film excels is in its casting. In this faithful retelling of the Superman story, pretty much every one of these beloved characters fits the part.

Despite what some have said, Amy Adams makes for a convincing Lois Lane, very much Clark’s equal. As his earthly parents Diane Lane and Kevin Costner create a real and necessary emotional connection between the last son of Krypton and his adopted planet. Shannon’s Zod is well-defined, if not quite as sympathetic as many have claimed. The rest of the supporting cast are well suited to their roles, the major complaint being the little screen time we see to get with each of these characters. We want more Lois, more Martha Kent, more Perry White. Hopefully the sequels can bring us a better sense of these characters.

Kal-El’s poignant relationships with his dual fathers provide the true standout roles however. Russell Crowe’s extended screen time (from beyond the grave even) is quite welcome. I forgot Kevin Costner wasn’t actually Pa Kent for a moment.
Superman’s parents have always been essential in a way that most hero’s parents never could be. These scenes capture that with some heart. After the weirdness of Green Lantern we should applaud DC for getting their top tier hero right.

And let’s not forget the untested and largely unknown Henry Cavill. Under what must be impossible expectations (well Brandon Routh may have helped lower those) Cavill puts on a solid performance capturing the aura of confident optimism we love to associate with Superman. Not bad for a British actor faking an American accent.

Finally, this might mean far less to some but the orchestral wizardry of Hans Zimmer is the final element that truly elevates Man of Steel from a smorgasbord of special effects and paternal flashbacks into a thrilling experience (one I look forward to rewatching). The energetic score builds a sense of wild excitement into the film that carries it over the finish line. My personal favorite piece happens to be “Arcade” which has been playing non-stop on my iPad.

Very much like last summer’s Dark Knight Rises the excellent score, which very seldom repeats itself (ahem, the Hobbit), adds a kinetic intensity to the interactions between Superman and his family, his allies and his foes. Your mileage may vary when it comes to relentless intensity of Zimmer’s arrangements but for this moviegoer it turns a well-made film into something quite special.

Man of Steel is not by any means a reinvention of the genre nor is it laced with dramatic character arcs or a wider self-aware subtext. It doesn’t engage with its themes of alienation and moral ambiguity as deeply as it could have. But it is a visual accomplishment worth seeing, a film worthy of the name Superman, and a great way to spend two and half hours this summer.

You can follow Marc on Twitter @MarcMadrigal