Man of Steel Review: Super Action, But Not Super Heroic

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s another Superman movie that misses an integral part of what makes him great.

Man of Steel sees several superhero movie veterans tackling the hero that has never gotten the transition to film he deserves. Zach Snyder, who so brilliantly brought Watchmen, to life sits in the director’s chair this time. Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, two of the pivotal minds behind the epic Dark Knight trilogy, came up with the story.

So why does it ultimately come up short?

We start on Krypton, with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) battling General Zod (Michael Shannon) over the fate of the planet, as well as Jor-El’s son. With Crowe giving one of the best performances of the film, this origin story crackles in a way Superman’s never has before on screen.

We then catch up with Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) all grown up searching for answers about where he came from. Laced with flashbacks featuring Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), his Earth parents, Clark’s discovery of his powers and his purpose is compelling. It helps that Lane absolutely steals every scene she’s in, lending the film and its hero the emotional core he needs.

The problems start, however, when we try to understand why Clark puts on the cape. His father tells him its his duty. Zod threatens his home with genocide. But why is he doing this? It goes unanswered, and that is ultimately the downfall of Man of Steel.

At many times during the movie I was reminded of Batman Begins, and how Bruce Wayne’s drive was always clear. Maybe it was because Nolan did such a wonderful job building Gotham City, filling every nook and cranny with despair, but not without an ounce of hope.

At one point Clark says something to the effect of “I’m not sure these people deserve help.” Never are we shown his reason for thinking this, or why he goes ahead and becomes Superman anyway.

It leads to the absolute bore that the middle of the film is. It’s hardly Cavill’s fault. I bet in a different movie, with a different script and under a different director, he would make a fine Superman.

The action, however, will certainly make fans happy. Despite being released on 2006, Superman Returns hardly had any crazy epic battles. The other films were released in the 1970s and 1980s. Man of Steel will give Superman fans the type of action they’ve been waiting for.

The climax is well done too. As Superman aligns himself with our forces to stop Zod, we finally start to root for him. Then there is one moment right at the end, that I won’t spoil here, that gives a possible sequel so much potential. They set up a brilliant inner conflict within Clark that could help make Man of Steel 2 far better than this film.

But for now, this will have to do. Man of Steel is quite far from the worst Superman movie, but it even lacks the fun and pomp of Superman Returns. I do genuinely hope this film gets a sequel, partially because the best Superman movie has yet to be made. And with every failure, no matter how significant, we inch closer to it. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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