16 June 2013

Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly

I was always going to go and see Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's "don't call it Superman" Superman reboot, regardless of the reviews. After all, I watched four seasons of The Tudors for the same reason: Henry Cavill, AKA the Duke of Phwoar Suffolk. I've never seen any of the previous Superman films and my knowledge of the Superman universe is limited to one or two episodes of The New Adventures of Superman, some two decades ago. Perhaps I should have done some more research, because Man of Steel is really long and manages to be silly, while also taking itself far too seriously.

We start out with some back story. A lot of back story. Some of this was helpful for a n00b like me, but it took until about halfway through the film before we actually get to the plot. The planet Krypton has essentially fracked itself to a rapidly approaching fiery death and, to make matters worse, the ruling council is faced with with an uprising led by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Babies on Krypton are produced in little pods and, on hatching, will fulfil a predetermined status: worker, warrior or leader. R'as al Ghul Jor-El (Russell Crowe), the chief scientist, and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) decide to have a child the old-fashioned way, so that he or she will be able to choose his or her own destiny. They just about have time to send baby Kal-El off in a little spaceship with some magic codecs codex (they must have really wanted to watch those DivX films) before *spoiler alert* [Zod kills Jor-El]. Zod tells Lara that wherever they have sent the baby, he will track him down and he will have his vengeance. Zod and his co-conspirators are sentenced to 300 cycles of mental reconditioning in a nearby spaceship prison, but when Krypton meets its unhappy ending, the prisoners become free.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent is having a difficult childhood in Kansas, raised by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent. His sensory awareness is so acute that it is sometimes hard to focus, and his superhuman strength is starting to attract attention. He wants to use his powers for good, but Jonathan tells him that the world isn't ready for an all-powerful space alien, and that his time will come. As an adult, Clark (enter Henry Cavill, at last) drifts from job to job and town to town, constantly having to move on and change his name after doing superhuman things like saving 20 workers who are trapped inside an exploding oil rig.

He ends up somewhere in the Arctic, and buried underneath the ice, he discovers a Krypton spaceship and a technology that allows him to communicate with Jor-El, who designed all of the Krypton ships and managed to weave himself into the code. Also hanging around on the site is Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a reporter from the Daily Planet, who wants to write a story about this mysterious, superhuman stranger after he rescues her from some bad-ass Kryptonite defence mechanism built-into the ship. Her boss (Laurence Fishburne) refuses to print the story, so she leaks it to a blogger and then, with perfect timing, Zod and his baddies come calling. They hack into every electronic device on Earth and demand the return of Kal-El — or there will be trouble. Clark agrees to surrender himself, although his chats with Dad #1 have taught him not to trust Zod. Sure enough, Zod wants to use the codex (a sort of genetic blueprint for the people of Krypton) to bring back his people on Earth. Unfortunately for the Earth dwellers, this will mean tweaking the atmosphere to make it impossible for them to breathe and stuff. The rest of the film is essentially Independence Day, with Clark desperately trying to save the world — and to stop the distrustful Earth army from killing him along with Zod et al.

I wasn't expecting Man of Steel to be this epic space battle. As I said, I should perhaps have done some more research, but I thought it would be more like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy or Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, Man of Steel felt like a combination of all three of the films shown in the trailers I saw: World War Z, Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity, and This Is the End. Poor Amy Adams seemed to spend as much time falling through space and/or the sky as the astronauts in Gravity. She didn't get too much else to do, although she did get to kiss Henry Cavill, so she can't complain too much.

Cavill was good, but not outstanding, as Clark Kent. I would have appreciated a few more shirtless scenes. Towards the end of the film, a female army captain is smiling to herself as Clark flies away. Her boss asks what's wrong. "Nothing," she says, "but he's kinda hot." Indeed. Costner put in a good performance as Dad #2, while Shannon mainly got to stand around perfecting his evil laugh and saying things like, "release the world engine." He did make a very menacing Zod, and a worthy adversary for Clark. Interestingly, in one of the final battle scenes, set in Gotham Metropolis, I spotted a truck with "Lex Corp" on the side, so I think we can guess who the villain might be in the next film (even I've heard of Lex Luthor).

Man of Steel takes itself too seriously and could have benefitted from a few more laughs. More movies are obviously being planned — or so you would hope given the amount of time in this 2h40 film dedicated to setting up the story. Next time, perhaps, they'll just be able to get on with it. I'm just not convinced that there will be a next time for me.

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