By: Samar Khan
With Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice releasing mere days after the publication of this review, it stands to reason that we at The Film Lawyers thought it wouldn’t be too bad of an idea to refresh people’s memories of the film that leads straight into the events of the heavily hyped superhero showdown.
Man of Steel was Warner Bros. and DC’s tentpole blockbuster release from back in 2013 and to say it has proven divisive over the years is an understatement; there are some that proclaim it to be one of the better superhero films in recent memory with others arguing it was average at best. If you are on the fence, fret not. The Film Lawyers are going to provide a mild spoiler review of Zack Snyder’s take on the ultimate superhero.
Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Ayelet Zurer as Lara-Lor Van in Man of Steel
As is the norm with the majority of our reviews, the story will be looked at before all of the remaining nitty gritty. Man of Steel was written by the duo of Zack Snyder and David Goyer and followed in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with its focus on a more grounded superhero tale. Unlike Nolan however, they could not afford to be too grounded as Superman by his very nature is a supernatural and foreign concept, so this new “universe” for DC and Warner Bros. was billed as a realistic yet still “comic book” concept. Anyways, continuing on. The story revolved around Superman’s parents, Jor-El (played by the show-stealing Russell Crowe in a criminally limited role) and Lara Lor-Van (another limited cameo this time in the form of Ayelet Zurer) sending their son off their exploding home world, Krypton, and out of the grasp of the nefarious General Zod (played magnificently by Michael Shannon). Cue young Kal being found by good-natured Kansas parents (played by the duo of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), the young lad being given the name of Clark Kent and a film that focuses on him learning to grasp with living on Earth. Eventually, General Zod and his henchmen find out about a superhero on Earth whom they identify as being from their planet and having valuable data with him and they head down to Earth to clash with the untested new superhero. As far as superhero origin stories go, the film was fairly easy to grasp and was presented well on the large screen by Snyder.
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel
There were problems with the film, however, that the excellent directing and above-average scripting could not exactly make up for. To begin with, the film suffered from a severe lack of restraint when it came to the actual fight scenes. While Snyder, unlike Christopher Nolan, has proven himself to be an expert auteur when crafting such segments (300 was his creation, you know?), he struggled to understand just when to end a scene and allowed them to drag on for too long. On the one hand, DC fans were obviously starved for some decent fight scenes about one of their favourite superheroes on the big screen after the aforementioned Christopher Nolan Batman films succeeded at mainly the thriller/storytelling part and not quite the action bits. However, it became excessive and this is where it leads into the second major complaint with the film. The level of destruction that the film’s climactic segment brought about was nothing short of obscene, with that being one of the biggest reasons there is such a divisive opinion of the film amongst filmgoers. While the upcoming Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is predicated on addressing this very topic, many are rightfully sore that Man of Steel on its own was unable to explain why it went against the very morals the main character was trying to establish throughout the entire film of avoiding collateral damage; the film could have been bettered had Snyder & Goyer dedicated just ONE scene to this issue and THEN paved the way for the story in the film’s upcoming successor. Story and scripting wise, those were the primary issues as there was no other glaring issue that would detract from the viewing experience of the film.
Moving on, we turn our sights to the people that make up the cast of Superman’s story. First and foremost is, of course, Henry Cavill, as the legendary Superman character. Cavill has been the subject of some heat himself since the release of the film over what some perceive to be “wooden” acting but there were no qualms with his performance. His take on the character was required to be brooding and quiet and he accomplished that and delivered it to audiences admirably; his strongest quality, however, may have been his nearly flawless resemblance to the superhero himself and his striking resemblance to the man that was the face of live-action Superman films for many years, Christopher Reeve.
Surrounding Cavill is a stellar supporting cast comprised of the aforementioned Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, Diane Lane and Michael Shannon. Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne play his love interest and co-worker respectively and true to form, Amy Adams brings her trademark warmth and genuineness to the role that helps lend a very human aspect to the film. As mentioned above, Crowe was a particular highlight for many, lending that gravitas that only a multiple time Oscar nominee can to the role of Superman’s biological father. It’s a shame that his role was so minor, however, as his presence is dearly missed in the long gaps between his sporadic appearances.
Michael Shannon however, is the true standout of the supporting cast. He provides a tour-de-force performance as a broken man that wanted nothing but the best for his homeworld and was subject to be exiled OFF planet as his world crumbled before his very eyes. Despite his penchant for violence and lack of regard for human life, Shannon helps paint Zod as less a 1-dimensional villain and more as someone that the audience can realistically sympathize with from time to time. It helps that his menacing look was delivered to a T by the Oscar nominee and is a crying shame that he doesn’t receive the accolades for his performance that he deserves.
In terms of direction and the technical aspects, the film was very well-made. The aforementioned Snyder was tasked with establishing this new DC Cinematic Universe and outside of a few obvious story issues and extended fight scenes, Snyder was excellent. The fight scenes themselves were absolutely marvelous to witness, with nary any stopping for breath and each fight containing a very visceral feel. The cinematography was handled by Amir Mokri, who was fairly solid and consistent throughout. Shots of a terraforming device being used or certain icy locations were absolutely gorgeous to look at, as were the images of Superman learning to fly against a backdrop of an icy tundra. Complementing the direction and images on screen was the soundtrack of Hans Zimmer, who delivered his trademark sound that was justtt distinctive enough to separate itself from his earlier endeavours. Zimmer never quite reaches the level of excellence he establishes in his earlier works, though, with there being no one scene audiences can say was elevated by the stellar score accompanying it.
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel
So, after all of that, what did The Film Lawyers think of Man of Steel. The film was certainly flawed but its positives definitely outweighed its negatives, demonstrating that it was a well-crafted film. The fact that it leads directly into the events of the upcoming Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is exciting, although it remains to be seen just how well the latter manages to handle the hype surrounding it. For those that are going to watch the new film starring Superman and the Caped Crusader this weekend, definitely give Man of Steel a watch beforehand to become reacquainted with some of the characters as well as with what will form the foundation of its successor.
After careful consideration, The Film Lawyers have graced Man of Steel with a grade of C+ (6.9 / 10).