MAN OF STEEL

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2.5 stars
On a cold, wet Sydney evening, the black-carpet premiere for Man of Steel was awash with press and paparazzi, B-listers and fans falling over themselves to get a super-slice of the action. After all, it’s not every day that Zack Snyder, Henry Cavill, Russel Crowe and the man of steel appear in the same room at the same time. The atmosphere was electric for what would be the biggest release of the mid-year calendar. And if every generation gets the Superman it deserves, what, audiences pondered, would be ours? A hunky one, that’s a given. We’d seen the posters. But also a relentlessly serious, dull-witted and disappointingly bloated one as it turns out: less Terence Malick, more Michael Bay.

The multiplex has been overloaded with action heroes this past decade, giving 300’s Zack Snyder the dickens of a job to bring something new to the mix. With Tony Stark having cornered the market in quip, Batman the brood and The Avengers picking up the rest, what’s left for a newly re-minted superhero? Angst as it turns out. And carnage on a planetary scale. Which puts us in Hulk territory, and we all remember what happened there.

Fortunately for Cavill whose given the on-screen challenge of carrying the film, a glorious tale of revenge and retribution is set up early as the planet Kryptonite literally collapses under the weight of its own hubris and apathy. Jor El (an effective Crowe in growling statesman mode) sends his infant offspring Kal-El to Earth in the hope of saving his people while Jor’s nemesis General Zod (a terrifying Michael Shannon) is banished for treason. Flash forward thirty years and here on Earth, an uptight Kal (Cavill) is lured out of hiding when A) he discovers a hidden spaceship, B) rediscovers his biological father then C) is hunted down by Zod who D) plans turning Earth into Krypton 2.0. These are difficult times.

Yet despite the possibilities, this is basic origins stuff – if you’re looking for exciting new tangents or character redevelopment, go rent Star Trek (2009) instead. Surprisingly, with Batman’s Christopher Nolan working up the screenplay, any hope that Man of Steel might examine Kal’s potential for divided loyalty, cultural allegiance to ‘terrorists’ or simply the trauma of adoption are given over to warfare on an epic scale. Fortunately, Snyder grasps this opportunity with both hands. His designs are visionary and with an immersive use of 3D, frequently thrilling. Amping the sound to 11 helps; this is possibly the loudest blockbuster you’ll ever be deafened by. Twin that with a cinematically courageous attack on Metropolis (i.e. New York) – he dares to show terrified pedestrians cower in acres of dust as sky-scrapers crumble – Man of Steel manages to break some new ground amid the visual and aural assault.

But there’s also a grinding familiarity to all the rage and testosterone he throws at the screen, none of which lifts the film’s narrative as it goes through increasingly unremarkable paces (see above re Malick vs Bay). By the final reel it's all been done and done again: any hope of commentary or, god forbid, insight, is left fatally wounded somewhere back in the first thirty minutes. Thus spectacle is given the task of holding ones attention and its up to the challenge. While certainly eye-catching (requisite shirtless-ness is dealt with in the first shot), Cavill’s charisma bypass has left him with three basic emotions: angsty, angry and occasionally light hearted (happy is asking too much although in truth he hasn't a lot to be happy about – dead parents, murderous villains and the weight of alien's terraforming your adopted planet on your shoulders).

Nolan and Snyder bring minor tweaks to character – Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is a contemporary professional, shorn of ‘girl in peril’ cliché while Laurence Fishburne’s black Perry White is no longer the cartoonish editor at large. Both are sadly underutilised, leaving the best moments for Kevin Costner as Clarke’s understanding father. Proof, if any were needed, that action films blossom in the gaps between action. Yet there are precious few of those in a movie that runs for nearly two and a half, butt-crunching, ear-bending, mind-numbing hours. Thus Man of Steel is, perhaps, the Superman for its time: one that bludgeons instead of coerces, one where over-indulgence is a matter of course. One where relentlessly dull wit is celebrated.

// COLIN FRASER

Previewed at Events Cinemas, George St Sydney, on 24 June 2013

3.5 stars
The latest in the Superman franchise reunites David Goyer with Christopher Nolan, who successfully collaborated on the story and screenplay of yet another famous comic book character in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. In Man Of Steel, they have taken Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s oft-told tale, stripped it back to its bare bones and re-built the kid from Krypton from the ground up. They have put real flesh and blood inside the suit (no longer worn with underpants on the outside!), which is now a heavy duty hi-tech fabric that can withstand the forces that attack its occupant – and what forces they are! In this incarnation the orphaned Kal-El/Clark Kent experiences the same problems that many adoptees face when learning that their ‘parents’ are not their biological mother and father, even while recognising that he has been fortunate in being raised in a loving environment. His confusion is compounded by the fact that his earthly parents tell him that one day he will change the world, but that the world isn’t ready for him yet and, thus, he must hide his powers from humanity.

But let’s start at the beginning: when his home planet Krypton comes under threat, the infant Kal-El is sent to Earth in a pod by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe - A Beautiful Mind / Gladiator) and Faora-Ul (the German actress Antje Traue) in an attempt to provide a ‘saviour’ for the future. He ends up landing on a farm near Smallville, Kansas, and being raised by Martha (Dianne Lane – Unfaithful / The Perfect Storm) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner - Dances With Wolves / The Postman). Meanwhile, the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon – Take Shelter / Vanilla Sky) and his cohorts, swear to find the boy and retrieve the ‘Codex’ that was in the pod and contains the means of their survival. By the time they track him down, the young Kal-El has grown into the adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavell – Immortals / Stardust). Clark meets Lois Lane (Amy Adams - The Fighter / Catch Me If You Can), a journalist for The Daily Planet, when she is on assignment in Canada covering a story about the discovery of a strange craft that has been found lying deep in the Arctic ice. It is at this point that Lois learns of Superman’s extraordinary powers when she follows him into the spacecraft.

Once Zod and his gang appear the film goes into overdrive, using visual and special effects galore, including a significant contribution from New Zealand’s WETA workshop (the list of SFX credits is almost as long as the film!), and Hans Zimmer’s ear-splitting soundtrack fills the cinema, maximising the various battles between good and evil. The number of skyscrapers that come tumbling down is like a looped scene of 9/11 footage - at times it is so over the top that poor old Superman’s fists seem permanently clenched as he heads off once more into the fray. Henry Cavill plays a convincing Superman (he’s certainly got the jaw for it) but Amy Adams’s Lois is very slight. The best work is done by the ‘parents,’ Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.

It’s all well done, if a little overwrought, but judging by the preview audience reaction, everyone was caught up in it. One punter inadvertently hit the nail on the head when asked at the Sydney premiere for a word association to follow ‘steel (steal),’ his response being simply ‘money’. There’s no doubt that Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel will be making plenty of that at the box office.

// SALT

Previewed at Events Cinemas, George St Sydney, on 24 June 2013
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STUFF

CAST
Henry Cavill
Michael Shannon
Russell Crowe
Amy Adams

DIRECTOR
Zack Snyder

SCREENWRITER
David Goyer
Christopher Nolan

COUNTRY
USA

CLASSIFICATION
M

RUNTIME
143 minutes

AUSTRALIAN
RELEASE DATE
June 27, 2013
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Man of Steel (2013) on IMDb
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