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Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel is a bold, brash and greyish-blue attempt to reboot the superhero character who kick-started the comic book film revolution comes off the back of a huge wave of hype thanks to a The Dark Knight Rises type of marketing campaign.

Man of Steel is a bold, brash and greyish-blue attempt to reboot the superhero character who kick-started the comic book film revolution comes off the back of a huge wave of hype thanks to a The Dark Knight Rises-type of marketing campaign. With panning shots of fields in Kansas, wobbling close-ups of everyday items and a directorial eye that leans in the quiet moments away from the action, you'd be forgiven however for thinking Man of Steel has more in common with Terrence Malick than Zack Snyder.

Following the discovery of the impending doom of the planet Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his baby son across the Universe to a planet called Earth. Rescued by Kansas farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, the newly christened Clark (Henry Cavill) is taught to hide his incredible abilities from the rest of the World. It is only after journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins tracking him down that Clark must find out the truth of his origins. Then, when another surviving Kryptonian, General Zod (Michael Shannon) appears on Earth looking for him, Clark must finally decide whether to remain hidden or embrace his destiny and save mankind.

The influence of producer Christopher Nolan and script-writer David Goyer are clear for all to see as Man of Steel re-imagines the origins of the most iconic figure in comic book history. However the issues with the omnipotent Kal-El are still a big problem. It is difficult to build true tension or character depth for someone as muscular, indestructible, honourable and good as Superman. Cavill certainly looks the part, with his lantern jaw and imposing physique, yet there is precious little for him to really get stuck into the depth of the man from Krypton. Only when he finally finds a bully he can hit back, does he release some actual emotion. The recipient, the intense and ferociously fantastic Michael Shannon, removes the camp humour of Terrence Stamp in Superman II and replaces it with a no-nonsense man of action. He does however have a worthy, righteous and misguided cause that underpins all of his actions and creates the kind of depth to his character that Superman can only dream of.

Where Nolan's Dark Knight films were incorrectly criticised for having no levity, Snyder's Man of Steel definitely falls into this category. Gone is the bumbling reporter elements of Christopher Reeve original Superman: The Movie performance, as well as Lois' one-liners and of course the red pants. It is replaced with the constant pontificating of Kal-El's father figures; the grumpy Jonathan and the surprisingly action-packed Jor-El, not to mention the seriousness of tone created by the blue-grey desaturated palette.

Artistically Snyder and his team have excelled themselves, providing a stark contrast between homely Earth and futuristic Krypton. Not since Minority Report has future technology been so wonderfully realised, with the Kryptonian computers given a sleek interface that will no doubt be a must-have in 50 years. This is where Man of Steel really excels, Snyder has managed to create two fully-realised worlds that are absorbing and engaging, which results in barely a moment of boredom in the over-two-hour running time.

It is however in the final third when the action really gets going that Snyder really comes into his own. Bringing back his slow-fast-slow approach to fights, he is able to create action influenced, but more immediate than The Avengers and the results are as spectacular as they were in the drastically flawed Sucker Punch. The city of Metropolis is treated like Tokyo at the hands of Godzilla. Skyscrapers collapse, buildings are flattened innocent civilians are killed in their tens of thousands. This is all so that Zod and Kal-El have enough room to batter each other, often with no damage done to either. Such reckless and wanton destruction is commonplace in summer action blockbusters, but Michael Bay could clearly learn a thing or two from Snyder when it comes to Transformers. There is a sense that there are too many false-endings to the conflict, but when it's this visceral and entertaining, it can hardly be criticised too harshly.

Man of Steel is boldly attempts to bring Superman into the DC Universe created by Christopher Nolan, unfortunately the character simply does not have the same depth as the caped crusader. Zack Snyder confidently steps up to mega-blockbuster territory and delivers an exciting, action-packed film, even if it could do with some more laughs and a lot more heart.The moments of high-fantasy must be included because of his alien origin and it is a very difficult juggling act to take yourself seriously, yet Man of Steel is so insistent in it size and scope that it stands above other mere blockbusters and makes its presence known. Loudly.

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