Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Snyder off to good start with 'Man of Steel'

By Jeff

Usually origin stories are pretty slow when it comes to comic book movies. It takes us at least a quarter of the movie to see how our hero gains his powers and is motivated to defend the world against the forces of evil.

Can you find a comic book movie series where the first one is the best? "Fantastic 4" doesn't count. The sequel was so terrible it made "Daredevil" look like "The Dark Knight".

I went into Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" with this trend in mind, but Snyder and his crew introduced us to Superman in a unique and touching way.

First, we see how our Superman came to be. Russell Crowe gives once of the best performances we've seen from him in a while. The scene where he and his wife say goodbye to little Kal-El (Superman's birth name on Krypton) succeeds where so many comic book movies fail. It was a scene filled with emotion that didn't feel forced or exaggerated (Just because Michael Cain cries in "Dark Knight Rises" doesn't make it an emotional scene!).

After Kal-El escapes Krypton, we are immediately introduced to the character as an adult, and then through a series of flashbacks mixed with Kal-El's finding his place on Earth, we witness the struggles the young Superman experienced trying to fit in. It was done very effectively, and like the beginning, you feel an emotional attachment to the character. How would any of us feel if we had to hide who were really were from all but two people in the world?

These scenes are the strength of the film, which you wouldn't expect from the same guy who brought us "300" and "Sucker Punch". The times where we were able to relate to the characters, even though some of them were literally from another world, are when the movie is at its best.

Surprisingly, the action sequences is where the movie lost me. Listen, I love stupid action. It's why I go to the movies sometimes. The problem with "Man of Steel" is Snyder should have said "That's a wrap" about 15 minutes before he did. The special effects were great, but seeing these forces who can't be hurt while exposed to the sun beat the hell of each other gets rather old. Imagine if if the sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Barbosa, when they were both undead and invincible, lasted for the final 30 minutes of "Pirates of the Caribbean". That's how the end of "Man of Steel" felt.

I enjoyed the homage to "Superman 2" where there is the stand-off in the rural town and complete destruction ensues, but did it have to last what seemed like 30 to 45 minutes?

I wonder if the film would have been close to as enjoyable or stirring without the very good performances of Crowe, Kevin Costner and Michael Shannon? Henry Cavill wasn't terrible as Superman, but he wasn't great, and Amy Adams was OK. For being the two characters with the most screen time, they certainly did not carry the film, which is never a good thing in a movie.

Overall, it was an excellent new start for the series. But will the sequels be able to top it? "Man of Steel" was at it's best when it showed us how Kal-El became Superman and those that shaped his life. The sequels will not have that dynamic. Will the writers answer the challenge? Considering "Man of Steel" killed at the box office, we'll find out in the near future.

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