Film Review: Man of Steel (USA, 2013)


Brutal action scenes and a decidedly clumsy Superman is what Man of Steel will be remembered for; this reimagining of the classic superhero myth, by director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan, is loud, confronting, and grand, and this is why watching it on a screen as big as the one at IMAX Darling Harbour was absolutely essential; it’s this experience which may have biased me towards what is proving to be a highly divisive superhero film. In terms of how it looks, Man of Steel cannot be faulted; the 3D is incredibly subtle, cleverly hidden amongst the changing pace of the film, taking it out of cheesy-gimmick territory and actually using the technology to add greatly to the already-stellar production. Though, the movie’s cracks are seen through the choppy plot.

With the standard of superhero movies being set extraordinarily high in the past few years, we are attune to nit-pick the latest hope for DC’s planned battle for shared-universe domination, a fight that seems to be siding with Marvel as of late. Despite there being a lot of nits in Man of Steel, the decision to take Superman (I can call him that, since it is referenced in the movie) out of the notion that he is a squeaky-clean hero – who always maintains the perfect balance between stopping bad guys and protecting innocents – is one which pays off.

The beginning of the movie is messy with sub-par acting from Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and General Zod (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon), intended only to explain a falling Krypton and show us why Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) is delivered to Earth. Thankfully, the acting picks up as the cast – Shannon in particular – are thrust into more-action-less-plot in the film’s second-half.

Clark Kent’s journey into re-discovering his true identity is drawn-out and quite boring, making the first-half largely forgettable, excepting some scattered flashbacks which have Kent and his pseudo-father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) presenting a to-hide-or-not-to-hide dilemma. The relationship between father and son is done justice in a brilliant sequence which shows just how stubbornly committed (albeit idiotic) Costner’s character is in keeping Clark’s identity secret, the film’s only semi-emotional scene.

Once Zod resurfaces, the movie becomes a thoroughly entertaining, explosion-full popcorn-flick; the source of most critics’ issues with Man of Steel.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is portrayed well but is given the movie’s worst dialogue (that post-kiss line: terrible), and her awkward relationship with Clark feels inorganic and cheap, even when considering the time constraint. This makes it hard to get too involved in the movie and relies heavily on our pre-existing attitude towards the myth of Superman and its tight family of characters.

The infallibility of General Zod is logically inconsistent, robbing this villain’s hope of Batman-esque accolades, despite Shannon playing the role with his idiosyncratic charm. This leaves Superman as our only hope for character development, and this is where this new idea pays off: Clark is a naïve protector, only just getting used to the fact he needs to fight for earth on a larger scale rather than just performing everyday good-guy deeds (this isn’t a serialised TV show after all). Clark stumbles often while he walks the fine line between offense and defence; his handful of big battles with the movie’s baddies cause much more public chaos and destruction than necessary; it’s like watching two kids destroy a sandpit. Superman doesn’t yet know how to contain his battles, nor save every single life with the same finesse as his previous incarnations. This learning curve he is going through adds a new layer to the idea of Superman in a way that is surely alienating long-term fans but also presenting an interesting take on the cultural icon.

Much of this movie felt like set-up for the next instalment, which undoubtedly seems like it will win back anyone this film manages to turn-off. By the end, Clark Kent starts to take on the image we are all used to, settling into the idea of juggling privacy with being the world’s saviour and leaving us with a nice feeling of anticipation for the in-the-works sequel. However, unlike Batman BeginsMan of Steel is an unsteady origin story which unfortunately starts this re-booted franchise closer to mediocrity than the greatness we had all hoped for.


Rated: M – Science-fiction violence
Runtime: 143 Minutes

Man of Steel is currently screening in cinemas nation-wide. We viewed the film at Sydney’s IMAX Theatre in Darling Harbour. Session times can be viewed here


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.