where the writers are
Man of Steel

a film review 
by Jeanne Powell 


Superman?  Yeah, that guy again, but with an exciting new take on his otherworldly origins.  Director Zack Snyder, known for his action film “300” about the battle between Persia and Sparta at Thermopylae, has recreated the DC Comics action hero for our time and place. 

As an Earth child raised by loving parents (good performances from Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) Clark Kent discovers that he is not like other kids.  His dilemma is real and deeply affecting; does he let someone die in an auto accident or does he use his remarkable strength to rescue that person?  His father’s caution about demonstrating his extraordinary power troubles him.

Three-dimensional special effects heighten the tension on planet Krypton, as his high-ranking parents Jor-El and Lara-El (well-played by Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) struggle with their decision to keep secret the natural birth of their son Kal-El.  Their planet is disintegrating from excessive exploitation of its natural resources, which requires them to make a decision with profound consequences for Krypton and for Earth.

Michael Shannon is General Zod, an imposing military leader who was born solely to attend to the well-being and future of the planet Krypton.  And Jor-El stands in his way.  Zod’s dedicated warrior partner Faora-Ul is beautifully played by Antje Traue.

A genuine delight is Amy Adams’ performance as journalist Lois Lane, the epitome of the intrepid girl reporter of the early 20th century.  When she shows up where she is not wanted, she says to Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni) as he tries to stare her down:  "I get writers block if I’m not wearing a flack jacket."   And she recovers quickly enough in another scene when she discovers she is talking to an alien presence as she tracks her lead on a story.

The film’s reliance on massive American firepower is troubling.  It seems odd that our military allies would not be consulted about an alien attack, or that reassurances would not be given to our enemies in order to prevent an accidental nuclear response.

Ah, but then we know why, don’t we?  When the Pentagon provides helicopters and fighter planes, the film director/producer has to dance through all sorts of hoops, and allow the Pentagon to edit the script (see David Robb’s book OPERATION HOLLYWOOD).  To quote salon.com:  “Final approval comes from Pentagon brass who pre-screen and censor the film.” 

When the film makers won’t dance to the Pentagon’s tune, they must do without the glossy weapons and explosive action.  One such courageous director was the brilliant Terrence Malick, who made “The Thin Red Line” from James Jones’s novel without Pentagon equipment, because he would not allow the military establishment to censor his script. 

Special effects are done on an immense scale.  One wonders who on Earth is going to pay for the stunning amount of damage done during “epic” fight scenes in the city of Metropolis as General Zod and Superman pound each other.  And the American planes shooting at Krypton vehicles in the countryside near Smallville?  It simply is too much.  Any sequel may have to feature parts of the United States as being deprived of buildings above the level of a cellar. 

Henry Cavill is quite believable as Kal-El grown into Clark Kent, and then someone the Americans eventually call Superman.  A nice touch is young Clark moving around the country year after year, working in traditional blue-collar jobs on waterfronts, construction sites and in restaurants, quietly content to see America this way, a tribute to the Earth parents who raised him, stable and modest and unflappable as he waits…. 

Initially General Zod has the advantage since Superman has to play catch-up, find out who he is, find out why he was sent to Earth and why General Zod needs to find him at all costs. 

 Kal-El’s grief as he loses first one father figure and then another, is moving. And there is a spiritual connection for Superman as well:  “You are my son, but somewhere out there you have another father, one who sent you here for a reason.”

I like this Superman reincarnation.  The growing relationship with journalist Lois Lane has "sequel" written all over it.  Working as a fellow journalist for the Daily Planet will bring Clark Kent into a new world of experiences, also implying a sequel.  And we shall have to wait and see whether Henry Cavill can survive the Superman role jinx and go on to have a successful acting career.