Saturday, June 15, 2013


Release date:
June 14, 2013
Zack Snyder


Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Kevin Costner

In the first half hour, Man of Steel seems dangerously poised to attract lazy, obvious jibes derived from its title… you know, such as “it’s cold as steel”. Everything at that point looks suitably grand and inter-planetary and inter-galactic and inter-whatever-you-wish, yet it feels distant and frigid. Then somewhere along the way, the film begins to throw around a few jibes of its own at the audience, and all at once the going gets good.

Directed by Zack Snyder (best known in India for 300), Man of Steel is co-produced by Christopher Nolan who also shares credit for the story with David S. Goyer. The film takes us to the origins of Superman on the planet Krypton and the circumstances that drove the baby Kal-El’s parents to send him to Earth where he grows up to be Clark Kent. The fulcrum of the film is the point made by Clark’s human foster parent when the boy finds that a child he saved from an accident using his superpowers is scared of him instead of simply being grateful. “People are scared of what they don’t understand,” Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) explains. With enough such lovely moments and many sub-texts (Potterheads, look out for the parallels between the final Horcrux and the home of Krypton’s Codex), it’s easier to forgive some of the silliness, the inexplicable sci-fi mumbo jumbo and loopholes. Where did Clark come from? The question is well answered. Why the heck must Superman wear a costume? No idea (though it doesn’t matter much since Henry Cavill looks h-h-hot in bodysuit, boots and cape).

That’s the upshot of this review: Man of Steel is fun and makes a lot of sense a lot of the time but is also dull and senseless some of the time; it’s good but well short of very good. Cavill doesn’t yet have the charisma of Christopher Reeve from the original celluloid series, but he’s so good-looking that I’m willing to wait for him to evolve through the new series that’s now bound to follow. The versatile Amy Adams as Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane makes this role as believable as she did the part of a fairytale princess transported to New York in Enchanted. The rest of the cast comprises veterans with so many Oscar and Golden Globe awards and noms between them that there’s a lesson there for Indian film-goers who get upset whenever a major star takes on a supporting role. Russell Crowe as Kal/Clark’s Kryptonian father Jor-El has the dreariest of the four parental roles but manages to pull it off, partly redeeming himself for 2012’s monstrously boring Les Miserables. The pick of the supporting cast though is the lovely Diane Lane as Clark’s supportive earthly mother.  

This is where a grouse surfaces though. Why is this film so emphatically about father-to-son? The mothers in Man of Steel are loving, protective creatures but the legacy and wisdom that Clark carries forward comes from his dads. Except for one of the Kryptonian elders, every leader in this film is a man. A pity that Messrs Nolan and Goyer felt free to play around with Clark’s story from DC Comics but didn’t play down the patriarchy.

Though there were places where I longed for real meadows and mountains instead of CG scenery, for the most part the film’s special effects are awe-inspiring. There’s also enough action throughout to make it worth the effort of wearing 3D glasses. Man of Steel is a tad too long though – the final face-off between Superman and the Kryptonian General Zod took place after a point where I thought the film had ended. Sadly missing too are the humour and inventiveness of those memorable concept pieces from the series with Reeve… such as Superman putting out a fire by freezing a lake with his breath, flying over to the site of the fire with the body of ice and allowing it to melt over the blaze. Man of Steel has none of that.

What it has are plenty of underlying messages, some of which Barack Obama ought to read in his current you-can’t-have-100%-privacy mood justifying US surveillance of innocent private citizens worldwide; and others to other despots and xenophobes everywhere. In the end, for me at least, this film is about Zod saying to Clark: Every action of mine, however cruel, is for the good of my people… as if that justifies it all. It’s about an alien telling Superman, “The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has shown us anything, it is that evolution always wins,” right before an annihilation Her Arrogance was too egoistic to foresee. It’s about interference in nature. It’s about realising you squandered a chance that nature gave you and bowing out when your time is up. It’s also about parents who refuse to fit their child into a role pre-determined by society. It’s a call against genocide. It’s about the present US discomfort with – and absurd definition of – outsiders (as relevant to India’s Sangh Parivar as to the white supremacist who shot Sikh worshippers in a Wisconsin gurudwara). At one point in Man of Steel, after he has saved Earth from an alien invasion with the knowledge of the US government, Superman finds himself still being monitored by the authorities. A US General explains: “How do I know one day you won’t act against America’s interests?” Comes the reply: “I grew up in Kansas, General. I’m about as American as it gets.” Man of Steel isn’t all that I hoped for, but it’s still a helluva lot.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
148 minutes (as per
PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language)
Release date in the US:
June 14, 2013

Photograph courtesy:‎   

1 comment:

  1. Batman Begins met with mixed response too. It took a sequel to set that right. Perhaps it is Nolan's way of treating a superhero origin story. Yes, I definitely missed Reeve's one liners (especially the part where he says 'bad vibrations') but we must understand the character from 1978 had found his sense of belonging on Earth from the start. Cavill's version of Superman had a backing of alien nature and initial isolation. And that forms the crux of this origin story. Having said that, I think the audience needs to place a bit more faith in Snyder & Nolan.