Man of Steel Movie Review 1 128

It’s been a long old road to get to this point. Superman and Superman II were, and still are, lauded as high points in the superhero genre while Superman III and especially Superman IV: The Quest for Peace are often derided as being insults to the good Superman name.
Then, almost 20 years after Superman IV along came Superman Returns, which despite great pedigree in its director (Bryan Singer, he of The Usual Suspects and X-Men/X2 fame) was a crushing disappointment of a film that basically consisted of two and a half hours of Superman lifting stuff.
Now we finally get to Man of Steel, with Zack Snyder at the helm, David S. Goyer on writing duties and Batman trilogy maestro Christopher Nolan producing. What results is a resounding success of team effort, a Superman film Hollywood and fans can truly be proud of once more. It achieves that rare mix of grounding things in earthy, almost gritty reality while still providing healthy doses of over-the-top fun, fleshing out this most iconic of superheroes including excellently handling his backstory (some of the strongest moments are before we even see the grown-up Supes) on Krypton and his relationship with his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (played very well by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively).
The foundation of what makes Man of Steel work just as well as it does is the fact that the creatives involved, particularly Snyder who has never been so mature in his filmmaking, treats the source material and the mythology with the respect it deserves while never sacrificing its sense of fun in this modern day blockbuster world. Things have obviously moved on from the late ’70s/early ’80s Christopher Reeve Superman most fans will fondly remember and the use of special effects and whizz-bang action is often astounding – it has a budget of over $200 million and every penny of that is up on the screen. However, it’s not a film that relies solely on its action to get by but rather uses it as necessary punctuation to what’s happening in the story. And anyone out there worried that Snyder will constantly employ his trademark super slow-mo effect need not worry as there’s not a sign of that (arguably) cheating wizardry.
In keeping with Superman tradition, this sees a relative unknown don the iconic red-caped costume. Although he’s previously starred in the likes of Immortals, The Count of Monte Cristo and Stardust, Henry Cavill is still not that well known as a face or a name and once again it’s a smart decision (Cavill almost played him in Returns before Brandon Routh was cast). The actor who plays him should always be someone we ultimately come to associate with the character, someone whom when we look at them our mind’s instantly jump to “Yup, that’s Superman.” Cavill is a great choice, perhaps a little more brooding than you may be expecting but he handles the dramatic scenes just as well as looking good flying around battling his foes.
Man of Steel movie review still
Michael Shannon as General Zod
Speaking of which, the real key bit of casting is arguably with General Zod, played by the ever-wonderful Michael Shannon, who is nothing short of a menacing, intimidating force of nature in the role made famous by Terrence Stamp. He’s played much more ruthless this time around, a threat more immediate and befitting of Snyder’s blockbuster aesthetic than Lex Luthor’s land schemes that may have worked well in their more comedic styling in the ’70s but bogged Returns down to a “So what?” plot. There’s also great supporting work from the likes of Russell Crowe, bringing gravitas in the same way as Marlon Brando did to the role of Superman’s real father Jor-El, Laurence Fishburne as the pensive editor of the Daily Planet and Amy Adams who gives a gutsy performance as Lois Lane.
It could be argued that the film devolves into more generic blockbuster territory in the final 45 minutes with a typically bombastic and explosion-filled showdown, giving The Avengers a run for its money in terms of city destruction. And while it’s certainly true we’re not worlds away from so many other mega-budget action films, it’s hard to argue against how good it looks (and sounds, thanks to a grand and memorable score by Hans Zimmer) doing it. Before that the film treads on some interesting thematical elements, turning the story of Superman and his outing to the world as not just a superhero alter-ego issue but as a question of how people on Earth would react if who is essentially an alien was found to be living among them. It’s an interesting angle to take and the film is substantial enough for it to feel justified.
Snyder and Co. have revamped Superman in pretty spectacular fashion, achieving the same sort of thing Nolan managed with Batman Begins in that they have brought Superman back down to Earth (pardon the pun), reached into the heart of the story and displayed it in a visually stunning, genuinely thrilling package that’s easily swallowed both as a piece of blockbuster spectacle and as a thematically strong superhero story.

[youtube id=”HstHJN8MJwo” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Man of Steel is released on Friday 14th June.
Previous ArticleNext Article
I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1 Comment

  1. Great review Ross spot on. Agree with you on Superman Returns, which for me was probably 20 mins of decent enough stuff and the rest was painfully slow and dull, astonishingly so as the budget for Returns was as much as ,if not higher than Man Of Steel. Cavill dodged a bullet with that one and saved himself for the fantastic Man Of Steel. This outing for Superman has so much going for it, the back story is done so well, Cavill does a brilliant job as Superman, Shannon is menacing as Zod and the action is out of this world, whilst in it !!
    Have to say the level of destruction that ensues gives The Avengers a challenge. Go see it people it wont disappoint !!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47