"General, I grew up in Kansas."
Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman in the film Man of Steel
By now before the film opened last week on Friday, all of the critics reviews I've read give the latest $225 million Superman film 2 ½ stars. And Entertainment Weekly which has a recent cover story issue chronicling 75 years of Superman, also gives the latest reboot film a C. Many reasons were given as to why those critics rated Man of Steel as less than a stellar film. But I will state mainly three, followed by counter rebuttals. So let's begin with the films running time.
Man of Steel clocks in at 143 minutes ( 2 hrs 23 minutes) according to www.imdb.com. This was one of the reasons that supposedly hampered the film. And yet where were those same critics last year, when one of the most successful superhero films exploded the box-office, that also ran at the same 143 minutes, The Avengers. The previous film Superman Returns (2006) which has a higher favorable critics rating than Man of Steel on rottentomatoes.com, had more of a running time at 154 minutes. And last year's successful The Dark Knight Rises, with a rotten tomatoes critics rating at 87 %, and an audience rating at 92%, clocks at 165 minutes. That's 15 minutes short of three hours, making the third Christopher Nolan directed Batman film in the trilogy, as the longest yet also successful super hero film ever made.
Movie audiences don't care how long an action film is as long as it moves. And Man of Steel moves. Also Christopher Nolan should be acknowledged who produced Man of Steel as well as having co-written the story. Now comes the second topic to be addressed, the action scenes.
What those critics may have overlooked who've complained about the action scenes being long, is that it is more than just a fight between Superman and General Zod. It's also a war. It's a war between two ideologies, two ways of life, two vastly different civilizations. Yes it's obvious General Zod and his several lieutenants, one of whom being the formidable Faora-Ul played by actress Antje Traue, are all fellow Kryptonians to Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. So naturally there's to be a protracted fight, given Superman's upbringing influenced from both his earth adoptive parents, and the noble influence of his biological father Jor-El. Both influences clash with the plans of General Zod, and because of the fact that mankind was now witnessing the most powerful beings ever to walk the face of the earth.
So in short, Superman has his hands full in this one. He faces multiple threats without having to deal with arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. And then there's the third topic to be addressed, the hero.
Such words as stoic, conflicted, and tortured have already been used to describe Superman in this latest film reboot by some critics. Being fair, there are those moments. But that's just it, just moments where it is not long enough to dominate the film, because it is not all grim and certainly not lacking in humor. Man of Steel...has everything.
While growing up with adoptive earth parents on a farm in Kansas before becoming Superman, Kal-El/Clark Kent has had to wrestle with those same issues and questions that have faced us all. Such issues and questions that may resurface on occasions are, why am I here and what am I meant to do? And what will be my legacy? But there is one unmistakable difference with Kal-El/Clark Kent. Those same questions he's had to grapple with while growing up are compounded by knowing as an alien he is far differently superior than mere mortal men. This is by virtue of his unimaginable powers while taught self-discipline by his adoptive earth parents. And then there is the savior allegory also present in the film. Still be that as it may, British actor Henry Cavill who plays the older Kal-El/ Clark Kent before becoming Superman...makes it!
I continue to be amazed by all these British actors exploding upon both American film and TV while masterfully discarding their accents. It makes one wonder if they took a course at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) to sound as if American. The much honored three time Academy Award winner as Best Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, is famous for that. He has done so by acting in two of his Oscar winning film roles both in There Will Be Blood and Lincoln. Then there are the two British actors who play enemies in their roles in the AMC TV drama The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln who plays Rick Grimes as a former small town sheriff deputy of close by Atlanta, and David Morrissey who plays the evil-twisted Governor of the fortified town of Woodbury, both have their southern accents down as convincingly laced and smooth. And both are phenomenal in their roles in the Zombie apocalypse drama. So regarding Henry Cavill, he makes the role as Superman while knocking it out of the park.
Now that the three topics have been addressed, there are the supporting roles. Russell Crowe as Jor-El, the biological father of Superman makes the role superb. Jor-El comes across as noble, honorable, yet full of fight. It reminds me as to why I like Russell Crowe in both Gladiator and Master and Commander. Ayelet Zurer as the hero's biological mother Lara Lor-Van comes across as loving, courageous and dignified. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane both do well as adoptive earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. Yet here I have just one mild criticism with Man of Steel. Mr. Costner, it wouldn't have hurt the film if you smiled at least once. But still, you fully redeemed yourself with that touching adoptive father and adopted alien son moment.
And finally, there is the budding romantic interest with the character known as Lois Lane, the Daily Planet reporter. This was the only role I admit was concerned about. And I was not the least bit concerned about the Superman role at all. Yet Amy Adams comes through all the way.
This leaves the role of General Zod, played by Michael Shannon whom critics found him bland. This I wholeheartedly disagree. I think he makes it.
In comparing the role acted by Terence Stamp in Superman II, with Superman acted by the late yet courageous actor Christopher Reeve, the General Zod role was full on attack dog. The moment he and his two fellow Kryptonians landed on earth they messed with everybody in sight. Yet in the latest rebooted film, this General Zod eases into it subtly before he gets onto business. Subtle evil can be just as dangerous, if not more so than point blank in your face. So Michael Shannon does wonderfully, just like he did when I first became aware of his acting talent in the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet film Revolutionary Road.
Finally I must not forget another talent that makes this film. Exit John Williams from the previous Superman films, and enter Hans Zimmer as composer. I've always enjoyed Hans Zimmer's music beginning with the unappreciated WWII film The Thin Red Line which opened just six months after Saving Private Ryan. He's done all the Christopher Nolan Batman films, and has done my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio film and also directed by Nolan, Inception.
So there you have it. The only reason why I think every critic I've read saw Man of Steel as a less than stellar film is that I think they wanted it to fail. It's almost as if they could not wait to say, "See, after Christopher Reeve they still could not get it right!" Besides that I give the latest Superman film that's so far has earned $125.1 million, with $8.00 of which came from my own wallet while lucky to see it before the 6 pm matinee cutoff on opening day, five full stars.
P.S. to director Zack Snyder, it's obvious you and Christopher Nolan scored big on this one. And word was already out before Man of Steel opened that a sequel is in the works, meaning the likelihood that Lex Luthor will be in it. Please no more walking easily into Superman's Fortress of Solitude. We're talking about advanced alien Kryptonian technology, which is supposed to be a lot tougher than getting into the CIA. If you must, make Lex Luthor work for it. Make him sweat.