Movie Reviews: Man of Steel

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a messiah.

Movie Reviews: Man of Steel

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (12A), a reboot of the Superman story, opens with an extended prologue set on the dying planet Krypton, as Jor-El (Russell Crowe) launches his infant son, Kal-El, into space. Raised on Earth by farmer Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and his wife Martha (Diane Lane), Kal-El grows up as the precocious Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), a young man who must hide his god-like strength and speed under a bushel lest his alien origins cause humanity to question its place in the universe. But when General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his minions arrive on Earth and begin to terra-form the planet in order to make it more habitable for the Krypton race they hope to resurrect, Kal-El/Clark steps up to shoulder the burden of becoming the saviour of the human race. Anticipated as one of the blockbuster movies of the summer, Man of Steel doesn’t disappoint as an action-packed tale of derring-do.

In fact, it’s a bit too stuffed with action sequences — once all the characters and their respective ambitions have been established, there’s little for them to do but pound one another through buildings for roughly an hour.

Zack Snyder brings a frenetic energy and pace to the editing of the action scenes, but the relentless punching and slamming and pounding eventually grows monotonous. That’s a pity, because Henry Cavill’s Superman is the most human we’ve seen on the big screen, a conflicted and self-doubting superhero who has been taught to fear his ‘powers of a god’ (Costner is excellent as Clark’s conscience and father-figure). Rather than explore this potentially intriguing aspect of the superhero psyche, however, the movie is content to wallow in facile gestures.

Acclaimed author William Borgens (Greg Kinnear) can’t stop spying on his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly). His daughter, Samantha (Lily Collins), is bonking her way through college. His teenage son, Rusty (Nat Wolff), is about to lose his virginity. They’re all Stuck in Love (15A) to a greater or lesser extent, but what really brings the Borgen family together is books — Samantha has just followed in her father’s footsteps by publishing her first novel, while Rusty wants to become the next Stephen King. Written and directed by Josh Boone, Stuck in Love is chock-a-block with literary references and quotes, all of which remind us that Boone isn’t in the business of telling a grittily realistic tale of the consequences of marital break-up. Instead the tone is genteel, comic. Their parents’ divorce has made a confirmed cynic of Samantha and a romantic idealist of Rusty, personality traits that quickly become visible in their writing, while William spends his time dodging through Erica’s shrubbery and reading through his son’s journal. Books are wonderful, or so the message seems to run, but they’re no substitute for experiencing life in the raw. The ensemble cast is solid but Boone’s direction and pacing is no more than functional and none of the performances are strong enough to give the story the profundity it aspires to.

Adapted and directed by Joss Whedon, Much Ado About Nothing (12A) is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy of manners, in which a noble household conspires to play Cupid to the ill-suited pair of Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), while also working to destroy the impending marriage of Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Shot in 12 days at Whedon’s California home, the black-and-white film retains Shakespeare’s original dialogue but offers a contemporary iconography — the characters drive cars, employ guns instead of swords, and wear suits and ties instead of doublet and hose. It’s a charming blend, more intimate than Baz Luhrmann’s similar but self-consciously epic take on Romeo and Juliet (1996), and even though Whedon is happy to play up the absurdity of Shakespeare’s more ludicrous plot twists by allowing his cast to indulge in occasional slapstick, there’s a powerful sting in the tale when the story boils down to the poisonous sexual hypocrisy at its heart. It’s a fine ensemble offering that only rarely falls flat (Riki Lindhome has a notably tin ear when it comes to interpreting the rhythm of Shakespeare’s work), but Acker and Denisof steal the show.

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