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Man Of Steel

Year: 2013
Production Co: Syncopy
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Zack Snyder
Producer: Christopher Nolan/Emma Thomas
Writer: David S Goyer/Christopher Nolan
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Harry Lennix, Michael Kelly

There's no Jimmy Olsen, no Lex Luthor, no truth, justice and the American way and hardly even any mention of the word 'Superman' except with a slight sense of satire.

There's just Ham Zimmer's sweeping, weighty, carousing score, lots of flashing lights and a sense of the gigantic, furrowed brows and the search for meaning. Zack Snyder's Superman is less a comic book movie and more Grand Guignol Shakespearean drama.

If you feel like you just can't sit through another superhero origin story but you love event cinema, give Man Of Steel a chance. Overseen by Christopher Nolan – Hollywood's high priest of finding the grand scale and darkness in characters that were created so long ago they're now kitschy and silly – 2013's Superman is a new take on a very old legend.

Where Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder's 1978 world was (in hindsight) far too cavalier about the fact that intelligent life in the universe had been discovered and walked among us, it's the cornerstone of Snyder's approach. After being launched from the doomed Krypton by his wise and kindly parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Kara (Ayelet Zurer), Kal (Henry Cavill) is raised on Earth by loving farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), knowing he's different but determined to give their adopted son as human a life as possible.

In one of the many flashbacks of the fractured narrative, Jonathan shows young Clark the pod that delivered him to rural Kansas and explains to the troubled youngster why he can do the amazing things he can and why he needs to keep his identity secret, leading the adult Clark into the life of a drifter.

As the plot synopsis on Man Of Steel's imdb.com page reads; 'a young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race'.

Even when feisty Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) tracks Clark down and learns his secret, she knows better than to reveal it to the world. As the film reminds us more than once, humanity will hate and fear Clark when they learn what he is, no matter how much he's on our side.

But it soon turns out the world needs Clark more than they know. In the stunning opening scenes, the fearsome General Zod (Michael Shannon), military commander of Krypton, stages a failed coup to try and take over and save the dying world.

He and his co-conspirators are sentenced to the phantom zone, but not before he promises to find Jor-El's son, who now holds the key to rebuilding and repopulating Krypton (it seems that no matter how intentional, the Christ parables in the mythology are unavoidable).

So when the destruction of Krypton nearby releases them from their imprisonment, Zod and his crew set about finding Kal-El and fulfilling their self-appointed destiny. In one of the movie's best and scariest scenes, after Zod's ship is spotted orbiting the moon, the world suddenly goes dark, the airwaves taken over by Zod's unnerving greeting and warning to the people of Earth to give Kal-El up.

So begins a smackdown of epic proportions where Snyder and his VFX team constantly one-up themselves with the flashing lights, screaming backdrop of sound and destruction. Smallville is leveled first, and when Zod's huge tripod-like ship descends on Metropolis, you'll understand some of the recent stories you've heard about whether the film exploits traumatic memories of September 11, 2001 as skyscrapers topple and clouds of dust billow through streets.

Taking the Superman universe to its logical degree, there's not a single 'normal' fight or action sequence to be seen. When Clark and the other Kryptonians trade blows, they're thrown through buildings and vehicles and crash to the ground tearing giant holes in roads and earth alike. The result is that in many scenes the whole thing can feel a little too overblown to be about just the small number of people involved. First, the action/fight sequences are almost entirely CGI and can feel just that little bit too cartoony, and secondly because of the sheer scale. With its alien spaceships engaged in sweeping aerial battles and exotic creatures (in Krypton's case), Man Of Steel feels more like a modern science-fiction war movie that owes more to Star Wars than DC or Marvel comics characters.

But David S Goyer's script gives a very accomplished company of actors dialogue that befits their talents, and while Brit Cavill might not have Christopher Reeve's square-jawed, megawatt smile, his steely (see what we did there?) eyes convey Clark's torment as he figures out who he is and his determination about what to do when he decides.

If Warner Bros' ultimate mission is to create an Avengers-style multi-character universe from the DC stable, the box office ker-ching echoing across the world will convince them it's possible and that Ryan Reynolds in green tights was just a bad dream.

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