Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne
Directed by Zack Snyder
Expectations: I’m so excited.
When they announced Man of Steel as a darker, Nolan-influenced take on Superman, I rejoiced. The Christopher Nolan Batman films were great! So this would be too! What I failed to think about was that by darkening the character and his world, it inherently changes a lot of what I enjoy about the Superman films. This is definitely a better stab at Superman than audiences were given in 2006 with Superman Returns, but even that film had something of a sense of fun. Man of Steel is virtually devoid of fun, and in that I found it to be one of the least enjoyable films I’ve reviewed throughout my Superman review series.
Man of Steel is considered a complete reboot of the series, but in a lot of ways it’s something of a streamlined remake of Richard Donner’s Superman I and II. The film opens with a lengthy sequence on Krypton, setting up an interesting dynamic between Jor-El and General Zod, as well as the traditional “baby Supes blasting off of the dying world” that everyone expects. This begins something of a pattern with the film where it doesn’t exactly feel as unique and fresh as they’d like you to think it is. Imagine The Dark Knight containing scenes featuring the “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” lines from Tim Burton’s Batman, and you’ll feel something of what I felt during this film. This is something they probably couldn’t avoid too much when trying to tell the story of General Zod, but I could have done without another version of Zod landing in middle America and smashing up a small town. There’s even a scene that’s very reminiscent of Supergirl‘s “flying ballet.”
But Man of Steel does stretch out in ways that no previous Superman film has done, thanks largely to the current abilities of CG artists. The sci-fi aspect of the character is expanded and explored in great visual depth, and while I didn’t specifically care for a lot of this, it was interesting to see the filmmakers try to explore Superman’s alien nature to the best of their abilities. Which honestly aren’t all that creative, as even though this Krypton is significantly different from previous screen Kryptons, it looks as if it’s coming to us courtesy of an incestuous mash-up of the Star Wars prequels, Avatar and those desk toys that make 3D impressions with pins. Didn’t see any of that coming…
Anyway, for those looking for giant action sequences involving Supes, there is a lot of that. It’s all stacked in the latter half of the film, unfortunately, but when it comes it is fast, furious and sustained. But even here, I found myself largely uninterested and unengaged. The camera is incredibly shaky, and a lot of the stuff on-screen is hard to make out, resulting in visual white noise. I swear, I’ve seen enough flying debris and exploding buildings for a lifetime thanks to Man of Steel, and even though I love that kind of stuff I found a good majority of it empty and “just OK.” I just kept thinking back to how much fun I was having through similar sequences in The Avengers. There are a few fantastic moments sprinkled throughout, though, but when the superhero moments I truly loved only equal about one or two minutes tops, it’s hard to say that I liked the film.
What I did like was Henry Cavill. He looks fantastic as Superman, and I think he’s going to become a big star like Christopher Reeve in his day, because unlike Superman Returns, Man of Steel redefines the character well and is definitely going to spawn at least one sequel. This is a great thing, as perhaps my favorite moment of the entire film closes the whole thing out, leaving us on an incredibly nice note of hope for the future installments. It is in this scene where I can feel Nolan’s influence, something I was unable to see in the rest of the film.
But y’know who stole the show? Amy Adams. She was the best thing about the film and provided it with a human element that I found largely lacking. By sidestepping the romantic sub-plots of Superman and just going dark and hard-edged throughout the entire film, Man of Steel comes off as more adolescent wish-fulfillment than I’m comfortable with. But it was their specific choice to explore Superman’s alien side more than his human one, and the harder, less human edge ultimately reflects this broad choice for the world. I imagine the sequel will explore his human side more fully, allowing us to witness the romance that this revitalized, wonderful version of Lois Lane deserves. Adams is perfect as an intrepid, self-sufficient Lois Lane, and I look forward to her further adventures with Superman.
Man of Steel was definitely not the Superman film I was hoping for, but I kind of knew it wouldn’t be going in. Zack Snyder is a director that I don’t understand the hype for, and this film definitely doesn’t change that. If you hated the previous allusions in Superman films that Superman = Jesus, then this one will do you even worse. Snyder punches the audience square in the face with these allusions in his film, specifically a shot of Superman in front of a church’s stained glass window. It’s ridiculous. But even through this and the meaningless sound and fury that makes up a lot of the action, Man of Steel is probably the best film I’ve seen from him. That probably speaks more to my dislike of his other films than my enjoyment of this one, though. My main issue with Man of Steel, and the one that will stick with me, is that I just wish it wasn’t completely drained of the fun that I associate with the character.
Oh, and was it just me or did the ice things that Zod and his minions got frozen in look like a bunch of penises blasting off into space? I wish I had a screenshot.