Superman. To some, the quintessential superhero, the one that started it all. Approaching the grand old age of 80, Superman is a character who has not been shy to the big screen. In 1978, Richard Donner produced what is still held in regard as the benchmark comic-book movie; once again, Superman was the one to start it all, the first film to prove that a comic-book could work as a film if taken seriously, the key word on set being verisimilitude. That film was followed by a worthy sequel, but the cinematic history has since been in a constant state of flux. Spearheaded by Superman 2‘s care-taker director Richard Lester, Superman 3 was more of a slapstick comedy than a super-hero movies, losing that all important verisimilitude. The less said about the noble but horribly produced Quest for Peace the better. After years of aborted projects, with many worthy names attached, Superman did indeed return in Bryan Singer’s, err, Superman Returns. While lovingly homage-ing the Donner original, it lacked excitement, took the mythology too far and felt out of touch with the times. In the wake of Christopher Nolan’s success with the Batman trilogy, it was only a matter of time before Superman got a similar treatment. And here we have it. And after many years of abandoned projects and possible outcomes for this film, I only have one question for Warner Bros; is this really the best you could do?
It has taken me a great deal of time to bring myself to write this review. Partly because of being busy, but also because I simply cannot bring myself to admit how much of a disappointment it truly was. Adopting a somewhat muddled and pointless non-linear narrative, we are re-introduced to the origins of Superman, a la Goyer-Nolan, as we witness Jor-El (Russell Crowe) saving his newly born son from the destruction of their home planet of Krypton. Landing on Earth, the baby, Kal-El, is raised under the watchful eyes of John (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and grows up to become Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Struggling with coming to terms with his other-worldly powers, Clark wonders the Earth looking for answers to his identity, to discover who he truly is, and fulfill the destiny Pa Kent always deemed he was meant for. He may get more than he bargained for however in the form of the arrival of General Zod (Michael Shannon), a fellow Kryptonian survivor, who with his fellow banished soldiers, has been searching the galaxy for the son of Jor-El in order to exact his furious revenge. In order to save the city of Metropolis, Clark must fulfill his destiny and become the one and only Superman.
Director Zack Synder starts proceedings in a suitably epic fashion on the planet Krypton. While not particularly original in design, this new Krypton feels much more organic and effectively establishes the more grounded aesthetic (even if I do miss the gloriously bright Krypton of the Donner-age). Russell Crowe also makes for a commanding presence, perhaps the only man in our day and age who can take on a role previously played by Marlon Brando and come out with a performance that is equally stirring and dignified. The opening also establishes Michael Shannon as a ferocious force as Zod. Yet, even in these, the film’s stronger moments, David S. Goyer’s dialogue brings the action crashing down hard. Filled with needless exposition and quite simply laughable statements (he makes Russell Crowe quote 300 for christ-sakes). And once it throws itself into the tiresome non-linear approach, Goyer’s script becomes increasingly poor and Snyder’s direction progressively more dull and moronic.
As the film builds to its ultimate climax, the progression to seeing Clark become Superman is constantly interrupted, destroying the chance of any momentum to be established (something Richard Donner did perfectly). Despite Kevin Costner’s sombre and affecting performance, the script once again lets his efforts down by ensuring that all his scenes are merely variations of exactly the same message. The character of John Kent also loses much of what he is supposed to symbolize in his death. John Kent is supposed to die from a heart attack, to demonstrate that Clark, despite his powers, cannot prevent death. Here, it seems that Snyder and Goyer just thought it’d be cool to have a tornado in their movie. The only reason the scene works on any emotional level is through the warmth and care Costner has put into his performance.
The final act must be said does gain momentum through the script losing the non-linear template. Yet the action comes to represent the moronic mindless action that should not be found in a movie that is striving to make audiences take Superman seriously again. With an over-abundance of whip pans and zooms, superfluous explosions and extreme over use of CGI reiterations of the characters involved, the action quickly becomes repetitive, unremarkable, and plain stupid. It is impossible to invest in a character who becomes a video-game avatar and punches other characters mindlessly with little coherence. Did you not listen to the criticisms nailed into the coffin that contains Sucker Punch Zachery!? Where Joss Whedon revolved the big climatic action in Avengers Assemble around the theme of unity and coming together, and he did so in a very coherent fashion. Man of Steel certainly takes a leaf out of the Michael Bay Action Handbook; loud, chaotic, and wholly mindless.
The cast of Man of Steel all suffer as a result of the script; Amy Adams Lois Lane is a poor shadow of the character but again, not the fault of the actress. The weakest link in the cast is, unfortunately, Mr. Henry Cavill. My fellow Channel Islander, while certainly physically impressive, only looks comfortable when he is in the chain-mail esque suit. His Clark is dull, laboured with incredibly heavy expositionary dialogue and reacting unconvincingly with most of his CGI surroundings. It is a shame, but with stronger direction (Snyder’s strength has never been with actors) I can imagine Cavill turning in a more assured and confident performance.
As with most Zack Snyder movies, Man of Steel is certainly visually splendid; de-saturated somewhat, but with the potential to be very poetic and with a rather nice edge to it. There are some memorable images and Hans Zimmer’s score is absolutely fantastic, a real driving force, imbued with emotion, excitement and passion . He certainly knew what he was doing, but the film itself fails to strike a tone. It jumps from stupid summer blockbuster to the attempts to produce a deep existential look at a beloved superhero, but all it had to offer in respect to the latter was revealed to us in the trailer. What we are left with is a film that is completely disjointed; it has the elements there to produce a good movie, but none of them seemed to have fitted together. It does not leave one with a sense of excitement for what is to come in the DC Movie, if anything, it has left me with a sense of dread. We deserved better. Superman deserved better.