I always get annoyed when people bash Bryan Singer for the “horrible and disappointing” Superman Returns, but let me ask. Was it honestly disappointing? Bash Singer if you want, but that movie was as good as it gets, by which I mean it’s almost impossible to make a good Superman movie, or good TV show (looking at you, Smallville). Only Richard Donner’s 1978 film accomplished this task, but not because of the main character. Simply put, I think Superman is a boring character. As a pop culture icon, he’s an undying symbol of hope in the darkest times, but as an actual character, he’s incredibly bland. There’s little to him, though everyone else sees something in him that I don’t understand.
When Warner Brothers announced Man of Steel, a reboot to Superman similar to Batman Begins, I was hoping it would be a rich, character driven experience. That was, until I found out it would be directed by Zack Snyder. Even though it had The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s good will as producer, I’ve made no secret of my hatred for Snyder as a director (specifically for the terrible Sucker Punch and Watchmen). In stark contrast to the hype built around this movie, I thought this was going to CRASH. AND. BURN!
The final verdict... it’s better than I thought it’d be, and it’s Zack Snyder’s best film to date, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. To be fair, it is enjoyable, but still VERY flawed.
Anyway, the film begins on Krypton, where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his son Kal-El off of the planet before its destruction, eventually landing on Earth. Adopted by a married couple, Kal, now called Clark Kent, grows up trying to cope with, and conceal his powers. Now in his thirties, Clark (Henry Cavill) goes from town to town trying to learn about his past, pursued by Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Upon learning about his past, and of how Earth’s radiation enhanced his powers, he uses them as tools for good. In the mean time, he’s sought after by former Kyrptonian general Zod (Michael Shannon), who intends to rebuild his old planet by using Earth as its foundations.
In what was already a great summer movie season with Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel was the most hotly anticipated, many thinking it would be THE movie to beat. However, once everyone actually saw the film, the reception was not so kind, and I see exactly why, which might sound like a broken record at this point.
There is definitely plenty to admire about it. Zack Snyder’s direction is actually not bad here. His stylistic tendencies, which are usually a detriment to his films, are toned down to allow for some engaging, intimate moments of character interaction, including the superb opening sequence on Krypton. The action, though occasionally forced, is quite the thrill, and there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from them. The film is gorgeous, with top notch visual effects work from Weta Digital, and suitably creative and glorious sound design by Scott Hecker.
|Michael Shannon is the best part of this movie.|
The film also boasts two fantastic performances. One is from Russell Crowe, deeply affecting despite his small role, and the other is Michael Shannon. Shannon, who many know best as Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire, MAKES this movie! Zod is a fantastic villain. His character is firmly established, his motivations are fully fleshed out, he’s absolutely intimidating, and his emotional responses are always completely believable. The final duel between him and Clark is powerfully staged and executed. Shannon alone is worth the price of admission.
However, here’s where I start to get negative. The film is definitely overlong, as you could have cut 15-20 minutes off of the running time easily. Numerous other performances, while decent, are underused, specifically Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark’s adopted parents. Henry Cavill should be the most fascinating person here, but he barely does much to elevate his flat character. Amy Adams, whom I adore, is sadly wasted. The product placement is also distracting (even Arrested Development's Burger King placements were more subtle than this, and those were intentionally in your face). However, the biggest problem lies with the writing. Christopher Nolan contributed to the original story, and certain portions of the film which feel influenced by him shine bright. However, the main screenplay credit went to David Goyer, who seriously dropped the ball.
The character development in the film is inconsistent, the various sub-plots need some wrangling, and the overall destruction and chaos in the film eventually becomes so mind numbing that it becomes no better than the likes of Transformers, especially during one sequence which SHOULD have been horrifying. You’re probably saying it’s just my critical mind over thinking what’s supposed to be an entertaining popcorn film, but no. Even when I switched my brain off, I couldn’t suspend as much disbelief as the film expects me to. There’s also a particular over reliance on Hans Zimmer’s musical score, which is mixed in too often and too loudly.
My thoughts probably look like they’re all over the place, but that’s pretty much how I felt about the movie when it was finished. Man of Steel is certainly not a bad film, but when it hits low points, it hits them dirt low. However, as I said, there are good, even great parts to this movie. I’m shocked that I feel so bad about disliking a film, because this had the potential to be an experience like no other. I can’t help but wonder “How better would this be had Christopher Nolan been in full control?” But at the end of the day, the fault is not with Snyder. You can see he really took this assignment seriously, and that he just needed a stronger script. As longs as he gets better material for the recently announced sequel, I’ll gladly cheer him on.
**1/2 / *****