Man of Steel (2013)
1. A cushion. This movie is long.
2. Earplugs. This movie is loud.
3. A chastity belt for your eyes. This movie intends to do naughty things to your eyeballs.
4. Earmuffs. Earplugs won’t be enough. This movie is almost relentlessly LOUD.
Now that we’ve picked up our necessary items, we are safe to head to the cinema to enjoy the newest interpretation of probably the most famous superhero, Superman.
Krypton is in trouble. Centuries of environmental abuse have led to the imminent destruction of the planet. A coup is led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who is probably a little late to the party but that’s neither here nor there. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. It’s rightly pointed out that he’s attempting to gain control of a doomed planet. The word futile comes to mind. New father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) wants to save his son, and perhaps the future of the Kryptonian race. I’d go into it, but it would take forever and I’m not sure I have it 100% clear in my mind anyway. Zod and his henchmen (and henchwoman) are arrested and sentenced to the Phantom Zone and Jor-El jets young Kal-El to the safety of earth, where he is found and raised by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane).
All grown up, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a lost soul looking for answers. He wanders the world, searching. “Searching for what?” you might ask. Good question. But it’s lucky he is, because he happens to end up in Canada, where the military have located a very large unknown object buried under the ice. But this isn’t the Fortress of Solitude. This is a Kryptonian scouting ship, sent 18,000 years prior, in search of uncharted territories. Here Clark gets all his answers, finds out who he is, and where he’s from. But that’s not all. He also gets a love interest in Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and a fancy new wardrobe too.
So General Zod arrives seeking vengeance, and a piece of real estate to call his own. You think you could escape it since Lex Luthor isn’t in the film? Think again. This is the ultimate real estate scam. New Krypton or bust. For earth’s sake, let’s hope it’s a bust!
Sarky plot synopsis aside, ‘Man of Steel’ (hereby known as ‘MOS’) is a pretty good film. It’s no ‘Batman Begins’, but there’s a lot to like. First of all, this is far and away the best film Zack Snyder has directed. That may seem like faint praise considering his previous best was an animated talking owl movie, but it is the case. Nearly all of the stylistic nonsense that plagued his earlier films are thankfully missing. Most pleasing is the complete absence of slow motion. He directs the film with a satisfying competence, with only one irritating flourish to sully some decent work. That flourish is the digital zoom. I first saw this used in ‘Attack of the Clones’, and later in ‘Avatar’. In those films I only noticed it once, maybe twice. But in ‘MOS’ it is used in almost every single shot that portrays Superman flying, or an aircraft in flight. It’s not the end of the world, but by the fiftieth time you see the effect it gets a bit tiresome.
The screenplay, written by David S. Goyer (‘The Dark Knight’ films) is suitably epic, and the film definitely sets itself apart from previous iterations of the character. I personally would have preferred that the film were told in chronological order, as the flashbacks to Clark’s childhood might have allowed the film some downtime and character development. Kevin Costner is criminally underused, and I wanted to see more of their relationship and Clark’s childhood. The film seemed like it was in a hurry to get passed the obligations of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Possibly because it is familiar territory to anyone who’s seen ‘Superman: The Movie’, but I think it has more to do with the fact that what worked for ‘Batman Begins’ will work for ‘MOS’.
The other element missing from the film is probably the same scenario as I’ve just mentioned. ‘MOS’ is almost devoid of joy. There are mildly amusing moments here and there, but overall its tone is relentlessly serious. Because of the nature of the screenplay, the film never stops long enough to allow a scene of lightheartedness or dare I say it, comedy. The only moment when Henry Cavill is allowed to smile is when Supes first takes flight. It’s a fleeting moment of joy in an otherwise square-jawed, brooding performance. This isn’t a knock at Cavill, because he does square-jawed and brooding quite well, and it’s obviously the performance he was asked to deliver. I just miss some of the goofy Clark Kent as an awkward klutz performance that Christopher Reeve nailed so perfectly. Whether or not that was true to the comics, I don’t know. I haven’t read them. But for me, that lighthearted tone helped contrast the square jawed heroics of Superman.
The star performance of the film goes to Russell Crowe. He has considerable screen presence, and amidst the hectic storytelling, he brings an element of centred calm and balance to the film. Be it busting chops or merely expositioning (of which he does the lions share), Crowe is eminently watchable and it’s something of a disappointment when he finally departs. Michael Shannon is an actor of incredible power and intensity, and he’s not bad as Zod, but I have the sneaking suspicion his hearts not in it. Particularly after seeing him so recently in ‘The Iceman’. He’s an effective villain, but not a particularly memorable one. Amy Adams does what she can, but the film doesn’t sell the love story, and her character isn’t particularly well written.
So it’s a mixed bag so far, you probably think. You’re right, there are both good and not so good things about the film. It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t completely deliver on its promise. But there’s one thing ‘MOS’ does do that will get any fan of funny books excited. It brilliantly establishes a universe. Anyone thinking Christopher Nolan’s Batman could co-exist in the world that ‘MOS’ has created should think again. The film is a large scale science fiction epic, and it offers tantalising possibilities for future instalments of Superman, as well as other characters in this universe. A new interpretation of Batman is necessary (but not one we need right now). But more importantly, I feel this is a universe where the more fantastical DC characters like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter can co-exist. This is almost definitely their intention, and they’ve absolutely nailed it. There’s a lot more in store for Superman and the Justice League, and despite my petty grumblings, I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
‘Man of Steel’ flies in for 2.5 Superbrats out of a possible 4.