Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and Christopher Nolan (Memento, Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception) team up for the reimagining of the most iconic superhero of all time. The man in red-and-blue (minus the underpants in the redesign) this time is facing off against those from his homeland and you can be certain the outcome will be as epic as the title character deserves and although Henry Canvill does show a great modesty and human qualities as alien Clark Kent/Superman, it seems as though the dazzling special effects seem to be a distraction from the lack of wittiness we’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even to a degree the Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Snyder spends the entire 143 minutes trying to find the film’s identity through grand battles rather the development of the characters. In essence, you may leave the cinema believing (and rightly so) that Man of Steel could have risen to become so much more, which is the same enigma Clark Kent has to battle with throughout.
With David Goyer and Nolan, both responsible for bringing us the brilliantly gothic Dark Night series, the comparisons between the films will be inevitable. Man of Steel starts off in the same fashion as Batman Begins as we focus on Kal-El’s origin story. Krypton is dying since its leaders recklessly used its natural resources and in order to ensure the survival of their race, leading scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and doting wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their son off to a planet where “he will be a God” to their people. He crash lands on earth, is brought up on a Kansas farm and… Well let’s be frank everyone knows the rest. We foray into Clark’s past (Much like we did Bruce Wayne’s in Begins) through flashbacks, and we start to see (if we already didn’t guess) the types of tribulations an alien outsider has to deal with in human society. Whether it is learning to filter your senses during elementary school or healing the wounds of cute reporters in your Fortress of Solitude, when and perhaps whether Kal-El should use these powers is the question he must find an answer to. It’s in these scenes Cavill does justice to the role; perfectly balancing the agonising decision to do right by his Earth father (played well by Kevin Costner) and be invisible, or live for his bio-father Jor-El and be extraordinary.
With all great heroes there must also be villains and General Zodd has come to Earth looking for the item known as the Codex that will restore Krypton to its former glories. Superman must now decide: will he stand with his race, or with his adopted race? With the answer obvious, Zodd is more than a capable foe. Michael Shannon plays Zodd in a way so that we understand and almost sympathise with his motives, yet his forceful and destructive nature cause Superman to do the one thing what is necessary to defeat him. Zodd’s desire to restore Krypton clashes against Superman desire to preserve life rather than destroy it and in this reboot I was certainly shell-shocked to find out how far the director made the Man of Steel go to indeed preserve life.
Of course the CGI is very impressive. What Snyder showed us in 300 is that he had an eye for imagery epic, landscape encompassing fight scenes, and in Man of Steel we see a gloriously hard edged skyline stupendously smashed to pieces by Zodd and Superman. And the monochrome palette creates the dark, serious tone that superhero movies have been going towards over the past decade, and of course you’d expect that from a Nolan production. But this highlights the problem. There seemed to be an emphasis on mise-en-scene rather than character development. Amy Adams’ roles in Enchanted, the Master and the Fighter prove that she is one of Hollywood’s finer actresses, yet as Lois Lane she is reduced nothing more than a spirited reporter. She’s determined and clever (“I’m a Pulitzer-Prize winner!”, she cries. “Act like one then!!!”, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) retorts) yet not a lot more.
As for the chemistry between her and Superman, there’s nothing to write home about. The funny moments do indeed bring about a smile; but they were few and far between. But considering the film was supposedly meant to be conceptualized in the Dark Knight tone I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Snyder’s reboot was meant to do what Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns failed to do: Make tons of money at the box office. Smash up bad guys. Look cool doing it. However although I’m not a Superman fanatic I’m sure that’s not what Superman’s about. It was not difficult seeing the analogy for Jesus as Clark first puts on his cape at 33 years old and sits down in the church with angelic stained glass in the background. As I said before, he is meant to preserve rather than destroy. Clark spent his trying childhood and most of his adulthood trying not to use his powers unabashedly ‘til a Kryptonian ship with his dad’s conscious popped up in the Artic.
When I left the cinema, I wasn’t sure if this was the Superman fans had been waiting for. The action set pieces were certainly exhilarating and spellbinding, none of the actors did a bad job in taking up their century old roles and the Man of Steel himself wasn’t too bad either. But surely the point of cinema is to push boundaries? Does Man of Steel give us something new? Not really. You might find my description of the plot a bit unclear and that’s because the film slightly is. A certain master of cinema once said humour is the easiest way to keep an audience engaged yet Steel was void of it for the most part. It’s frustrating because it could have been so much more. Looking toward the sequel, Snyder or whoever takes on that ominous task must be careful not to fall into the Michael Bay mistake of making things too big. The set pieces put Iron Man 3’s to shame.
All in all, does Man of Steel do what you’d expect from a popcorn movie? Yes. Will you remember every single part of it? I doubt. Does it give us food for thought or anything new to chew on? Definitely not. But the summer blockbuster season would be poorer without it.