Starring: Henry Cavill (Immortals), Amy Adams (The Master), Michael Shannon (Premium Rush), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves)
Director: Zack Snyder (Watchmen)
Writer: David S. Goyer (Batman Begins)
Runtime: 2 hours 23 minutes
Release Date: 14 June (US, UK)
Superman has had an interesting career in the film industry. Richard Donner’s Superman was the first film to translate a comic book to the big screen and do it well, setting the standard for all to come and still holds up to this day despite its occasional lapses into goofiness. Superman II was enjoyable as well, but III was bad and IV: The Quest for Peace is arguably the worst superhero film ever made. After taking leave from the movie world for a while, Bryan Singer brought the hero back in Superman Returns to mixed results from fans (I, personally, think it’s pretty good and anyone who still feels differently should probably give it another shot from a different perspective). But how does Man of Steel fare? Does it soar to heights never reach by its predecessors, or is The Man of Tomorrow yesterday’s news?
The film’s story covers the basics that everyone and their dog knows about the story of Superman, but introduces enough new ideas and twists on familiar elements to keep it fresh. But on the whole, this is a fairly familiar plot on both a superhero and science-fiction level. It’s well done, but anyone can see the general direction this film is going in. The first act of the movie feels a bit jumbled, moving too fast and throwing so much exposition in your face that some may get lost in the shuffle. But by the time Kal-El dons the familiar blue tights, the film gets itself on the right track and works from there. The filmmakers have been making it clear they wanted to make a Superman that was more relatable and made more sense in a modern context. On that level, they’ve succeeded admirably. The events surrounding his reveal to the world and how they react fits with reality and the times we live in. But for a film that crosses the two hour mark, the lack of character development is disappointing. We get a general idea of who Kal-El and Lois and Zod and Jor-El are, but there is so much more they could have done but just don’t. What’s there is good but needs more built on top of it. Instead, Snyder fills the rest of the runtime with action spectacle. Good action, yes, but action doesn’t hold a candle to a well told story and fleshed out characters. The final act of the film is so packed with non-stop action that it starts to lose its lustre and becomes a bit stayed. After many complained that Returns was boring and needed more action, they’ve overcompensated and made a film with far too much action and a lack of patience.
Man of Steel boasts an impressive cast, and they all perform well with the material. Cavill looks the part as Superman, sounds the part and, thankfully, can act the part. He’s no Christopher Reeve, but who is? He certain embodies the character much more than Brandon Routh did (and I liked his performance). Amy Adams is a perfect fit for Lois Lane, providing that spunky charm and sheer determination the character is known for, though her romantic chemistry with Cavill feels a little too spontaneous. Michael Shannon is an imposing General Zod and he is clearly enjoying the opportunity to go crazy, but he lacks the menacing stoicness that made Terence Stamp’s Zod such an iconic villain (that and Shannon never gets to say “KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!!!). Antje Traue is a big surprise as Faora (basically the same character as Ursa from Superman II), often outshining even the mighty Shannon at points. Russell Crowe has more screen time than you’d expect and provides Jor-El with much more depth than the great but disinterested Marlon Brando did. Everyone else is good, but none really stand out as much as the aforementioned five.
The film’s marketing has been mostly presenting this film as a sombre, emotional piece more in line with a Christopher Nolan film. Don’t let that fool you. This is a Zack Snyder film, and that is plainly obvious from very early on. Whilst he does manage to avoid using his usual tropes, Snyder does rely heavily on his visuals and that is where his influence is mainly felt. Snyder has made the decision to shoot the entire film handheld, one that gives the film a very raw feel that mostly works to film’s advantage but does occasionally fall into the shaky-cam trap. Hans Zimmer’s score is suitably bombastic and fits the tone of the film, but nothing still beats the classic John Williams theme (my favourite film theme of all time). The production design emphasises the alien nature of the Kryptonians much more than previous adaptations but to mixed results. As cool as some of the technology looks, some of it comes across a bit silly (I’m looking at you, Kryptonian Supreme Council of Stupid Hats).
Man of Steel is nothing groundbreaking. It’s fun popcorn entertainment, just with a bit more effort and thought put into it than your average summer blockbuster. It sits on par with Superman Returns for me, but they are both good movies for completely different reasons. I know they were going for a completely different feel from the previous films, but I can’t help but feel that the original Superman is still the superior film. If this is to be the beginning of the DC Cinematic Universe, they’ve made a good start but next time around they need to calm down and tell a story more through character than through action. In their attempts to make Superman more modern and badass, they’ve lost what Superman truly represents as a character and what set Donner’s original film apart from every superhero film that has followed it: heart.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10