The Superman reboot, Man of Steel, is really a 148 minute prologue, a lengthy introduction to what I’m sure Warner Brothers hopes will be a hugely profitable franchise in the way the Dark Knight was. The fact that a sequel is already in the works even before this first edition is released is proof of that. Everything we see is something seen before, though told in a different way. That in itself is no bad thing – a fresh perspective of an old idea is always welcomed – but Man of Steel has other problems.
We see Superman’s outer space origins, his conflicted youthful days on Earth, his relationship with his real and his adopted parents, his sometimes emotionally painful adjustment to being super, and his eventual integration into earthbound society while hiding his real identity behind a pair of black framed glasses. And despite the spectacle, the mind-boggling special effects and the life or death conflicts that present themselves every other minute, the film commits the cardinal sin of being a bore.
Part of the problem is there’s just too much. Director Zack Snyder is good at making things look great but he pours on so much he forgets to say when. Just at the moment when you think that maybe it’s over, there’s more, then there’s more again.
British actor Henry Cavill makes a good-looking Superman. Whether he can act is difficult to tell as the screenplay asks of only one expression throughout; mournful concern. As a young boy trying to adapt to Earth’s ways he appears to be in a constant state of frowning, and it rarely gets better into adulthood. But that also illustrates another problem with the film; like Superman’s dour expression, Man of Steel is determined to be oh-so serious throughout.
If there’s one thing that has made most recent superhero films like Thor, Iron Man and The Avengers fun is the humor, but Man of Steel isn’t having any of it. This film is determined to go the heavy, dark, humorless route. There’s not a single laugh or light moment to be had until roughly the hundred minute mark when Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s mom remarks, “Nice suit, son,” after seeing him in his new Superman costume for the first time. The overall impression is cold and clinical. Without the depth or emotion there’s no connection, and without the connection you’re left totally unengaged.
Michael Shannon plays the principle villain, General Zod, and he’s terrific. Shannon rarely gives a bad performance, and with Man of Steel he’s the one element that actually injects life into the proceedings, even if his dialog is clunky and obvious. No matter what he says he’s basically saying the same thing; “I’m going to kill you,” but at least he delivers it with gusto.
Amy Adams plays Lois Lane, and in Man of Steel, Lois is a little different from the hard-nosed His Girl Friday approach that we’ve seen in previous films. In this reboot, Lois is still the determined, intrepid reporter, but Adams lacks the kind of spunk you might ordinarily associate with the character. She’s too girly. As good as Adams can be in the right role, here she’s miscast and unable to inject the kind of aggressiveness Lois Lane requires. She never looks as though she can really handle herself in a tough situation. And forget Jimmy Olsen. Here, the photographer is a no-show.
The early destruction of the planet Krypton is impressive, as are most of the effects. Hardly a frame of film goes by without it being crammed with some computer generated element containing the wow factor, but too much of a good thing can under whelm, and Man of Steel doesn’t know when to stop. The level of destruction when Zod’s forces attack Earth is so extreme it’s practically on the level of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, or even Transformers, which, strangely enough, this film actually resembles. Skyscrapers come crashing down, one after another, while the population of Metropolis stand around and look to the skies in awe. We never see the human toll that the excessive damage does, just the hardware.
Director Snyder can make things look great and he excels when directing the action, but like his previous outings – 300, Watchmen and particularly Sucker Punch – he appears to have lost the ability to tell a story in the process. In the end it feels as though he’s just piling it on, determined to give an audience its money’s worth with eye-popping images but neglecting to tell a worthwhile tale in the process.
The ending suggests a new beginning, and without giving anything away, in the last couple of minutes there’s a hint that number two might have a little down-to-earth lightness in its telling, but a two and half hour introduction is a heck of a long way to go in order to get there. The gloomy, introspective, heavy approach may have worked for the Dark Knight, but let’s face it, even though the designers have muted the bright, comic book colors of Superman’s costume, it’s still a film about a guy flying around in a red cape wearing blue tights and red boots; you’d think there would be a moment of levity in there somewhere.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 148 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)