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Man of Steel (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

MAN OF STEEL (2013)

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner

Written By: David S. Goyer (also story), Christopher Nolan (story) Directed By: Zack Snyder

The Short Version

The “troubled hero for the new millennium” thing has officially gone too far.

The cast is excellent; everyone does a fine job.

The heavy CG – especially early on – does the movie no favors.

Nor does turning Superman into something very un-Superman-like.

Man of Steel is 140-odd minutes of Wrong.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

AMERICAN.

Not very good, even for all the marketing, is it?


Pairs Well With...

BUDWEISER.

The bland beer that Clark Kent knocks back at the farmhouse. ‘Merica.

“What if I have to tinkle?”


It’s practically inevitable: when a character lives past the time from which he or she originally came, some tweaking will be done to appeal to the latter-day audience.  Superman is certainly no stranger to this idea; he’s been through it lots of times.  Buy Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a step too far.

It’s been the trend since the millennium turned (and even during the decade prior to that) to swing away from the “good guy” archetype and go more for the “brooding antihero” or, at the very least, “disturbed emo dude.”  It’s a trend that audiences – including me – have eaten up, with no better example to be found than with DC’s other great comic book hero, Batman, whose recent trilogy of films under the direction of Christopher Nolan enjoyed massive critical and financial success, and with good reason.  It is, however, important to note that Nolan’s darker Batman holds true to the essence of what the character had always been: a brooding personality that very easily lends itself to the term “Dark Knight.”

Unfortunately, all the suits seem to have noticed is the accounting spreadsheet, and so they decided to try copying the formula used by Nolan and company to create Batman Begins et.al., making it into the newest attempt at rebooting Superman.  (They even borrowed the concept of titling the movie after the hero’s nickname, Man of Steel.  How very The Dark Knight of them.)  Nolan was brought on to produce and to help develop the story, David S. Goyer was brought on to write the screenplay, and Zack Snyder (who’d already done a very dark comic turn at the helm of Watchmen) was chosen to direct and to give the film its ultimate vision.

Somewhere along the way, everyone seems to have forgotten which character they were making a movie about.

Whether updating the Superman character as a superhero trying to have a love life or as a super adolescent dealing with growing up in a small town, one thing has remained consistent since 1940: he’s been a righteous goody two shoes.  (And even in his early years, he limited his roughness to just the bad guys.)  The idea of him not just allowing but indeed willfully causing extreme amounts of collateral damage of a sort that not only destroys enough property to put some air raids to shame but which inevitably must also cost thousands of lives should seem utterly inconceivable.  And yet that is exactly what this movie’s Superman does, leaving behind a trail of wanton destruction that even the Hulk would call a disastrous mess.  A choice to dispatch an enemy who is about to kill a few innocents in front of him is supposed to represent an extreme moment in this film, but after watching Superman cause a ton of innocent deaths just moments before, I’m not buying it.  One could argue a point of tunnel vision, but Superman is not supposed to have that kind of tunnel vision.  He’s the guy who will go out of his way to save a stray kitten.  He is not the guy who will do just as much if not more damage to Metropolis than the baddies did just so he can play Smackdown without a mat, and he sure as hell wouldn’t commit genocide.

Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer can call this guy whatever they want, but he is not Superman.

He may have started out as Superman in an early draft, but then the ghost of Bruce Wayne started showing up and coloring Clark Kent with a darker palette, and after deciding that the crash of his spaceborne baby carriage onto the Earth was going to become a new spin a Roswell and that suddenly our focus was going to be on treating him as the first confirmed alien on the planet… well, it’s an interesting idea and all, but in terms of execution, forget it, even if you don’t really give a damn about who Superman may have been before Man of Steel came out.  (That is a perfectly valid perspective, and indeed, one that should be expected of any viewer by default.  Hell, even having some background, I shouldn’t care either; I usually don’t like the goody two shoes archetype anyway.  But…)

In terms of story, despite having a kitchen sink full of ideas tossed in – a world’s destruction, alien contact, cultural paranoia, leaking information, outlawing sexual reproduction, the aforementioned genocide angle, and double the daddy issues, to name a few – Man of Steel feels remarkably shallow and weak; a parade of “one damn thing after another” without much room for real depth.  There are lots of speeches – Man of Steel is nothing if not expository – but they’re mostly platitudes or foregone conclusions.  The characters don’t really move the story; there are maybe two or three scenes at most that can be accused of displaying actual character development, as opposed to the majority of the film which just has characters behaving differently from scene to scene and the script hoping the audience believes that it’s because of a monologue sometime before.  Indeed, the only means by which the overburdened script is finally able to get the plot going toward its climax is by the literal introduction of a god into the machine, featuring the holographic presence of Jor-El as a constant Game Guide telling players how to advance to the next level, admonishing the villain, and preventing mobs from doing the heroes any real harm before the final boss fight.  It’s the single weakest plot device there is, and it’s all this movie’s got.  (Let’s not even get into the plot’s initial facepalm: sentencing the Kryptonian insurrectionists to a prison off planet while all of the good people are left on a dying world that they know will explode days later.  Yes, I know it’s canon, but that doesn’t change the inherent stupidity of it.)

Meanwhile, the shallow story plays over a vast CGI backdrop that immediately brings to mind everything that the detractors of the Star Wars prequels love to hate; indeed, my thoughts during the first fifteen minutes of the movie jockeyed between comparing Krypton to Naboo minus the foliage and comparing the action in general to the orgy of gratuitous CGI that opened Revenge of the Sith.  After a little while, you’ll find yourself amazed that any real locations were used in the movie at all.  It’s a pattern that continues throughout the film; Zack Snyder is, after all, a visual stylist above all else, and he’s happy to go to the computer as a first resort for nearly everything.  (Except for rock hard abs; those he expects to be real.)  This is why Superman’s unitard (which turns out to be Kryptonian long underwear), which already looks like a glossy bath mat (complete with the little nubs that keep one’s feet from slipping), is often given a CGI cape in place of a real one, and why much of the action looks like cutscenes taken from video games.  For a story that’s allegedly centered on our hero finding his place in the real world, this film sure goes out of its way to create a distractingly unreal world.

But…

Man of Steel has one ace up its sleeve: the cast.  First and foremost, Henry Cavill is an excellent Superman.  Even if his constantly resetting blank slate of a character can’t hold the same personality for more than a scene at a time, that’s not his fault; he delivers the absolute best performance possible under the circumstances, and if nothing else, I walked away from the movie feeling that someone worthy was ready to pick up Christopher Reeve’s legacy.  Amy Adams plays an outstanding (heavily reimagined) Lois Lane.  Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner deliver their daddy monologues well; listening to their voices, one could almost pretend they’re not empty.  Almost.  Diane Lane is simply magnificent in the role of Mrs. Kent.  And so on down the line.  There’s not a bad performance to be found here, and again, the actors can’t be blamed for the script.

It’s a script that tries too hard to be something that it never should have been.  Unfortunately, David S. Goyer, Zack Snyder and company seem to have missed the fact that the elements that count as “right” for Batman are not “right” for Superman.  Or whoever this alien guy is supposed to be.

Bottom line, despite having an excellent and indeed blameless cast, Man of Steel is massive disappointment.  For those who already have a picture of what Superman should be, it borders on betrayal, and for anyone else, it’s a hollow, jumbled mess that uses monologues and computer graphics to try and fake being an epic. Oh, and fun?  Forget that, too.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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