Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours, 23 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Harry Lennix, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
Written by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch)
As a life-long comic book fanatic - particularly of Superman - it is with a heavy-heart I report to you that Man of Steel (opening today) is another swing-and-miss take on the world's most well-known, iconic superhero. SPOILER ALERT: This review does include some minor plot spoilers and revelations, so read at your own risk!
It is impossible not to appreciate the effort that was put into this most current re-boot. Christopher Nolan - who rejuvenated Batman - was on-board to help with the story. David S. Goyer - who also played a part in Batman's resurgence, penning the screenplay to Batman Begins - wrote the Man of Steel script. Visual wizard Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) was given directorial duties, to ensure that this version of Superman packed a serious punch.
The result is a massive, epic and overly-serious origin film that does a lot right, while simultaneously selling itself short of greatness. Way short.
Most of us know the story of Superman: An alien, who shortly after being born, is sent off by his parents from his dying home planet of Krypton, crash landing in the fields of Kansas where he is raised by Ma and Pa Kent. Named Clark, this boy has incredibly special, super-human abilities and he grows up to be the world's protector in times of great crisis, flying faster than a speeding bullet with the ability to "leap" tall buildings in a single bound.
In Man of Steel, the Krypton portion of Kal-El's origin (Superman's original name) is fleshed out in greater detail than ever before, making his send-off more weighty in the process. His parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) shoot him off to Earth just in time. We learn that Jor-El is betrayed by his old comrade, General Zod (Michael Shannon), the character made famous as portrayed by Terence Stamp in the 1980 film, Superman II(the character of Zod first appeared in the comics in the early 60s).
The film unfolds by first telling us this Krypton story, but then paints the picture of Kal-El's (portrayed as an adult by Henry Cavill) on-Earth past in a series of non-linear flashbacks, a la Lost. Ma (Diane Lane) and particularly Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) leave quite the impression on their strange new "son," raising him to become the "super" man that he is destined to be and instilling within him his wholesome principles.
All is well, until shortly after Superman's main squeeze, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is introduced on the scene. She is an embedded-in-the-action news reporter for the Daily Planet, who we know eventually falls in love with Superman. After we meet her in the film, Kal-El happens across an ancient, buried ship from Krypton and the film derails into a murky and messy place from that point forward, relying heavily on exposition and implausible plot points to navigate itself through the rest of the way.
The minute "ghost dad" appears (you'll know), everything becomes nearly laughable. Zod and Kal-El plow forth towards their inevitable show-down and apparently the stakes grow higher and higher the more carnage that Snyder can cram onto the frame. This is a visually stunning film, but you can only throw your characters through so many walls and buildings before the action becomes repetitive and boring.
Why, for example, doesn't Jor-El do more once he is programmed into the mainframe of Zod's ship? He apparently can only make doors on the ship open and close. How does his "essence" know so much about what has transpired? By far the laziest development of all is how Kal-El happens into his Super-suit...it's apparently been waiting for him in an abandoned alien ship all along, fit perfectly to his current size and frame.
The way the script was developing, there could have been far better ways for Kal-El to discover his past and learn about himself. But the character development - so ambitiously stuck to in the first portion of the film - is quickly side-stepped for the sake of epic mayhem.
As Zack Snyder absolutely destroys Metropolis, Superman is lauded a hero, despite the massive casualties and damages that had to have been incurred during the melee. These things are apparently inconsequential. By the way, Kal-El is only referred to as Superman once in the film by my count, because you know, calling him by that name would just be uncool and expected.
That sort of attitude is and always will be the problem with screen adaptations of Superman: The continuous attempt at making this character "cool" to no avail. When they made Batman "darker" than the "wham!", "pow" version from the old TV show, it worked brilliantly, because Batman is inherently a dark character. Superman however, is not dark and brooding, so why apply the same rules to fixing him as were applied to Batman? Marvel - not DC Comics - has its finger on the pulse of how to re-invent their beloved characters. Look at Thor, for example...even Iron Man. Both are admittedly "lame" characters on the page of the comics, who were turned into "cool" movie characters able to carry a franchise film series.
How? Neither of those mentioned films took themselves too seriously and both films were tons of fun. Ultimately, fun is the missing element from Man of Steel.
Beyond its somber tone, it includes several moments and events that just don't make sense. Lois Lane doesn't belong in space, Jor-El's spirit doesn't belong embedded in the mainframe of an alien ship and Superman is not dark, nor did he become one of the most beloved comic book characters of all-time because he was some sort of rebel bad-ass. The day they finally get Superman right is the day that they put a bit of confidence in his infallible character and treat the story as it deserves...embracing the fact that he is the ultimate Boy Scout and not James Dean.
Man of Steel gets the "faster than a speeding bullet" part right, but it stumbles miserably upon attempting to leap the tall hurdles created in this tale...obstacles that were placed there by the story-tellers themselves. Since a sequel has already been green-lit, we will undoubtedly get to see where they take this tale from here.
There is effort oozing from every frame of of this movie, it's just a bit misguided. If they were smart, they would start brainstorming the next installment with one simplistic question: How do we make Superman fun again? The Christopher Reeve versions may not have been perfect, but it definitely captured the proper tone and spirit of the comics. Superman just has to stand for more than what Man of Steel represents.
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