Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Upon word of director Zack Snyder being given the reins to Man of Steel, I was worried the studio had just Sucker Punched Superman. After sitting through all 143 minutes (btw, there’s no bonus after the credits), I suppose I shouldn’t have been so worried.
Now that’s not to say Snyder was the best choice but one must factor in just how much influence producer and co-story creator Christopher “I resurrected Batman” Nolan would have on the project. The tone is a blend of Snyder’s Watchmen with Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and by that I mean that it’s all so serious (feel free to say that last bit like Heath Ledger). What made the Richard Donner-led Superman movies so great was a mix of the action with plenty of light and comedic moments (let’s save the debate on Superman II‘s credited director for another time). Superman, after all, is the world’s most powerful Boy Scout; he’s the polar opposite of the characters either Snyder or Nolan are known for bringing to the screen. So when throwing around what blame I feel like throwing around, I’m not placing it all at the feet of Snyder – which is about the biggest surprise of the entire production really.
To no surprise, considering both Snyder and Nolan, there’s a slight retooling of the manner in which the story is told. While the marquee may say Man of Steel, it’s far more apropos to entitle this reboot Man of Flashback. It’s fine to use one or two times but once we get to Superman himself (first we have to sit through the destruction of Krypton once again, if that’s a spoiler alert you shouldn’t be watching the movie anyway), there’s a stream of flashbacks. I’m all for changing up the linearity of story-telling but this was a bit much. It seemed like every time adult Clark Kent saw an object that the camera lingered on far too obviously, he’d reference some pivotal moment of his life.
They also changed up some items fans have grown to take as gospel so I’m not sure if die-hards will take offense or not. Now, it’s not that you have to keep all 5 previous films within the timeline of this newest installment; even Superman Returns ignored Richard Pryor and Jon Cryer’s contributions to the franchise. However, the net result of the changes do not bear more dramatic fruit and why do an origin story at all? Are there really that many people in the world who don’t know the basic origin of Superman? He’s been around since the 1930s, in a plethora of comic books, multiple cartoons, at least 3 different television series, and have I mentioned the FIVE previous movies?
Including the origin seems only important to allow Snyder and the team to ensure the running time is fully felt by the audience, and that the CGI budget can exceed the GDP of Tuvalu (yes, it’s a real country, I found it on Wikipedia, you can too). Here’s where one of the more annoying aspects of the film comes to play. While I fully appreciate the scope and the scale of the destruction laid by Superman and his foes (this makes the final batter in The Avengers look like a light skirmish), it’s all done so obviously by the technological wizardy of computers that much of it might as well have been a cartoon. How this level of power is going to fit in the inevitable Justice League movie alongside other heroes, most of whom simply don’t rate in comparison, will be one of the elements I’m most interested to see managed.
Back to this film, the acting is … well, less than super. Henry Cavill acquits himself nicely into the role of Clark Kent/Superman, and certainly looks the part (I understand why most women I know are quite happy with this casting). Michael Shannon was a fine choice when casting the villain, General Zod, as he’s the go-to actor for menacing/unbalanced these days. Less successful were some of other cast members. I didn’t mind Amy Adams as Lois quite as much as other critics I know but I do agree she was a bit too involved in the action sequences (any one of which should have ended with her squished like a grape) and am not the biggest fan of the tweak to the canonical history of the Superman universe both exemplified by her character and that of Clark’s “father” Jonathan (Kevin Costner). Speaking of which, both sets of parents of Superman (real and adoptive) all played it on the heavy-handed side.
Really, when it comes down to it, I’d choose the Donner-version of everything but some of the special effects any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. I enjoyed this version well enough but there’s a complete emotional disconnect between Snyder’s presentation and the audience. I simply didn’t care about anyone on screen; I was never invested. It’s generally entertaining but even with all of the problems with the story and resolution to the much-hated Brandon Routh installment, I at least managed to care about most of its characters and there was a balance between the light and dark aspects of the proceedings.
Still, I doubt any manner of lukewarm review will slow down fanboys and fangirls in their mad rush to the theaters. However, please make sure to choose a 2D showing. Not only is the 3D ineffective for 99% of the movie, I simply took my glasses off for about half an hour and while some edges were a smidge blurry, I preferred the colors quite a bit more without the glasses and only put them back on after deciding what little distortion there was probably wasn’t good for my already less than perfect eyesight.
Man of Steel will need to make a yellow sun-sized pile of cash to make Warner Bros. less hesitant to go forward with a sequel of equal budget proportion and keep moving towards that Justice League movie but the current state of the box office will likely allow that to happen. Hopefully, the tone of future sequels/tie-ins will be handled a bit better. Until then, I’ll just wait to see if the studios can figure out a way to make either Wonder Woman or Aquaman work on the big screen; they’re essential to the Justice League … and far easier to get completely wrong than to make even competently believable in an ever-increasingly cynical world. Good luck, WB. You’re going to need it.
Man of Steel opens in theaters on June 14, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
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