It has been one of the most anticipated and, subsequently, most hyped film releases of the year, but unfortunately Man of Steel fails to deliver on many fronts. Superman is an iconic character in print, in film and on television, so it is not surprising that studios still see him as a potential cash cow with yet another version of the tale of Clark Kent/Kal-El and his alter ego. The problem is that Director Zack Snyder seems to have set out purely to go ‘bigger’ than anything else before it, with little regard for story or performance. In fact, Snyder is an interesting choice to helm this production given his somewhat scratchy record with his previous works. I mean 300 was mediocre at best and while he made a reasonable fist of a difficult adaptation with Watchmen, Snyder’s most recent effort prior to this was the illogical and generally awful Sucker Punch.
With Man of Steel, Snyder has utilised the vast sums of money made available to him (estimated in excess of $200 million) to construct a film that is an unmitigated mess. The special effects are fantastic and due credit should go to those responsible, but special effects alone do not a movie make. It is clear that Snyder is following in the footsteps of the recent Batman trilogy by also taking his hero into ‘darker’ territory, but the problem is that Superman and Batman are two different beasts and Snyder is certainly not, at this stage of his career anyway, a visionary of the ilk of Christopher Nolan.
The opening scenes of the movie, which track the birth of Kal-El, his banishment to earth and the subsequent destruction of the planet Krypton are almost comical, with over-acting and corny dialogue aplenty. Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon – who is a fine actor slumming it in this drudge – are the worst offenders, with Crowe’s death scene particularly hilarious (but unintentionally so one would assume). The fact that Crowe, who plays Kal-El’s father Jor-El, keeps reappearing to offer advice and assistance to anyone prepared to listen despite being killed, only makes things worse. Told through a series of flashbacks, the strength of the film lies in the quieter moments, particularly those featuring Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent, as a young man struggling to come to terms with the powers he possesses.
Once the origin story, which is far too long and blows the running time out to well over two hours, is out of the way, the film settles into a typical superhero good versus evil narrative as General Zod (Shannon) declares his intention to kill Kent/Superman and colonise Earth as the new Krypton. A series of ridiculously overblown battles ensue that result in an enormous amount of wanton destruction in both Smallville and Metropolis that would have realistically resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. We are talking about skyscrapers crumbling one after the other, petrol stations exploding and hundreds of cars (and their occupants) being crushed, hardly a way for our so-called hero to ingratiate himself with those he is supposedly protecting. When the dust finally settles – but not before a final one-on-one smackdown between Zod and Superman in the rubble-strewn streets – it is no surprise that our hero prevails.
The cast is good, so it is hard to really understand why it all went so wrong. While Henry Cavill is quite suitable in the lead role and does an effective job, it is Kevin Costner who impresses most as Clark’s adoptive father Jonathon Kent. Amy Adams does the best she can as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne takes on the role of newspaper editor Perry White and Diane Lane has little to do as Martha Kent. It was good to see some television regulars in key supporting roles with Christopher Meloni (Law and Order), Harry Lennix (Dollhouse) and Richard Schiff (The West Wing) all featuring.
With the somewhat trite ending having set the scene for a sequel, we can only hope that the next chapter in the Superman story doesn’t take itself quite so seriously. After all, The Avengers proved that a little humour can go a long way when you want people to engage with a premise that defies logic.