Man of Steel – Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan reboot the man in the red and blue suit

Superhero/comic book movies have been the in trend for years now and are one of the easiest ways for studios to earn a buck at the box office. That being said, not all of them are successful. For every Batman Begins (2005) or Avengers Assemble (2012) we get a Green Lantern (2011) or a Daredevil (2003). And lately one of the most popular superhero franchises has fallen into the latter category, and that is Superman. After two critically acclaimed Superman films (as well as two duds in Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)) Bryan Singer tried rebooting Supes for this generation amongst a slew of other hit comic book adaptations, such as his own X-Men films and the first two Spider-Man’s by Sam Raimi. The result was Superman Returns (2006), and it fell ridiculously flat due to a bad script and overlong plot. However after years of other more recent comic book film triumphs like the Iron Man trilogy, it was inevitable that someone else would be given the chance of remaking Supes yet again. And that task was given to director Zack Snyder, as well as producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, the latter two already familiar with the superhero world after their work on the excellent The Dark Knight trilogy. All three have been working at rebooting the superhero in yet another origins tale about the man from Krypton…or as he’s known here, the ‘Man of Steel’.

When we first meet Superman, or Kal-El as he is called on his home planet of Krypton, he is a newborn baby living with his happy parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer). However their happiness is soon under threat with the imminent destruction of Krypton. Knowing the only hope for their son is to send him to safety, Jor-El sacrifices himself by using a genetic codex to send Kal-El to another planet. The evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) who wants the codex for himself kills Jor-El, but is imprisoned for his cruel actions. Years later and we discover that Kal-El is living on Earth under the name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), having been raised on an isolated Kansas farm with his ‘adoptive’ parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane). That is when he’s not off on one of his many jobs, trying to earn a wage while attempting to keep his super powers hidden from the world. His secret may not be safe for long though. While working a job in the Arctic and infiltrating a site the U.S. military are investigating, he discovers a Kryptonian spaceship buried in the ice. Trouble is roving reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) also discovers it and finds out Clark’s secret too. Not only this, but there is soon another mysterious spaceship heading for Earth that contains a certain villain inside…

First of all let me start with a confession: Superman has never been one of my favourite superhero characters. He is too invulnerable to harm, too powerful, whereas other DC heroes like Batman are human and therefore more flawed, and in turn more realistic. The only thing that can really stop Supes though is Kryptonite – a specific flaw that doesn’t really offer too many problems for him the rest of the time. And for this reason Man of Steel (2013) did slightly surprise me content wise. This origins story focuses a lot more on the problem Clark faces through trying to keep his powers a secret from the rest of the world who would surely ostracise him if they knew. In his script David S. Goyer makes a point of humanising him a lot more and making him vulnerable in other ways, portraying him as just another ordinary (albeit ridiculously muscular) guy trying to make his way in the world. One method Goyer uses to make us feel more sympathetic towards him is by using flashbacks throughout the first two halves of the film showing us Clark’s distressing childhood as he tries to get to grips with who he really is. One scene in particular in which Clark first discovers his powers whilst at school is genuinely heartbreaking and tragic.

So while watching these first parts of Man of Steel, I was actually impressed and engrossed in the story. However as soon as Clark puts on that famous red and blue suit, the old issues I have with this particular superhero returned. True, Goyer does keep the plot interesting by using the Kryptonite issue in a new way, but other than this the rest of the film becomes the same old same old – baddie rears his ugly head, Supes has to stop him. This is then the moment in the plot at which director Zack Snyder quickly descends the film into action madness. Like Snyder’s previous bland film, Sucker Punch (2011), it then becomes all action, no plot. Sure, these set pieces in Man of Steel are impressive (in particular one in which people in Metropolis flee as skyscrapers collapse around them), but you soon become bored with this vapid nonsense. By the time the inevitable final battle between our hero and villain comes into play (in which you can’t even tell what’s bloody happening anyway), you’ll be thoroughly tired of it all, in particular because two equally matched characters in terms of power makes for an incredibly boring fight. Who knew? This overindulgence of action is a huge shame given that Christopher Nolan is in the producer’s chair and is also responsible for the story (both him and Goyer came up with the narrative for this one). His Batman trilogy always had its fair share of action moments, but these always felt more restrained and focused on the characters rather than the fights, a method that Snyder would have benefited from greatly here.

This leads me to the other major flaw of the film – Man of Steel takes itself FAR too seriously. Ok, so this grit does give the story slightly more gravitas, especially a poignant plot point involving Clark’s adoptive father Jonathan, but this sombre tone doesn’t always work throughout the film. Marvel films feel ‘comic-booky’ and fun alongside the serious moments. DC films sometimes make the tone too dark. This works for something like The Dark Knight trilogy as it is married in the real world (plus those films always did have a slight hint of humour to them), but for a story of an alien from another planet who can fly? – you need a touch of lightness to keep you distracted, which Man of Steel doesn’t even have in the tiniest amount.

That all being said, amongst the criticisms there are a few redeeming points to the film. Henry Cavill as the choice for Clark/Superman is perfect, and not just looks wise. He is able to humanise Kal-El and create a man who although looks strong, is weak beneath the surface from the many problems he faces, as well as hopelessly lonely. Amy Adams also makes for a convincing and grittier Lois Lane who actually gets to do something. And (of course) Michael Shannon is superb and ridiculously scary as the menacing General Zod. There can also be no denying that Zack Snyder knows how to direct a film, at least style wise. Man of Steel looks beautiful, Snyder’s stunning cinematography creating beautiful images that use bold but muted colours. His direction and the overall design in the opening scenes on the planet Krypton are also impressive. But at the end of the day, this just makes for a film that is all style and very little substance, which is exactly what the disappointing Sucker Punch was.

Man of Steel is a decent reboot and entertaining enough at times, but the long running time and repeated fight scenes will really test your patience (even those who usually like their action, which I assure you, I do). Sure the cast are great and the film is gorgeous to look at, but the film takes itself far too seriously and ends up being an endurance test rather than a film you would love to see again and again. Plot wise the final scenes could have been a lot more stimulating and maybe stuck to the tone of the first few parts in which we see a more human, likeable Clark. A lighter mood for the (inevitable) sequel as well as a more interesting plot with less action might mean Zack Snyder can win us over…or at least win me over (that is if he directs the sequel). For now though? – poor effort in my opinion.


~ by square-eyed-geek on July 17, 2013.

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