Man of Steel Reviews
The film just struggles. You can feel the film struggling. Even with the things it does right, "Steel" labors to be interesting and in many ways creates a mess for itself.
Let's start with what it has rewritten. It has given Lois Lane (the miscast Amy Adams) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) "more" to do and with that it effectively gives Superman/Clark (a stiff but physically perfect Henry Cavill) a lot less to do making him not as compelling in the story as he should be. And despite Lois' increased role, she's pretty inconsequential.
And those are just the few character shortcomings in the film. There are many others you can quibble with but the films biggest problem? It's boring. As nonsensical as it seems that a film with such extraordinary subject matter is so boring, it inexplicably is. Even the scenes with awesome effects like the great fight sequence between Superman and his two Kryptonian opponents is hampered by the corniest exposition dialogue. But the action sequences save the film from being a disaster.
Too bad Zach Snyder directed this film as his penchant for flashy visual effects without any substance hurts the film. He seems to not understand how to effectively use his camera to best showcase humanity. What he fails to understand with this and his other films is that it is not just an actors job to invoke substance, he needs to pace films to let humanity show appropriately. He needs to stage scenes to showcase these moments. He's too consumed by dazzling the eye and ear that he forgets about dazzling the brain.
In their zeal to modernize Superman for a 21st century audience and replicate the record- shattering success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Snyder and co-writer David S. Goyer have abandoned the character's core strengths. Taking up the cape in the era of military drones and government surveillance, Snyder's Superman (Henry Cavil) is racked by fear. He hides his fantastic abilities until coaxed into action by the apocalyptic threat of General Zod (Michael Shannon), and though he is presented as a positive figure out to saves lives, the amount of destruction that follows in his wake makes him an ominous figure. In Snyder's vision, the red S is always an omen of impending destruction.
This unintentional inversion is partially an outgrowth of Snyder's lack of restraint. His successes and failures share a speed-ramped, go for broke intensity that seems almost tailor-made for the subtly free blockbusters of the modern era, but his maximalist aesthetic is wholly unsuitable for a Superman movie. His epileptic editing and hunger for large-scale violence lends an air of brutality to what should be an uplifting story. The inevitable clashes between super humans, which are normally a selling point for films like these, are rendered grotesque and horrible through Snyder's lens. The collateral damage is front and center and the sheer scope of the carnage would almost seem to suggest Snyder is attempting to critique the modern fascination with apocalyptic disaster imagery, but there is no point being made or lesson being imparted. As with his thinking man's masturbation fantasy "Sucker Punch" all the blood and thunder is just pretty wrapping paper for an empty box.
That said the wrapping paper is pretty great. Perhaps because Nolan and Warner Bros. didn't like Snyder's color timed-within-an-inch-of-its-life palette, the film is surprisingly naturalistic looking. This works better in some areas than others, with the Kansas set material featuring the finest cinematography in a Snyder film and his Heavy Metal take on the planet Krypton ranking as the most interesting element of a superhero movie this season. It works less well in the poorly defined city of Metropolis, where much of the film's third act takes place. The city looks blandly anonymous until people start pushing over buildings and then it looks uncomfortably like New York City, so much so that it takes the audience completely out of the movie. The fights between Zod and Superman move so quickly and are framed so jaggedly that they resemble high-definition cut scenes. And because Snyder was so impressed with how he was able to render a super powered hand- to- hand combat, the audience is treated to seemingly endless sequences of the same, and slowly but surely the fantastic becomes numbing. It makes for a strange viewing experience, like going on a roller coaster and then attending a college lecture. And none of the film's actors provide a respite from the tonal shifts.
While Henry Cavil is good at posing dramatically, he doesn't have much in the way of acting chops. Since there is no bumbling Clark Kent for him to play, Cavil largely has to play confident Superman and upset Superman, a task to which he mostly acquits himself, though he never pulls off inspiring Superman. It's a bit unfair to pillory Cavil since Snyder films aren't really known for their nuanced performances and "Man of Steel" is no exception. Russell Crowe's Jor-El seems stiff and lifeless even before he's turned into a computer program and Amy Adams' Lois Lane has some bite and agency but still spends most of her screen time getting rescued by dudes. Most disappointing is Michael Shannon, a dynamite character actor who is called upon to either bellow threats or calmly reiterate his character motivation. For all of his considerable talent, Shannon can't make Zod anything other than a genocidal manic. Without a strong storyteller at the helm, "Man of Steel's" performers get lost in its CGI maelstrom.
Superman, even with his antiquated code and slightly goofy uniform, is a highly adaptable figure. He inspired in the middle of the Great Depression, delighted children at the dawn of the television age, and soared to new heights right before John Wayne Gacy was captured. Social mores change, illusions of innocence are shattered and darkness is ever-present, but the idea of a child-friendly figure of pure altruism is indelible. With the character's optimism and indefatigability replaced by fear and insecurity he's just a branding opportunity in a cape. And products, no matter how well made, aren't inspiring.
Complaints were thrown all over the place after the disappointing "Superman Returns" hit the silver screen.
"Where's the action?"
"This Superman movie is boring."
"All Superman does is lift things."
Blah, blah, blah.
I, too, was disappointed with "Superman Returns". But I'll give it this: that film was the truer form of the comic book superhero compared to "Man of Steel".
Running off the fumes of the successful Dark Knight trilogy, "Man of Steel" attempts to carry the same tone as that trilogy, but it only serves as tone. The dark tone doesn't cohesively mesh with the plot, especially because the Superman saga is essentially a sci-fi action flick. "That's alright," I thought. As long as "Man of Steel" portrays an entertaining rendition of the rise of Superman, I'm good. Nope. "Man of Steel" adds nothing fresh or new to the old tale. Doesn't matter still -- as long as the drama for an old tale works, I'm sold. "Man of Steel" still comes out stilted. It makes me wonder why a film about the genesis of Superman was needed in the first place, and this is coming from someone that has not seen one Superman movie that starred Christopher Reeves.
It clicked: This movie was made purely to address the complaints of "Superman Returns". Oh, and it tried to redeem Superman's reputation, alright. What is, for the first half of the film, a somber and brooding film, explodes out into a Dragon Ball Z-esque, face smashing, concrete-breaking, building-exploding frenzy of quick cuts. Hey, if you thought "Superman Returns" was boring for Superman's lack of aggression, you sure get the complete opposite side of him in "Man of Steel". For the most part, the action is somewhat entertaining, but it's all cathartic violence with over-the-top set-pieces. In a crux, it's all mindless and forgetful. Possibly for that split second, you'll find yourself entertained, but once you walk to your car from the movie theater, you'll instantly forget. Albeit, you've never seen Superman action like this before. Gone are the weak-sauce green screen Superman action scenes. "Man of Steel" is rife with bodies being thrown through multiple stories of buildings, complete with skyscrapers falling on larger-than-life characters. You've never seen action in a live action movie like it. Still doesn't make it a marvelous achievement though.
All in all, "Man of Steel" is jarringly disappointing. The beginning half is a drama that never seems to stand on its two feet and the last half is an over-the-top action flick that doesn't exactly coexist with its tone. It's Zack Snyder's best movie, but that's not exactly saying much.
Getting to see so much of Krypton brought forth sheer delight. The opening is stunning, creating a real sense of wonder. The first time Clark takes flight, all that wonder comes flooding back.
Inter-cutting flashbacks of Clark's early childhood while he wanders the world alone searching for answers totally works from a storytelling standpoint. I could have asked for no greater exploration of the struggles of Clark Kent/Kal-El. Henry Cavill certainly looks and suits the many identities he takes on.
Jonathan and Martha Kent are the best parents a superhero could ask for. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are so damn good every moment they're on screen with young Clark and old. There's no doubt that Clark is all he is because of what they've instilled in him.
The flashback to a young caped Clark running around the backyard while his dad proudly watches on is perfection. The moment Costner holds his hand out is a fatherly sacrifice that hits you hard.
Speaking of fathers, Russell Crowe is a badass Jor-El! As with Krypton, I didn't expect to see so much of him, but was very glad to do so.
When I heard Michael Shannon was cast as Zod, my hype for 'Man of Steel' increased tenfold. He's one of my favourite actors working today. The menace in his Zod is evident, yet, I don't know if it's what I was expecting. I had higher hopes for him as a villain. His delivery of some lines early on felt rather jarring too.
The last hour descends into the all too familiar destruction of a city. I've seen this too often lately to be impressed by the scale of what happens. I wasn't invested in any of their lives, even Perry and co. There's a decent amount of cheese littered throughout. Some of plot advances are shaky at best.
Zod's death brings the focus back on Clark, ending things on a high. The gravity of taking his first life is evident on his face. No doubt the first of many new internal conflicts he'll face.
I can't forget Zimmer's score. Literally. It's been drumming away in my head from when I left the theatre through to writing this. Now to listen to it again on Rdio.
I had little faith in Snyder when the announcement was initially made. The trailer blew my mind, looking Malick-esque in parts. There's a lot he's done right to capture the essence of both Clark and Superman. Bring on Lex.