In an age where social media is nearly impossible to ignore, it took a lot of skill and luck to get through the last three weeks without hearing any spoilers about Man of Steel prior to seeing the film. Outside of the rumblings that the film had greatly divided critics and comic book fans alike, I was not sure what to expect from Zach Snyder’s latest film. While I have always been fond of Snyder’s work, the misguided Sucker Punch being the lone exception, I was curious as to how he would tackle the most iconic superhero of all time.
There is no doubt that there was a lot riding on this film. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failed to reintroduce Superman to a younger generation and the success of The Avengers had DC itching to get the building block for the Justice League film out to the masses. After the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, it was clear that DC and Warner Bros. would want to take a more serious approach to the reboot of the Superman franchise. Though I do not think anyone was ready for how serious the tone of Man of Steel would be. If I can get one minor complaint out of the way early, it would be that the film is devoid of any real humour. It is quiet telling when, in a summer tent pole film such as this, the biggest reaction comes towards the end of the film when a minor character remarks that Superman is “kinda hot.” In many ways, Man of Steel is more suited for a fall release than a summer one. Although there is no shortage of action in the film, more on that later, a good portion of the time I found myself feeling sorry for Superman rather than rooting for him.
Growing up, I was not drawn to Superman the way many of my peers were. I was more intrigued by the likes of Batman and the X-Men, characters who had to function on the outskirts of normal society. Superman has always existed firmly within the rules and morals of the greater population. What Man of Steel attempts to present is the emotional burden that comes with being a beacon for hope. If there is one thing that is repeatedly ingrained into the young Clark Kent, and the audience for that matter, is the emotional baggage that comes with such responsibility.
Similar to the popular song by Joan Osborne, Snyder and crew want to explore what it would be like for a god-like being to live amongst us? Snyder presents a version of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) that is unsure of who he is. An alien from the dead planet of Krypton, Clark was raised in Kansas by Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). Knowing from an early age that he was different, Clark spends a good portion of his adult life trying to maintain a low profile. However, when the discovery of a Kryptonian scout ship inadvertently tips off General Zod (Michael Shannon) to his location, Clark not only learns more about his alien past, but his destiny is as well.
From a story standpoint, Man of Steel stays very close to the well known Superman lore. What it brings to the table is a different way of telling the story. By jumping around in time Snyder offers a greatest hits highlight reel to the early years of Clark Kent’s life. The problem with this is that aside from giving the first section of the film an uneven feel, it does make it a little difficult to connect with any of the characters on either Krypton or Earth early on. The one exception to this is the wonderful work by Kevin Costner. Bringing genuine emotions to his scenes, Costner is outstanding as the emotional centre for Clark. His scenes resonate far more than any other aspect in the first half.
Though Snyder gets the beats right with Costner, the majority of Man of Steel’s strength lays in its almost relentless action. Unlike most Superhero films, Snyder does not shy away from the collateral damage that occurs when super powered individuals collide. Buildings crumble left and right as Superman and his foes punch, kick and throw each other into every object imaginable. The film really captures that comic book feel with its fight scenes. Snyder crams so many action sequences into the film that it is easy to forget some of the short comings especially with respect to character development.
While I found myself enjoying the film the more it progressed, having stepped back from it for a few days, the lack of character growth is glaringly obvious. Cavill is the perfect embodiment of everything you would expect from Superman. He fairs far better with this script than either Amy Adams’ Lois Lane or Shannon’s Zod. Both actors do a decent job, but are not given anything that is truly memorable in the film to work with. Shannon in particular comes off as nothing more than a generic villain. Despite Zod having physical prowess, he is ultimately a soldier who lacks the intellect that makes Lex Luthor such a fascinating villain.
Of course, I will have to wait for the sequel to hopefully see a Superman film that reaches the potential that Zach Snyder aims for. As it stands though, Man of Steel is a decent, but flawed take on the Superman mythos. There is enough here that will entertain, but not necessarily leave a lasting impression. However, Snyder is on the right path. For future Superman films he just needs to figure out how to flesh out his characters in this universe while balancing the emotional core. Oh, a little more levity would be great as well.
I felt pretty much the same way you did, though I find myself sticking up for the film because I don't think it's necessarily being portrayed accurately by its detractors. The coldness in the character was a deliberate choice by Snyder that worked for me if for no other reason that it was vastly different than most superhero movies–particularly the Marvel films, which feel recycled to the point of being boring. I agree with you, too, about Michael Shannon, who's craziness feels drowned out by all the craziness around him. Lex Luthor? I'm hoping Snyder and company don't go there. That character never really worked for me.
Good review Courtney. I feel like the story will get better as the flicks go on and on, but for right now, I remain a bit disappointed, but optimistic at the same time.
I have always liked the brains versus brawn contrast that the Luthor/Superman dynamics brings. As long as he has a strong henchmen/super being to manipulate, I would gladly welcome Luthor in the sequel.
I can understand the way you feel. Several people I have talked to, including my wife, were greatly disappointed in the film. However, like The Hobbit, I think this film will play better after the next film is released.
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