Over the years, Superman has proven himself to be one of the most difficult character to successfully translate from the panels of a comic book to the silver screen of cinema. Whilst 1978’s opening entry from Richard Donner is a cause for celebrated nostalgia among movie goers who grew up in that era, subsequent sequels rapidly declined in both critical and commercial terms, before 2006’s reboot-come-sequel Superman Returns failed to satisfy long term fans or impress a new generation being brought up on a mostly impressive slate of Marvel adaptations. Warner Bros. and DC are now pinning it all on Man Of Steel – a true reboot from Zack Snyder (‘300’, ‘Watchmen’) , overseen by Christoper Nolan (‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’) – to become the critical and commercial success it needs to be to act as a launch pad for their own cinematic universe. Is Man Of Steel a symbol of hope for Superman’s future on the big screen, or should it have strived for something greater?
The overwhelming volume of marketing for Man Of Steel has focussed on the question of who Superman really is. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he on Earth? The film certainly makes good on its promise of answering these questions. Make no mistake about it, this is an origin story in every sense of the word. The hero’s birth as Kal-El (Henry Cavill) comes amid an attempted coup by military commander General Zod (Michael Shannon) during the destruction of their home planet Krypton, with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife sacrificing themselves to secure the safety of their son, who is sent in a glorified escape pod to Earth. Most will be aware of this backstory, but it was refreshing to see it played out in grandiose spectacle, but from here on out Man Of Steel refuses to go with expectation, and consequently descends into tedium.
David S. Goyer implements a non-linear style of writing to present Kal-El’s development and growth as Clark Kent through a series of flashbacks and life lessons from adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and mother Martha (Diane Lane), all the while as modern day Clark makes his way through a series of locations and situations that eventually lead him to finding remnants of his home planet, finding out who he is, and meeting journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) along the way. It’s an interesting take on structure, but whilst the quieter moments with Costner and Lane do give moments of this film some much needed soul, the back and forth between past and present makes it difficult for the actual plot to go anywhere. Ironically enough, it’s once our hero dons his famous suit that the action on screen becomes boring and increasingly repetitive.
Kal-El’s journey to discover who he is and why he was sent to Earth is done succintly and effectively, and Clark Kent’s childhood struggle to come to terms with his status as an outsider is told with heart and soul, but the titular character’s eventual mission of defending the planet and defeating the resurgent Zod is dull. Much of this is to with the fact that the characters are extroadinarily uninteresting. It feels like Lois Lane has a big role in this film because she’s Lois Lane, not because she particularly brings anything to proceedings. Likewise the recurring appearances of characters like Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) feel like they’re there because, hey, this is a Superman movie, we’ve got to have this stuff in there, right? Even Metropolis acts as nothing more than a playground for an unbelievably overly long fight between Zod and the Man Of Steel, in which countless skyscrapers tumble over the course of what feels like 6 hours, and yet the citizens of Metropolis seem in no genuine danger. Once the film finishes as an origin story and becomes a Superman movie, it becomes completely and utterly soulless.
There’s no real time given to allow Kal to get to grips with being Superman; he dons the suit and all of a sudden there’s a Krypton army on Earth’s doorsteps and the film becomes a long and tedious succession of action sequences featuring indestructible beings hitting each other, military personnel being obliterated, and buildings falling over. It does this for about 90 minutes, maybe more, and then ends with a scene that makes you wish the rest of the film had more stuff like that final scene, rather than bland CGI alien fist fights and explosions.
The heart and soul of Man Of Steel is really provided by Crowe and Costner, who perfectly embody what it means to be a father figure to someone as they attempt to fit in. It’s in these moments that Man Of Steel gives its titular character some real depth, and Cavill is excellent when he’s not in the spandex (although his chemistry with Adams is next to non-existent), but unfortunately it fails to sustain this level of interest, and goes through exceptionally long stretches which do nothing but bore and make you long for the end. What should be a climactic tussle between two superpowered Kyptonians is introduced too early and stretched over such a long course of time that it can’t help but leave a sour taste in the mouth by the time the credits roll. And a headache too, this film is seriously noisy.
Man Of Steel does do a decent job at telling the origins of the original superhero as a Krypton and as a man of Earth, but it seriously fails at being an entertaining summer blockbuster. The heart and soul of this film beats loud and clear during the quieter moments, but it’s utterly shot to pieces by Snyder as so often the film descends into noisy, repetitive and uninteresting chaos, with a side order of underdeveloped characters and pretentious dialogue. It’s a film that isn’t as clever or thought provoking as it seems to think it is, never mind entertaining, whilst the occassional glimpses at a deeper and more well crafted film makes the end product ultimately frustrate.
Strong performances from Crowe and Costner give a glimpse into the heart of Man Of Steel, but it’s so enveloped in poor pacing, boring characters and tedious action that it fails totally as both an entertaining standalone Superman film and as a springboard for future installments.
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