An alien who falls to Earth and is cared for by human parents must find his place in the world.Man of Steel
is the latest attempt to bring Superman
back to cinema screens. Ever since Richard Donner’s
1978 effort captured the hearts and minds of audiences all over the world - not to mention making over $ 300 million - the studios has been fighting to recapture that success.
Despite being one of the most recognised characters in any medium, Superman
has always been a bit of a box office dud. The six movies to date (including Supergirl
) have gross under $900 million, with the bulk of that from the original movie and Bryan Singer’s
unfairly maligned Superman Returns
That last film was a hefty investment for Warner Bros
and made back about twice its production budget and was perceived to be quite the failure. And yet, seven years later, we’re back with another attempted reboot.Man of Steel
wants everyone to know it’s a new start, to the point of dropping the name of its most important character from the title. It’s probably a wise move, giving the audience room to make their own impressions with thoughts of previous iterations, and it’s just one of the many elements which set Zack Snyder’s
vision of the character apart.
I’m going to focus on the good parts to start with - Man of Steel
looks marvellous, thanks to Zack Snyder’s
eye for the attractive. It also takes its action very seriously, throwing its players into massive melees the likes of which you’ve never seen before.
Impressive CG sees them total whole buildings as they brawl their way through Metropolis, chucking cars and trucks at a whim.
Complete with some interesting design elements and a cast that looks well on camera, there’s plenty to gawk at on offer and an early extended trip to Krypton, plus flashbacks to Clark’s life with the Kent’s and the lurid physicality of Michael Shannon’s (read our interview)
Zod mean there’s always something happening.
Michael Shannon. He should have someone look at that. Enlarge
But man, is it dull. The action is all concentrated in the final third of this 143 minute movie. That means the first 90 of those minutes, bar the introduction, mostly revolve around people talking. Redundant exposition flows from the mouth of practically every character without end, and that’s when they’re not imparting some flowery, overwritten wisdom.
Anyone who has seen Watchmen
knows that Zack Snyder
can craft a decent action sequence, with a sense of geography few other director’s command today. And he brings some of that talent to bear on Man of Steel
, with long scenes of pummeling and some moments which present action in a unique way.
But he’s also hamstrung by the nature of his players. On the one hand most of these sequences include human combatants who have to be given something to do - even Amy Adams
’ Lois Lane gets some action. Which severly cuts down on the Superman
And, like many comic book movie makers, Snyder
has to contend with the fact that some of his characters are essentially invulnerable. While Zod and Superman are presumably a danger to each other, they can throw themselves around, destroying city blocks, all day without the slightest hint of danger. If your characters aren’t worried about death or pain, why should we care?
This all adds up to a Superman
movie almost devoid of Superman. Cavill
himself is practically silent for the opening hour of the movie and, between flashbacks and being a baby, gets very little time to kick ass in astronomical measures. And that’s when he isn’t grounded and weakened by the atmosphere or some funky fog. Studio sorts, take note - your audience came to see a man who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and keep pace with a charging locomotive. A mopey, fragile chap with a great chin is a poor substitute.Cavill is trying here and does look the part, while keeping his own English accent mostly in check. But he’s little more than a cypher, shackled by the demands of the character to experience no real growth - to start out good and continue being good. He’s unfailingly virtuous and ultimately physically impervious, making it hard to sympathise with him no matter how vulnerable the production tries to make him.
Few other performers get enough space to develop their characters - Adams
barely registers and suddenly becomes a love interest (because the comics say so) and Earth parents Kevin Costner
and Diane Lane
are mostly forgettable. Michael Shannon
at least seems to realise that this is a comic book movie and takes his Zod to enjoyably over the top moments of shouting and Russell Crowe
(who appears more than you might think as Jor-El) reuses is Gladiator
voice to decent effect.
But despite this starry cast and the many minutes of over the top action, the word that keeps repeating inmy head is dull. It feels, to me, like a direct result of the involvement of The Dark Knight
helmer Christopher Nolan
(here a producer)and his writer David Goyer
. Whatever your justification for a more realistic Batman
, the decision to ground Superman
is totally ill-conceived. This is an alien with the power to defy gravity, see through solid objects and shoot heat beams from his eyes. Why should there be anything realistic about his story? And why so serious? Any moment which could provide a sense of levity is openly ignored, as though it might make us notice how preposterous the entire thing is.
Maybe I’ve come to expect more from my comic book films, from the sheer entertainment of The Avengers
and Iron Man 3
- films which are dedicated to their internal worlds while also remembering that audiences like to enjoy themselves in the theatre. I’m all the more bemused by the critical reaction to Man of Steel
to date, hitting a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes
and garnering rave reviews across the globe. I’ll admit, I didn’t see it in 3D. Maybe that’s where Snyder
left his awesome.Man of Steel
isn’t a total disaster but it is a squandered opportunity. With this budget and a capable cast, as well as a real global appetite for heroes of the superheroic variety, there was a chance to give Superman
the profile some people think he deserves. But he remains a problematic character and this overlong, undercooked, muddily told and only passably entertaining film could have a serious effect on the future of the DC Cinematic Universe
.Read our interview with star Michael Shannon right here.