Opening to great hype and a legion of future movie deals on its back is the Man of Steel, DC Comics’ Hail Mary pass to try and keep its film franchise relevant. Unfortunately, do to a Swiss cheese-like plot and cringe-inducing dialogue, this modern day Messiah falls well short to its potential.
Let’s start with the good. Henry Cavill as the title hero is fantastic. Cavill’s portrayal of Kal-El, Clark Kent/Superman is epically perfect and he both looks and plays the part the way it should be. Discretely humble, every moment he fills the screen you simply can’t take your eyes off of him. Every moment he is allowed to be “super” is breathtaking and it’s a shame that this film does not live up to his performance. At the same time, Antje Traue (Pandorum) is strikingly gorgeous as she is deadly. As the heavy’s right hand enforcer, Faora-Ul chews up the screen with her limited time and, next to Cavill, steals the show. I was smitten with her villainy.
Along with that, surprisingly Kevin Costner gives an emotionally strong turn as Jonathon Kent – Kal-El/Clark’s adopted father. I was both surprised and pleased to see such sweet exchanges between a boy and his father that I honestly felt a little teary-eyed during one scene in particular.
In terms of the special effects – wow! Superman flying has never looked this good and the massive amounts of destruction that occurs is spectacular. While more restrained in terms of his visual style for this film, Zach Snyder (300, The Watchmen) knows how to sculpt a scene. Substance … well that’s another thing.
Unfortunately, now it’s time to move on to the not so positive aspects. Pretty much everything else.
More “alien invasion” than super hero film, Man of Steel spends so much time setting itself up and jumping from one set piece to the next that it never really allows the audience to get comfortable. In some genres, this is a good thing. But not here. Instead of a simple roller coaster ride of entertainment, detail after monotonous detail is thrown at the audience making it difficult to just enjoy the film. Every moment leads back to the same father/son lesson, repeated over and over again throughout the hero’s lifespan while overly complicated DNA genetics crap buries the moments making the audience either irritatingly say “OK, I got it!” or “Who cares?”
The plot falls a part so easily that it is nearly laughable. Convenience is the best (and possible only way) to describe the story arc which works directly against how the the filmmaking team of Synder and Christopher Nolan (with writer David S. Goyer) described their motivations for the film. “A more realistic look” or some other buzz-filled quote was what we were promised but the delivered product was not even close. Yes, I know it’s a character based on a comic book, but nothing from the way military acts to even the mass destruction and death of thousands of people seems realistic or believable. Why was Lois Lane allowed on the ship? Oh, just so she can do that. Why is the ship over Metropolis? Oh, just so these characters can seem in harm’s way. It’s all just matters of convenience versus real motivations.
Speaking of Lois … what a waste! Not that Amy Adams does a bad job with what she is given, but she is never really allowed to be the Lois Lane fans would both expect or want to see. Sure, they give her a gun for part of it, but it’s not even close to enough. At the same time, Michael Shannon as General Zod is never really given the chance to be the badass he needs to be. Confused zealot is possibly the best way to describe him in the film and unfortunately, we’ve seen this before. Nearly the exact same character as Agent Nelson Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire, I expected to him to go into his spaceship and begin flogging himself for his sins.
However, the most glaringly negative aspect that can’t be denied is how much this film steals from the Matrix film franchise. With an art direction that looks stolen from Geof Darrows’ rejection pile from 1998 and the exact character template as Keanu Reeves’ Neo, Man of Steel is extremely lacking in the originality department. Babies get harvested by machines, Christ-like overtones (not even undertones) and a final fight scene that is such a complete retread that if Neo and Agent Smith were inserted into this film, you wouldn’t even notice. There’s even a machine that looks exactly like the squid-like robots that Superman has to fight near the end. Save for the near 60 minutes of explosions that Man of Steel pours into your eyeballs, this film falls just a short of its promised potential as Matrix: Revolutions. Other creative properties that were pick-pocketed include, but are not limited too Avatar, Invincible (the comic book which kind of stole from Superman but then was robbed for this film) and Alien.
Too long in terms of run time and too little in terms of substantial story, Man of Steel comes nowhere close to representing the 75 years of legendary character that DC Comics has built. Is it a better film than Superman Returns? Most definitely. Can it contend with Marvel’s wave of super hero films? Not really. Lacking fun and vibrancy, Man of Steel is as dull as the metallic black and grey color palette that overwhelms the film.
I will say, even with all of these negative aspects, I was still entertained. I can’t say enough about how Cavill and his performance and presence helped keep the film engaging. This really is impressive considering the lagging moments of boredom that occur and a character decision that the story has Superman make that is exactly the same thing that he is trying to stop Zod from doing. (No spoilers.)
Also – there is no reason to see this movie in 3D. Headache inducing hand-held camera work and nearly zero 3D effects make that a waste of money.
Overall, while nowhere near what we were hoping for, Man of Steel will probably still make its money. Flocks of people want to see this film and hopefully some of them enjoy the experience more than I did. Word on the street is that they are already fast tracking a sequel … so good for them. Bad for Superman aficionados. My heart skipped a beat when Clark wears both a Royals and University of Kansas shirt (Rock Chalk!) in the film, but that just wasn’t enough to win me over. Poor storytelling, heavy dialogue and a lack of originality kept this Man of Steel from being my summer movie hero.
3 out of 5 Flying Krypton Creatures