Seven years ago, director Bryan Singer tried to re-launch Superman by casting a young Christopher Reeve clone (Brandon Routh), a long dead Marlon Brando and retaining that majestic John Williams score. I liked Superman Returns, but, while it was no bomb, it performed beneath expectations and producers put Supes on ice for a few years.
With Man of Steel, Warner Brothers tries anew by giving the son of Jor-El the Christopher Nolan treatment. Nolan doesn’t direct, but he does produce, and David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman films, penned the script. The result gives us a dull Superman who whines about his parents a lot.
Man of Steel has some impressive fireworks, but it severely lacks soul. It’s a Superman Transformers movie.
I’ll say this upfront: Henry Cavill is easily the best-looking Superman by far. I mean, this guy is GORGEOUS. Man of Steel will probably do good box office simply because people will want to spend many summer hours just gazing at this positively dreamy guy.
Problem is, he’s duller than an ax after 10,000 rounds with a really big, hard boulder.
I suppose much of the blame for Cavill’s flat effort can go to director Zack Snyder. Snyder’s films aren’t noted for their emotional realism. His thirst for style usually outweighs the need for his performers to deliver anything of depth, unless you count Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” in 300.
While I liked the way Snyder delivered his movie adaptation of the comic Watchmen, I started to fret about him helming a Superman movie after the dreadful Sucker Punch. I worried that Superman would get lost in a sea of washed-out visuals, extreme speeds both slow and fast, and stripper/hookers. Thankfully, he left out the strippers/hookers, but all of his other directorial trademarks made the cut.
For instance, whenever Superman flies, he flies like a supersonic jet. The camera is often very far away, and he’s just a little speck zipping around. When we see him up close, he’s bouncing around so much we can’t really enjoy the visual of a man flying.
The thing with Superman is that he’s supposed to be selfless. His primary concern is saving people’s clumsy asses, not who his parents really are. Sure, he cares to a certain extent, but not to the extent that it derails his primary mission of protecting humanity. That’s my take on the character.
Snyder’s film gives us an origin story that starts on Krypton, where Jor-El, Superman’s philosopher dad (played well by Russell Crowe) is witnessing the destruction of his planet. Before things go kaboom, he has a final confrontation with the deranged General Zod (Michael Shannon—easily the best thing in the movie) and launches a ship containing his infant son.
Fans of Superman know that he winds up on a farm with earthly caretakers (played winningly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Without giving too much away, I will tell you that the film takes a different direction with the Clark Kent alter ego, and I wasn’t crazy about that direction.
Crowe and Costner turn in their best work in years. Shannon, in a fierce and frightening performance, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. While Man of Steel isn’t a great, or even good, movie, it does have a highly memorable villain in Zod, the Krypton general determined to see his people live on. Shannon manages to pierce the stylistic dulling veil that is Snyder’s directing.
As Lois Lane, Amy Adams doesn’t really factor. The script calls for her to be rather humorless and dull in her own right. (It’s no wonder she and Superman fall for each other.) As her boss, editor Perry White, Laurence Fishbourne proves to be a terrible choice. He’s in full droning Morpheus mode in the role.
Man of Steel, paired with the failure of last year’s The Hobbit, suddenly positions Warner Brothers as the purveyor of geek nightmares. We’ve waited a long time for another Superman movie, and mediocre just won’t do.