Superman is about duality. The fact he’s from another planet but raised on Earth. His roles as Superman and Clark Kent. His two sets of parents. And most importantly, having the power of gods, but his attempts to be normal. Directed by Zack Snyder with the story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel focuses on that duality. This is an attempt to create a thinking person’s Superman, but really just for about 1/4 of the film, as the majority is made up of punching, lots of punching, and destruction along the line of a Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich disaster movie.
The story is pretty simple. Superman is sent to Earth to escape a dying Krypton. He’s raised by the Kents to live as a regular person, but struggles to come to grips with his powers. Along comes some other survivors who have a grudge with Supes and a want to recreate Krypton.
What I felt really interesting was how the movie barrels towards it’s destructive drag out finale of a fight. The plot just flows towards the big fight we know is coming, filled with flashbacks about Clark Kent learning about his powers and the advice he’s given. There’s very little Clark Kent like we saw in the classic Donner films. It’s an origin film and an introduction of Superman to the world that’s delivered with a punch instead of staying hidden behind glasses before the big reveal. But, unlike those previous films, this is the origin of Clark Kent as Superman attempts to figure out his alter-ego’s role in his like and the world.
There really is very little Clark Kent in the film, Superman is front and center. This is a film about Superman trying to find his place in the world. And without Kent to play off of, it’s a bit more dour. Superman here shows off every way to portray doubt/frustration/loneliness/contemplation and a few other emotions with his face and few words. I doubt actor Henry Cavill as Superman was given more than 50 words to say in the entire film.
His supporting cast isn’t given much else either other than to chew scenery or act scared or in awe. Michael Shannon as Zod grits his teeth and spews lines with nothing but rage. Russell Crowe attempts to impart wisdom as Jor-El but acts like an irritating hologram with an accent that doesn’t make sense. Kevin Costner imparts wisdom as Pa Kent in flashbacks and Diane Lane mostly looks sad, comforts and hugs her adopted son as Ma Kent. There’s a an equally long list of solid actors given little to do including Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Harry Lennix and Christopher Meloni.
Then there’s Amy Adams as Lois Lane, a version that’s somewhere between Margot Kidder’s and Kate Bosworth’s versions. There’s a lot for her to do and she does more than just play the damsel, but something to me was a bit off and it’s mostly her infatuation with the Last Son of Krypton. As a journalist she pursues the story about a man who travels the world saving people with amazing powers and when confronted with the truth she struggles with the story. That’s great and fresh. But, as the movie progresseses she’s thrown into ridiculous situations and then a kiss with Superman that belittles both. Of course there’s an attraction but in truth she knows so little about this person, it would make you think she could only like him for his powers and/or looks, both shallow reasons. Luckily the “relationship” storyline is given little screen time, showing how it’s needed even less and a stronger film would have played off the flirtation and explore more in future movies.
But, much like how the movie goes out of its way to mention Superman isn’t hard to look at, Snyder and his collaborators go for style over substance. This is a slick new Superman, more angsty than past on-screen versions and less of the humor and innocence of past live action versions. Snyder over uses shaky cams to attempt to hide fx flaws which is fine, but uses it when it’s not needed at all. What was up with it a the beginning of the film on Krypton? We have a debate and the camera needs to shake? When will this lazy film making end? There is some great use of angles during battles and flights and great visuals in general, but there’s a lot of choices that are clearly made to cover up issues with the fx. The continuation of quick cuts persists. Another film making trick that has overstayed its welcome.
Overall, Man of Steel is a fine disaster movie, I’m still debating if its a fine super-hero movie. There’s a lot I like including the change of what we’d expect as far as plot structure and use of dual identities that we’ve seen in previous films. Instead of a normal person taking on a super identity, finding it and then saving the world, we have someone who is super trying to find his normal identity and place in the world. It’s a fresh take on the big screen Superman mythos.
But, with so much destruction and visuals that are very engaging on the big screen, and I’m not sure would be as awe inspiring on a small screen, it’s difficult for me to say to pass up this big popcorn movie in the theaters. Not a super start, but a welcome return and a decent celebration of Superman’s 75 years on planet Earth.
Direction: 6 Acting: 6.75 Plot: 7 Overall: 6.25