Originally published on the now defunct Newcastle Free Press website. Link unavailable.
Length: 132 minutes
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and Gene Roddenberry
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
Release date: 14th June 2013
First things first: SPOILER WARNING! I don’t know about you, but I took great care to avoid almost all of the promotional material for this film (though I did watch the teaser trailers because they were brilliant) for the simple reason that I did not want ANYTHING to ruin this film for me. I would hate to spoil it for someone else, so I warn you now that I am going to talk about specific plot things. Last chance…
The best way to describe Man of Steel is probably to categorise it; for me it belongs firmly in the ever-expanding category of ‘good while you’re watching’ cinema. Those ones where you’re fine while you’re in the cinema but then afterwards (usually over a post-movie pint) you are struck by all the flaws and holes that you had been ignoring. This isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a terrible film; I was engrossed and entertained for the entire running time. It’s just that there are unavoidable problems that become more niggling with time and more nagging with re-watches.
First of all, the story. It is extremely likely that everyone at least vaguely knows the origin story of Superman even if they haven’t read the comics or know the specifics. In this regard, the film doesn’t stray too far from the established story arch… it just emphasizes different parts. For example; the film begins with a fairly long sci-fi sequence on Krypton itself (which, as far as I can recall, is the first time any film has done so) before skipping forward to Kal-El/Clark Kent (Cavill) all grown up but still unaware of where he came from or what he is supposed to do.
The ‘origin story’ part is mostly told through a series of flashbacks to a young Kal trying to control his emerging powers and come to terms with his extra-terrestrial heritage. I really like the idea of the itinerant ‘wandering hero’ Superman, but sadly this sequence didn’t last that long. Also, I liked the flashbacks but there were a few too many and they were too close together; it broke the flow of the main storyline and ate up valuable time. Say what you like about the breathtakingly boring Superman Returns, but they did the whole ‘emerging powers’ motif with a single scene.
Eventually, Kal finds a crashed Kryptonian ship, talks with a computer generated replica of his dead father’s consciousness (as you do), learns all about Krypton and his heritage and, finally, puts on the costume. He also meets Lois Lane and she eventually figures out who he is, but this part is so genuinely dull that I had forgotten about it until literally just now. Then the big bad General Zod (Shannon) and his band of Kryptonian nut-jobs show up and everything goes to shit.
There are some really nice ideas in the narrative that for the most part work really well… individually. They just don’t string together very well at all. Add to that the fact that some things just make no sense at all (like Kal’s new-found weakness to air, no I’m not kidding); some truly atrocious lines (Zod giving the ‘there’s-only-one-way-this-ends’ sound bite and then proceeding to give Kal two different options being the highlight); and a massively over the top and drawn out climax (more on that in a minute), what you are left with is actually quite a confusing mess of a film.
Acting wise, there are some solid performances; Russell Crowe is passable as Jor-El, Superman’s dad – giving the same performance he always does. Michael Shannon is exceptional as Zod, managing to convey convincing and complex emotion as well as psychotic rage. Henry Cavill just is Superman. He somehow looks exactly like everyone who has ever played that role. There are shades of George Reeves (Adventures of Superman) and Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, remember that?!) via Tom Welling (Smallville) and Brandon Routh (Superman Returns); there’s even one scene where he looks exactly like Christopher Reeve. What I enjoyed most was that this is a much more human representation of Kal-El; he actually seems to have some real emotions and a character instead of being an unrealistic paragon of all that is good.
Supporting cast was pretty good, despite mostly being under used. Amy Adams plays a very good Lois Lane but rarely has anything to do other than simply being in scenes. Actually, I tell a lie… she also pushes buttons… occasionally. The apparent chemistry between Kal and Lois is underdeveloped and seems forced, mostly due to the fact that they characters actually share very little time on screen. Lawrence Fishburne plays Perry White (for some reason) and does very little but add to the sense of mild peril (he’s not bad, just pointless). Apart from being depicted as breathtakingly stupid at the climax of the film, all the guys playing military characters also do reasonably well.
I think the main thing I dislike is the final epic action scene, and I know that I’m not the only one who thinks it was both far too long and extremely silly. In particular, the big showdown between Kal and Zod is borderline slapstick; Superman gets thrown through five, FIVE skyscrapers. They also fight each other INTO ORBIT, Zod throws a satellite at him and then they punch each other back down to earth. It’s just so unbelievably over the top that it’s actually more funny than thrilling. After this, everything wraps up fairly quickly, the film apparently hoping that you will forget that a massive amount of Metropolis has been destroyed and that literally thousands of people are dead. As long as we see Cavill wearing the glasses, all is well.
I really didn’t think that I could find so many things to critique about this film, but despite all these things, it’s not a bad film. It’s not bad… just… disappointing. I expected a lot better from Nolan and Snyder.