Superman. It’s a name instantly recognised the world over, one which has graced comic books, television series and feature films for several decades now. Any film which features the famous superhero is cause for celebration, but in the instance of this Zack Snyder-helmed reboot, one cannot help but feel disappointed.
It is the final days of the planet Krypton, with its High Council having been usurped in a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) and destruction of the planet imminent. While the Kryptonian race is most certainly doomed, there is cause for celebration, for Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) have welcomed a baby boy into their lives, Krypton’s first natural birth in years. To allow their son to live, they place him inside a spacecraft, which is to be flown to the nearest habitable planet – Earth.
Cut to years later, and that same boy has grown into Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), a man who is unsure of his purpose and struggling to forge his identity. When not engaging in acts of bravery – he spends much of his time saving those who are in peril – Clark reflects upon the values instilled in him by his surrogate parents, farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively) and whether he should be concealing his preternatural powers from others.
To discover who he really is, Clark takes a journey north and into the Arctic circle, where an old Kryptonian vessel – buried in the ice centuries earlier – reveals his heritage, and his reason for existing. These revelations ultimately lead Clark to embrace his identity, and use his powers to protect humanity. Just in time too, for he is about to face an even greater challenge: General Zod, who has escaped the obliteration of his planet and is seeking to rule over another.
The one positive thing that can be said of Man of Steel is that it has nailed the casting of its lead protagonists. In his first major film role, Briton Henry Cavill does a solid job portraying Clark/Kal/Superman, exuding charm and having decent chemistry with his female co-star, Amy Adams. Talking of whom, Adams’ portrayal of journalist Lois Lane represents a welcome change for the Superman franchise, relinquishing the “damsel-in-distress” stigma and instead actively assisting Clark on his journey.
Complimenting the two leads are the performances of the well-chosen supporting cast. While some of the casting choices are odd, and not everybody looks entirely comfortable playing their roles, each actor puts in a decent effort and is enjoyable to watch. This is even the case for Michael Shannon – while some have found his interpretation of Zod corny and melodramatic, it’s difficult to see any other actor doing a better job. Moreover, his performance is the most fun part of the movie – the only fun part of the movie.
One major problem present in this action-blockbuster is, ironically, its action sequences. In addition to being excessive and overly-destructive – a common bugbear of modern blockbusters – Man of Steel’s action scenes are clumsily shot, with snap-zooms and a shaking camera making it difficult to determine what is happening. This approach makes for such unexciting viewing that one could even go as far as to call it “boring”.
While Man of Steel isn’t devoid of originality, it certainly is lacking in it. Many will draw comparisons with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (Nolan is credited as a co-screenwriter and producer) or Richard Donner’s Superman, but there are elements of X-Men and the Star Trek reboot to be found in the plot as well. In all fairness, the film does its best to distance itself from other Superman media – Lois Lane is an example of this – yet not always for the better.
The most baffling part of all is Man of Steel’s dearth of humanity. Rare as they may be, the film does have its heartfelt moments, such as Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) holding the hand of a colleague trapped underneath rubble, but they never contain the character who should be embodying these ideals – Superman. Instead, Clark Kent’s caped alter-ego comes across as a hesitant, vengeful and aggressive individual. When coupled with the colour-washed cinematography and bland environments, his character makes for very glum viewing indeed.
There is much to appreciate about Man of Steel, yet there are an equal number of issues which leave the viewer feeling frustrated. While the film has a strong first act and a very capable, likeable cast, its ever-present problems – like its action sequences and uninspiring story – make it difficult to recommend.
This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo.