Eight years ago, Christopher Nolan reinvented a seemingly dead superhero franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. Here he’s acting as a producer to attempt the same with another DC comic book hero and perhaps the most famous of all, Superman. There have been Superman films in the past of course and it’s only seven years since the forgettable Superman Returns hit screens to a decent critical and lukewarm box office reception. Taking control of Man of Steel is director Zack Snyder, a man a distinct style and experience of large, special effects movies. I’ve never had much affinity for the Superman character although I enjoyed the 90s TV series. The character, coupled with a director whose films I rarely enjoy lead me to having low expectations for the latest in a long line of superhero based blockbusters. Unfortunately even my low expectations failed to be met with Man of Steel, a dull movie which lasts for an age and goes nowhere.
The film does what all superhero re-boots are doing this century and gives us the origin story. The problem with Superman’s origin story is that it’s long and complex, or at least it is in this film. Spider-Man gets bitten by a spider, develops heightened senses and web stuff then goes with it. Batman invents stuff and goes from man to superhero. Superman though has a story which involves the end of a world, a race’s battle for survival, civil war, unusual childhood development and alienation before self discovery. That’s a lot to put in one movie and of course the movie doesn’t want to just give us the origin, it wants to entertain us with a villain and large scale battle. This results in a two and a half hour film which is full of long, unnecessary exposition and long winded flash backs.
I expect most people will be aware of the Superman origins story so why this movie feels the need to go into it in such depth is beyond me. The early scenes on Krypton bored me rotten but at least the world is well designed. It was an interesting development to see Clark Kent struggle to come to terms with who he is, drifting from town to town, never fitting in. This is slightly more realistic than Smallville to Metropolis to journalist. While not disastrous, these early scenes failed to have me enthralled and I felt a little like the fidgety young child sat next to me. The film attempts to cram in a lot of Christian symbolism and views the Superman character as a Christ like figure. This is fair enough as after all he’s a being come down from the skies who is capable of magical things. And he’s made up. The problem is though that the film isn’t at all subtle with this idea. There might as well be a claxon sounding each time the character appears Christ like. In one scene, Kent is discussing sacrificing himself for the good of humanity whilst he’s sat in front of a giant stained glass portrait of Jesus. In another scene he actually falls from a space ship in the crucifixion pose and late on there is an image where he is seemingly ascending to heaven. It’s all so in your face.
The final forty or fifty minutes contain several large scale, CGI heavy battles. I felt the same about these as I did in Iron Man 3. It’s just not exciting anymore. It’s all been done before and there was little originality in it. First Smallville is half destroyed and then the fight turns to Metropolis where the action improves slightly before becoming another full scale, city destroying battle. The Avengers did this last year to good effect but now it seems as though every blockbuster movie feels the need to end with a prolonged section in which half a city is destroyed. It’s so overdone that it loses its excitement and the entire genre is ending up looking the same. Speaking of looks, Man of Steel is a very good looking film. Zack Snyder has a unique style which is instantly recognisable and while I personally don’t love it, it does look good. The CGI is mostly excellent which considering how much there is, is something of a success. There was a scene of a large building collapsing which looked superb and some of the stuff in the air looks great too. A problem I had with the look of the film is Snyder’s overuse of a particular type of shot. It’s a shot which is very ‘now’ and features in a lot of big movies at the moment but Snyder seems to put it in almost every scene. The shot is always a wide angle CGI shot which has a little bit of shake or movement in it. The camera then zooms very quickly and deeply onto the focal point and again does a slight shake. It’s an attractive looking shot but it’s over done here. I saw the film in 3D and I’m happy to report that I completely forgot I was watching it in 3D. On the plus side this means that it didn’t distract me but I didn’t actually notice anything being in 3D either.
The score is efficient for its purpose and was instantly recognisable as being composed by Hans Zimmer. Like the director, he has a unique style which I spotted despite not knowing that he’d worked on the movie. There are problems in the acting department though. Newcomer Henry Cavill plays the Last Son of Krypton and his performance is uninspiring. Some of the problem might lie with the character but Cavill is wooden, lacks passion or emotion and didn’t have the screen presence to carry the character. He’s also ridiculously good looking which probably helps but annoyed me! Amy Adams is usually a steady pair of hands and she’s fine but unspectacular here. She’s always watchable but I’ve seen her do far better work. The same can be said of Michael Shannon who plays villain Zod. Shannon is one of my favourite current actors and has a natural malice and anger. For some reason he seems to lack some of that intense anger here though and is much more restrained than usual, despite playing a comic book villain. He feels flatter than he has been of late but comes alive a little more late on.
Because I wasn’t enjoying the movie, I picked up on things which I might have otherwise missed. A little thing that bugged me was how Clark Kent managed to have a shave on a 20,000 year old space ship and I couldn’t help but wonder where he kept the codex in his suit. Something which I couldn’t miss was the product placement. I haven’t seen such a blatant product placement in a movie for a long time. There are cringe worthy shots of cameras, phones and shops, all with their logos front and centre. The movie made an incredible $160 million from product placement before it even hit cinemas and I find this to be a huge insult to the audience. Not only does it get in the way of enjoying the movie but it means that the director is making it with the advertisers in mind, rather than the audience. The massive cash injection from this advertising means that the film’s production cost in real terms was just $65 million.
Man of Steel is a very long film and it feels longer due to having several endings. On at least four occasions I thought that the film had ended only to have another scene and then another. It’s almost like the film doesn’t know how to end and wants to cover all the bases just in case, but it just ends up feeling weak. The multiple endings come after half a city is destroyed, an act that no one seems particularly bothered about. There’s a severe lack of empathy in this film. Overall Man of Steel is a movie which looks good but has an overly long, overly explained and overly dull story which is averagely acted to a backdrop of seen-it-before explosions and Nokia adverts.
- Ben Affleck was considered to direct but turned the job down due to his lack of experience in the genre.
- Although Superman's arch nemesis isn't featured, he gets a blink and you'll miss it visual mention.
- Henry Cavill won the role ahead of the likes of Armie Hammer, Joe Manganiello, Zac Efron and Matt Bomer.