Review: Man of Steel


Man of Steel is the re-boot of the Superman franchise and the start of what could be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. So, essentially, this is the equivalent of Iron Man. Except it’s not. At all.

The hype around this film has been sky-high for weeks, if not months, which is always a bit of a double-edged sword; on one hand people are really looking forward to seeing it and will get swept up in the hype and think it’s the best film they’ve ever seen, or people are really looking forward to seeing it and are crushingly disappointed by the end product of countless trailer watching and reading about what the film could be like.

There is a genuine feeling that this could be the oxygen the Superman franchise needs after the muted reception Superman Returns received back in 2006. And Man of Steel is nothing like Superman Returns.

For starters, Henry Cavill playing Superman was a good choice. He looks the part and is probably the most muscular version of Superman we’ve seen on-screen. Also, he doesn’t try to be Christopher Reeve which was the point of Brandon Routh’s performance in the last film, which is actually better than he was given credit for. Cavill’s portrayal doesn’t bring anything new or mould-breaking, but he does look the part albeit without the kiss curl.

The casting, in general, is pretty good. Michael Shannon is malevolent as General Zod, Russell Crowe is noble as Jor-El, Superman’s real dad and Kevin Costner is fatherly, if not a little over protective of the indestructible Boy of Steel. In fact, it is a bit strange that this version of Jonathan Kent tries so hard to make Clark hide his powers instead of encouraging him to do good without getting caught. But this overbearing protectiveness is but a drop in the ocean with things that are just a little off with this film.

Firstly, Zack Snyder probably wasn’t the best choice of director, especially when coupled with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer writing the script and screenplay. Snyder has only really directed entirely CG films such as 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, which are acquired tastes and a mixed bag quality-wise. There is a huge divide between the two halves of the film. The first half is character building, background  and the fall of Krypton, and the second half is a massive CG filled fight. No, really. About the last three-quarters of an hour is one massive fight!

There’s no doubt that it’s a spectacle of a film and probably needs to be seen in the cinema to be best appreciated, but the tone of the film is a little on the Dark Knight side. Which is a shame really because you want a bit of levity with Superman. Even though he is the ultimate immigrant he’s always shown to rise above it, but this version of Superman is a little introverted and dour. Even the suit is less vibrant than in the past. That’s why this film is no Iron Man; that film hangs on the central performance of Robert Downey Jnr (RDJ) who is a power house of charisma so strong that the following five films have gone on to make mega money and each one gets more successful culminating in Avengers Assemble and Iron Man 3. The colour, tone and sense of humour really helped Marvel and that character is the backbone of the Avengers – without RDJ in that central role none of it would have been possible and maybe we wouldn’t be seeing Man of Steel now.

The problem is that Superman’s character doesn’t allow for this type of acting from Cavill, especially not the way he’s been written. He smiled once, when he first attempts flight, and that’s about it; there’s a lot of moping and rage, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate him with the audience. But also, I wonder how much of an appetite there will be for a Wonder Woman, Flash, Martian Manhunter or Aquaman movie after this film? (Let alone the re-re boots of Batman and Green Lantern franchises.)

Two more big problems with the film are 1: Superman’s sense of morality. He is the typical goody-goody and will not allow humans to be put in danger, which is shown throughout the film until the final fight against Zod and the other Kryptonians in Metropolis where he throws people through buildings, crashes spaceships into the skyline a knocking over skyscrapers which you only hope have been evacuated, though couldn’t possibly be. 2: Lois Lane. Amy Adams really struggles to play this damsel in distress as a strong, independent female protagonist the essence of the character means that even if you dress her up in army fatigues and (inexplicably) give her a central role in a military operation against a superior alien attack force she still needs saving…about three times. In fact apart from Amy Adams and Antje Traue’s Faora-Ul, Zod’s right hand woman, all other female characters are background; even Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is marginalised. They’ve even transformed Jimmy the intern into Jenny to try to balance things out a bit.

The onslaught of pugilism is tiring and after so long you start to focus on things like “why are windows exploding when people fly through them?” and why Superman slowly moves into a gliding position before attacking rather than the Kryptonians who move at the speed of light from one punch to the next – you almost want to look for the strings winching Cavill into position. It does look a little bit silly juxtaposed with the insane speed of the rest of the fight scenes.

This is by no means a bad Superman film – Returns and 4 are the standard bearers of bad – and does deserve to be seen. But it’s certainly not the best. It throws into doubt the fact the DC can get away with what Marvel has done; they’re gonna need to bring out a film with a stronger central character to carry the rest of the series…which is strange when you consider Superman to be the strongest of all the superheroes.


4 Responses to “Review: Man of Steel”

  1. This left me a bit fidgety, which is rare of late. I also found Cavill’s scripted portrayal of Superman to be overtly weaker than Christopher Reeves’, even without the kryptonite.

    • I feel like I’ve been overly harsh. I’m not angry, just a bit underwhelmed and disappointed. But then I remember I’m not really a Superman, or even DC, fan (apart from Batman, obviously).

  2. Good review Tom. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still very good and made me hopeful for what’s next to come of Superman.

    • Thanks dude, it will be interesting to see what direction they take the rest of the Justice League characters. Though I hope there are a couple of lighter ones to balance the darkness of this Superman and Batman.

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