Seven years ago, director Bryan Singer tried to re-launch Superman by casting a Christopher Reeve clone (Brandon Routh) and a long-dead Marlon Brando, while retaining that majestic John Williams theme. I liked Superman Returns, but it performed beneath expectations, and producers put Superman on ice.
With Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is reviving Superman by giving the son of Jor-El the Christopher Nolan treatment. Nolan doesn’t direct, but he does produce; David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman films, has penned the script.
The result? A dull Superman who whines about his parents a lot. Man of Steel has some impressive fireworks, but it severely lacks soul. It’s like a Superman/Transformersmovie.
I’ll say this: Henry Cavill is easily the best-looking Superman. I mean, this guy is GORGEOUS. Man of Steel will probably do good box office simply because people will want to spend many summer hours just gazing at this positively dreamy guy. Problem is, he’s duller than an ax after 10,000 whacks at a big, hard boulder.
Much of the blame for Cavill’s flat effort should go to director Zack Snyder. Snyder’s films aren’t generally noted for their emotional realism. His thirst for style usually outweighs the need for his performers to deliver anything of depth, unless you count Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” in 300.
While I liked the way Snyder delivered his comic adaptation of Watchmen, I started to fret about him helming a Superman movie after the dreadful Sucker Punch. I was afraid Superman would get lost in a sea of washed-out visuals, extreme speeds, and stripper-hookers. Thankfully, he left out the strippers-hookers, but all of his other directorial trademarks made the cut.
For instance, whenever Superman flies, he flies like a supersonic jet. The camera is often far away, and he’s just a little speck zipping around. When we see him up close, he’s bouncing around so much that we can’t really enjoy the visual of a man flying. It’s like a really bad Top Gun movie.
This is another origin story, and with Nolan in the mix, it’s an often somber one. The thing with Superman is that he’s supposed to be selfless. His primary concern is saving people’s clumsy asses, not wondering who his parents really are. Sure, he cares to a certain extent, but not to the extent that it derails his primary mission of protecting humanity.
This story that starts on Krypton, where Jor-El, Superman’s philosopher dad (played well by Russell Crowe), is witnessing the destruction of his planet. Before things go kaboom, he has a final confrontation with the deranged General Zod (Michael Shannon) and launches a ship containing his infant son.
Fans of Superman know that he winds up on a farm with earthly caretakers (played winningly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). The film goes in a new direction with the Clark Kent alter ego—and I am not crazy about that direction.
The supporting cast is generally strong, with Crowe and Costner giving their best work in years. Shannon, in a fierce and frightening performance, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.
While Man of Steel isn’t great, or even good, it does have a highly memorable villain in Zod, the Krypton general determined to see his people live on. In fact, the film suffers whenever Zod isn’t onscreen. Shannon manages to pierce the dulling veil that is Snyder’s directing.
As Lois Lane, Amy Adams isn’t really a factor. The script calls for her to be humorless and dull in her own right. (It’s no wonder she and Superman fall for each other.) As her boss, editor Perry White, Laurence Fishburne proves to be a terrible choice. He’s in full, droning Morpheus mode.
I must also call out the filmmakers for their musical choices. I understand the impulse to separate from the original Superman franchise, but John Williams wrote a great theme, and it deserves to be heard whenever an actor puts on the blue tights. (Let it be noted that these blue tights don’t have the red underwear on the outside … SACRILEGE!) The new score by Hans Zimmer is far from memorable.
This film is attempt by Warner Bros. to have a superhero beyond Batman to compete with all of Marvel’s Avengers. However, Marvel has the upper hand, because most of Marvel’s recent films contain charm, humor and worthy drama to go with their whiz-bang. Man of Steel, meanwhile, just has a guy who looks really good in tights, and a villain who far outmatches him in acting prowess. The result is a movie that falls miserably flat.
There’s a moment at the end of Man of Steel that left me curious. Perhaps Cavill will come out of his shell in later installments, and will actually make an emotional impression in the sequels.
As for those sequels, I’d like to see one without Snyder at the helm. He has clearly lost his touch.
Man of Steel opens Friday, June 14, at theaters across the valley.