Man of Steel is perhaps the most anticipated film of the entire summer and for good reason. It boasts a stellar crew that includes director Zack Snyder, famous for his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, screenwriter David S. Goyer, scribe of The Dark Knight Trilogy, and executive producer Christopher Nolan, who also wrote and directed The Dark Knight Trilogy. Clearly, Warner Bros. and DC Comics were very invested in this production, as the previous attempt at rebooting the Superman franchise back in 2006 failed to gain enough box office recognition despite strong critical reception. There is no doubt that Man of Steel will draw in audiences, as the film has been marketed for months now and anticipation for the newest chapter in the Superman anthology is at its peak. However, though I’m sure it will be the blockbuster the studios are hoping for, I don’t believe audiences will be pleased with this effort as, despite an extremely talented and comic-book savvy production team, Man of Steel proves to be nothing more than a stylish origin story that lacks enough character development and is filled with an unrelenting amount of action set pieces.
Superman has and will always be the most iconic superhero in the comic book universe, but I can’t say that any film or television adaptation has truly entertained me or even sparked my interest, as personally, I don’t find Superman to be a particularly relatable character. I was hoping that Man of Steel might change my opinion by giving the character more of a humanistic approach and allowing audiences to see more of the foibles of Superman. In many ways, this film tried to do so with some great exposition regarding the origins of Kal-El (AKA Clark Kent/Superman). The film begins with an incredible action sequence of the demise of Krypton, with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) facing off against the treasonous General Zod (Michael Shannon) and trying to save his son, Kal-El. This was a great role for Crowe, who gets to show off both his great action/fighting skills as well as his strong acting chops. Shannon, who I find to be one of the best and most intense actors working today, seemed like the perfect choice to fills the shoes of the evil General Zod. Unfortunately, unlike many of his smaller, indie pictures, Shannon seems to almost phone-in this performance, coming off as very cartoony and not mixing in well with the dynamic of the film; in fact, he seems out-of-place at many points throughout the film.
As the story progresses, we learn more about Kal-El’s upbringing on Earth, being raised in Kansas by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name their newfound baby boy Clark. Most of Clark’s youth is shown in flashbacks that relate to issues the older Clark faces in the present. This technique worked tremendously and was a fantastic way to show Clark’s internal struggle as he grapples with his powers and finding out who he really is and where he came from. In doing this, the character is given a lot more depth, which has not occurred in previous Superman films. I was glad to see this, but once Clark discovers he is actually Kal-El and has to face off against Zod, the film loses a lot of the depth that made it so engaging and instead becomes one hour and half long action piece that is so jarring, I felt like I had whiplash by the closing credits. This exorbitant level of action really ruins the film as it takes away from the terrific performance by newcomer Henry Cavill. Cavill brings the perfect amount of strength and integrity that is needed for the role Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, but adds a new level of innocence to the character that is so refreshing and relatable. My only wish is that he had a better female counterpart than Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Adams can be a terrific actor and more so than not I really enjoy her work, however, she is simply too old to play opposite Cavill, making their chemistry near non-existent. To add to this, their relationship is given barely any development, making it seem like all the pieces miraculously fall into place.
I don’t believe Man of Steel is a bad film, or perhaps I’d just rather not accept that it is. The first hour, though a bit fast-paced like the rest of film, draws a great portrait of Superman before the cape; misunderstood, unsure of himself, and lost in a world that is just too big. Costner’s performance as Clark’s Earth father really stands out in this part of the film, stealing every scene he is in and guiding Clark into the man he was born to be. Lane, as well, gives heart to the film playing Clark’s Earth mother, but is not given too much to do in the film as a whole. The idea of Superman not always being the hero he wanted to be, but rather the hero he needed to be, is a fascinating topic, but it is one that’s ultimately lost in the second half of the film with Zod threatening to destroy the Earth. It seemed that Goyer and Nolan merely wanted to pack as much as they could into one film, making it range from an origin story to a growing romance and eventually ending with a battle of epic proportions; however, none of these plot lines seemed to meld together but instead were thrown up in the air and left hanging.
If I call Man of Steel anything it would have to be a noble effort that ended in utter disappointment. I was truly upset to see this film go so awry, as it had so much possibility, and choose to please audience members who just want to see lots of action. What started as a promising and pleasing coming-of-age story turned into nothing but meaningless, blockbuster fodder with nothing super about it at all.
Review by Harrison Richlin