Man of Steel is a big, loud, stupid movie masquerading itself as a smart film. Unfortunately, when you have a director who is obsessed to great lengths with violence, visual flare and the male figure opposing to substance, you end up with a sloppy mess of a film. Known for 300, Sucker Punch and the disappointing Watchmen, Zack Snyder is the captain of the ship trying to reclaim Superman’s stature in cinema. Unfortunately the film sinks like its own oilrig tanker with not much to leave behind from the mess.
My main issue with this film is how tonally misguided it is. I understand The Dark Knight was dark, which is what made it work. However, you can’t make Superman dark or at least THIS dark in a commercially marketed picture with children as a large portion of your demographic. It’s important to note with material like Batman we are dealing with a character that lives in a world that’s tangible. There are no superpowers, no aliens and an overall grimmer setting. Batman is dark and brooding. He lives by a moral code but is challenged by it every day. In later comics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns Batman is truly stepping into adult territory. In the public eye Batman is known for being gloomy. Superman on the other hand has mostly been regarded amongst audiences as a lighter, more kid friendly character. Superman stands for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He wears tights, flies around and has a giant ‘S’ on his shirt while putting on the act of a dorky journalist in order conceal his true identity. Published in 1939 and created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Superman was the first well known Superhero that was the poster boy for making the correct decisions. On the other end of the spectrum Bill Finger and Bob Kane had something different in mind that same year with Batman by creating a character that unleashed fear amongst criminals. The juxtaposition of both these figures are vast from there overall deep-rooted history. Yes, there were some dark comics about Superman but that’s because Superman has been around for over 80 years. Audiences were getting tired of seeing a boy scout Superman so DC decided to go with a darker route much later on. That route however is not truly reflective of Superman on a communal whole is perceived. Trying to establish a voice separate from Marvel, Warner Bros paired with DC deciding to piggyback off of Christopher Nolan’s incarnation of Batman not understanding why what he did with the character was genuine opposing to a thematic rip off. Once could say Nolan hired Snyder for the job of this film so I suppose it’s not entirely fair to label Man of Steel as a rip off. Yet how else can I see it when watching a film of this nature?
While Clark has an identity crisis in this incarnation of Superman, the movie itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it an action film or a deep lyrical drama? All of its dramatic moments are fired at the audience rapidly without giving them a chance to just sink anything in as everything is shot handheld where the camera shakes sporadically highlighting Snyder’s discomfort with approaching nuance. Say what you want about the original Donner film being campy, but at least it took its time developing character relationships through genuine moments of bonding. When viewing the 1978 picture we get to see a straight narrative structure showing how Superman grows in Smallville without having to resort to a serious of flashbacks juxtaposed to moments of extreme action via explosions to an extent that would make Michael Bay proud. Man of Steel treats the audience like they have the attention span of a chimpanzee. It’s a shame Man of Steel doesn’t spend time developing its characters because the film has a great cast that doesn’t have much to work with due to screenwriter David Goyer’s obnoxiously dumbed down bombastic script along with Snyder’s sloppy direction.
I thought Henry Cavil could have done a marvelous job but he was stuck with expressing only feelings of acute anger or sadness. There’s no charm to his character. Even in a dark film like this it would have been nice to see some twinkle in Supes’ personality. Cavil could have brought that. He has the look and voice of Clark/Superman down. Yet he isn’t given a chance to show the fun side of our main hero. If anyone has seen Henry Cavil in an interview it’s easy to distinguish that he has a marvelous sense of humor with an unwitting amount of appeal. If Cavil has these characteristics why didn’t Snyder along with David Goyer let loose by highlighting these traits? Show the audience why we like Superman as an overall character. Then we have Kevin Costner, whose Jonathan Kent is a heartless fear filled mess. In one scene for instance he suggests that saving a bunch of children’s lives from a school bus accident was a bad idea because he doesn’t want the world to know about his stepson’s supernatural abilities. He fears so much for Clark’s safety that he flat-out tells him that people will reject him if they discover his powers. Gee dad way to make your son feel self-secure. Next is Lois Lane, who is in the movie because the audience knows who her character is. She does nothing to service the story other than to kiss Superman near the end of the film when he’s finished inadvertently destroying half of metropolis. She solely exists in the film to provide exposition. Lane even ruins a crucial moment during the picture by appearing in a scene she shouldn’t be in. Once more another actor who is a great cast for a role has their talent sucked dry by Snyder. Amy Adams has a delightful personality that glistens on screen. Look at her early Disney work. She can be commanding as well. Take for example her work in The Fighter. She’s the perfect blend for a smart and cunning Louis Lane. Now she’s just another pawn in Snyder’s bland Superman game. Finally there’s Michael Shannon’s rendition of General Zod which consists of a series of stilted line delivery and exaggerated screaming perfectly fitting for Shannon’s characteristically disturbing eyes. You can actually see Shannon appearing as if he’s looking for direction while forcing David Goyer’s awful dialogue out of his mouth.
Man of Steel is certainly an entertaining film but in all the wrong ways. It subsidizes quick entertainment in exchange for giving the audience a chance to breath. It’s a bombastic disturbing thematic mess filled with inappropriate 9/11-esqu imagery that quite literally collides its way into the third act. I will say that I admire the film for trying something different unlike Bryan Singer’s regurgitation of Richard Donner’s work with Superman Returns. A film so unoriginally boring that it’s the perfect picture to put an audience to sleep. If Superman Returns puts you to sleep then Man of Steel will give you a seizure through its loud soundtrack, constant punch grunts and Snyder’s clear obsession of treating his actors like a little kid playing with action figures. Surely Snyder will continue with his reign of emotionless super hero wrestling matches. Hopefully the next crowd will not invest in whatever Snyder’s next entry of disaster porn may be.