Review – Man of Steel

People often tell me how they think Superman is a boring and uninteresting superhero. I think Superman is fascinating. Here you have a character that is physically impenetrable, yet emotionally vulnerable. He’s a character that opens up almost endless possibilities. But Zack Snyder here has proven just how boring and uninteresting Superman really can be.

It’s no secret to those that know me that I hate Zack Snyder. I did go into this trying to be as openminded as I could be though. I was cautiously optimistic with this film.

The main problem with Zack Snyder’s direction of this film, and it’s the same problem he had with Watchmen, is that he knows the material he’s adapting is cool and interesting, but he only understands the very basic surface level of why it’s cool and interesting. He brings up very interesting ideas and themes in Man of Steel, the problem is he abandons them. He touches on them in the briefest of ways, then doesn’t go any further with them. This results in a very dull Superman film.

Throughout the film, there are hints of very interesting ideas and themes, but they are never explored. For example, we begin on Krypton, and while I’m okay with Krypton being up to interpretation, and Snyder’s visuals on the planet are neat-looking, he strays away from the depth of the characters and society in favor of cool-looking landscapes. I was hoping this would change when he arrived in the familiar territory of Earth, but sadly, all chances to do something different and new with the story and character of Superman were brushed aside in favor of meaningless action scenes.

Snyder’s plot begins with the birth of Kal-El, his subsequent jettison to Earth by his parents before their planet implodes, and then we jump to him as an adult traveling the earth, and his origins on Earth being told through flashbacks. It’s an interesting narrative idea, but the problem is that it spends half the movie doing this, muddling the plot down in exposition and preventing it from having any momentum of the story.

The film attempts to have an underlying theme of a father’s expectation for his son. Superman has two fathers here, who both want what’s best for their son, but have different beliefs of that. On one hand, you have Jonathan Kent, who believes Clark has a biblical purpose here on Earth, but must hide his powers for fear that humanity may reject him. On the other hand, Jor-El has sent his son to Earth to serve as a leading example, and to use his powers to guide humanity away from the same mistakes Kryptonians had made. It’s a very interesting and moving idea to have this play out in a Superman film, with Clark torn between the teachings of both fathers, but this film doesn’t run with that theme. It merely teases it, then leaves in favor of overkilled action scenes(I’ll get to those in a minute). No conflict arrises with these ideals, Superman never seems torn between his two father’s teachings, so therefore it prevents his character from having an arc that the audience can latch onto. We’re simply expected to care about Superman simply because he’s Superman.

It’s no secret that Superman shares a lot of similarities with the story of Jesus. We’ve seen the comparisons in plot and imagery in past films. Here they practically beat us over the head with the comparison, but never go anywhere past that. They simply put an exclamation point on the connection, and expect the fact that their is a connection to be deep and interesting on it’s own. They try to establish him as a Christ figure, but never put him in any Messianic situations.

I am completely willing to suspend disbelief in a superhero film, especially a Superman film. But the degree that Snyder and Co. expected us to suspend that disbelief was almost insultingly stupid. This film is riddled with plot points and character actions that are wildly unbelievable and stupid. There is the whole climax with the plot of how they plan to dismantle Zod’s army by using the aircraft Superman arrived to Earth in. I won’t spoil anything past that, but they hardly explain how it actually works. Another prime example is a scene involving Lois Lane somehow battling Kryptonians, who have been bred to kill and fight, yet somehow they get taken out by somebody who has never likely fired a gun. They simply think the audience is so stupid they won’t question any of this films numerous unexplainable plot-holes.

The biggest problem with this film is there is little reason to care about any of the characters at play. They have been written painstakingly one-dimensional, and the performances suffer because of it. In theory, most of this film was well-cast. I was digging the idea of Kevin Costner as Pa Kent and Russell Crowe as Jor-El as well as Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet Chief Editor Perry White. But sadly, there is not one good performance in this film, as the script never allows any moments of character exploration and building. Amy Adams’s Lois Lane is not smart or brave like in past incarnations. Her performance is forced, creating a boring Lois Lane who makes surprisingly dumb decisions throughout the movie. I’m a gigantic Michael Shannon fan, and despite all the doubts I had during the production of the film, I always had certainty that his performance as Zod would be fantastic. But sadly, he was written into a terrible performance. Shannon is a very serious actor, who digs into the depths of his character’s psyche, revealing what makes them tick and why they do what they do. But here there was no depth in the writing of his character to reach into. They had a chance here to create an incredible and sympathetic villain, but everything interesting about him is ignored. Here you have a warrior who was genetically bred to serve and protect his people, despite whatever they do to him. He’s a tortured soul, who sees the destruction of Earth as the only way to preserve Kryptonian life. But the movie ignores all that, simply making him a generic bad guy. With the dramatic scenes in the film, it’s as if the actors got the script the morning of, had the lines memorized, performed the first take not getting too much in-depth, simply repeating the lines, and then Snyder moved directly onto the next scene, not striving to get a better take.

I’m not so sure about Henry Cavill as Superman either. He certainly looks the part, but his performance in the more dramatic areas of the film felt disconnected from any relatable emotion. Despite the flaws in Superman Returns, I still came out of that sold on Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman. In this film, I never got that feeling. I never felt that he, like his director, understood why Superman could be interesting and cool.

The fact we care and connect so little with each character effects the plot and action very negatively. Action is only thrilling and effective when the audience cares about what is at stake. But they provide next to no reason to care and connect with any character in the film. Why should I care that a building is about to fall on Perry White? Why should I care if Lois survives that fall? Instead, Snyder opts out of dramatic connection in favor of distractingly poor-CGI scenes between the Krytonians, resulting in the demolish of pretty much any set-piece in the frame. Seeing these Kryptonians bash each other into buildings, demolishing half a city fighting sounds really awesome in theory. But the lack of interest that Snyder has given these characters undermines that. It’s just simply mindless explosions, coupled by the fact that none of the Kryptonians seem to feel any pain or consequence whatsoever.

I will say this however, Hans Zimmer’s score is marvelous. It’s hard to imagine an incarnation of Superman without John Williams’ heroic score. But Zimmer fashioned a score that is completely different, and just as sweepingly epic. His score deserved a better film.

This movie expects us to care about the characters and believe in their actions simply because they are well-known characters. It’s insulting to fans of Superman who wanted to see a visceral, exciting exploration of this beloved character. Instead, Snyder simply glosses over what makes the Superman universe interesting and cool, and believes that mindless, poorly directed action will suffice.

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