Man of Steel
2013, 143mins, 12
Director: Zach Snyder
Writer: David Goyer
Cast Includes: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane
UK Release Date: 14th June 2013
Chris Nolan has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in the DC Universe, taking one of their biggest characters and morphing him into a cinematic demi-god, his Batman pictures climaxing last year with the fittingly epic “The Dark Knight Rises”. Clearly wanting to step-back but not utterly abandon the world of comic-book literature, Nolan has opted to act as a producer and creative driving force on “Man of Steel”, the latest attempt by Warner to turn Superman into a viable contemporary franchise. Last time it didn’t go over so well, 2006’s “Superman Returns” was a giddy blockbusting experience, but a box-office chump – killing off any Krypton inspired frolicking for nearly a decade. It’s strange whom Nolan has elected to spearhead this rebirth, Zach Snyder, a man last seen frying brain cells and testing society’s patience with rubbishy passion project “Sucker Punch”. Snyder has dabbled in the world of superheroes before; 2009’s “Watchmen” remains the zenith of his directorial achievements by some margin, but the rest of his catalogue including homoerotic touchstone “300” have been dispiritingly hollow affairs. It’s not surprising to see Snyder slather “Man of Steel” with his usual creative deficiencies, allowing character, dialogue and narrative to wilt under the overbearing heat of his cartoony and juvenile fascination with overwrought action. I expect Chris Nolan’s ambitions were probably noble – but nobility counts for very little when envisioned through Snyder’s pre-pubescent mind-set. “Man of Steel” is a fetid creation; dull, excruciatingly overlong and inexcusably dumb.
Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is still attempting to come to terms with his incredible prowess and alter-ego, his inhuman origin causing him to slink around the fringes of society as a ghost, helping stimulate apparent miracles along the way. Eventually he comes to the attention of Daily Planet scribe Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who attempts to uncover his identity. However with General Zod (Michael Shannon), a warlord from Clark’s home planet of Krypton insistent on retrieving something from Clark’s blood (macguffin alert!), Earth is soon the subject of attack and Superman is required to save the day.
Henry Cavill apparently underwent most of his preparation for the role in the gym, the actor has a buff physique but virtually no screen presence or warmth. I appreciate Clark Kent was never a motor-mouth rascal in the style of “Iron Man”, but that still doesn’t excuse the actor’s wooden turn here. Snyder hangs the majority of the film on introspective flashbacks and clumsy Christ analogies, potentially interesting notions in the correct hands, but under the director’s insubstantial gaze and placed in Cavill’s lifeless grasp they just die on screen, reduced to a barrage of easy visual motifs and mirthless frowning. The guilt and lack of identity Superman endures are universal themes and ripe for exploration, but there’s just not enough sophistication in the feature or depth within Cavill for the subtexts to blossom, left rotting under Snyder’s moronic guidance. “Man of Steel” is a Superman movie without a worthy Superman, which in itself is a crippling criticism.
Visually Snyder retains his eye for gloss and videogame aesthetic, tasteless given the fact “Man of Steel” aspires to be something richer and darker. It’s laced with potentially striking 9/11 imagery but there’s just no ethical responsibility here, the director floating his supposedly upstanding hero through a series of incomprehensibly manic set-pieces, incurring vast quantities of collateral damage and civilian death along the way. One of the pleasures of Superman has always been his respect and consideration for the common man, yet here Snyder feels content to have the title figure selfishly desecrate entire cityscapes, without so much as nod to the complex moral dilemma involved. So yeah, there’s the second major sin. “Man of Steel” turns Superman into a douche.
David Goyer’s screenplay is disastrous, ladled with clunky expositional characters and lumbering dialogue, rendering “Man of Steel” a structural nightmare from the start. Snyder and Goyer conspire to lace the affair with presumable poignancy and human touch, but simply come up with a jarring and uncomfortable editorial rhythm. The constant references to Superman’s past are assembled with no fluidity or consideration for tone, leaving the picture crippled by a hazy through line and lack of defined supporting personalities. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are joys as Kent’s conflicted human parents, but elsewhere Snyder hasn’t the focus to afford anybody development worth mentioning. Amy Adams is left with a Lois Lane who oscillates disturbingly between ball-buster and pathetic damsel, whilst a roster of capable thespians including Laurence Fishburne attempt to combat Goyer’s excruciating wordplay via entities we don’t ever know, and more importantly come to care about. During the shallow conclusion we’re expected to feel for these folk, but “Man of Steel” just provides no form of connective tissue for viewer sympathy. The stakes never feel high, which renders both the drama and action tedious, and in honesty Michael Shannon’s work as Zod borders on the laughable. He’s got a lot of bark, but when called to exercise bite the actor is unusually unconvincing and removed from what’s occurring around him, although amid Snyder’s CGI-obsessed frame it’s easy to see how the actor got lost.
Romances form inexplicably and familial neuroses spawn from nowhere. This maybe wouldn’t be so bad if Snyder had made good on the final extraordinary action-packed 45 minutes, but alas he doesn’t, blending this once excitable legacy into an almost indigestible smoothie of cinematic incompetence. Small things work, such as Hans Zimmer’s rousing musical work, but generally “Man of Steel” is a bomb and another gigantic indicator that Zach Snyder is more likely to kill the visual arts thAn redefine them. It’s a broadly terrible effort, although despite some promise in its promotional campaign, I’m not wholly shocked to be making such a statement. It ain’t no plane, but “Man of Steel” could certainly convince as a bird. A big, fat turkey that is.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013