Film review: Man of Steel (2013), directed by Zack Snyder
What every comic book superhero movie franchise needs is a reboot. A dark and gritty reboot. Well, Christopher Nolan made a very successful one of Batman, and here he’s involved in another major DC Comics character: Superman. Only darker, grittier and with a suitably muted colour scheme.
The story begins on the planet Krypton, which is about to go under – they’ve exhausted all their natural resources and destabilised the planet’s core in the process. They’re about to become smithereens, basically. Upstanding citizen Jor-El (Russell Crowe) wants the High Council (or whatever they’re called) to stop sitting around discussing how much trouble they’re in and actually do something about it, like a planet-wide evacuation. The Council says they’ll discuss it but are interrupted by gun-toting General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his cronies, such as Faora-Ul (Antje Traue).
Shit happens, Jor-El steals something and sends his newborn baby boy Kal-El away from the doomed planet with said stolen item. Jor-El’s wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) is the first woman to have given birth in centuries, and this is a big deal for various reasons. More shit happens.
Some 30-odd years later, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) moves around saving people followed by disappearing. On one of his incognito missions, he encounters an alien spacecraft with a hologram of his dad. Gosh, li’l Clark from Kansas is an alien! That’s why he’s been so weird and had all these powers all these years! Also, Clark meets tenacious reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who then spends time tracking the mysterious man down because she wants to know more about him.
And then there’s an alien invasion, “Superman” is born, and it all turns into a Michael Bay film.
Also starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, Harry Lennix as General Swanwick, and Richard Schiff as Dr Emil Hamilton.
So is this some incredibly sucky film? Nah, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a good action adventure, Henry Cavill is handsome, and Russell Crowe is like some noble knight. Works for me. As did the nods toward LexCorp. Maybe the inevitable sequel will introduce Lex Luthor?
Lara doesn’t get to say or do much, but then that seems to go for most women in this film. Their main job appears to be that of “damsel in distress” or “token female amongst the guys”. Martha gets to, I dunno, be a mum. Amy Adams does a great job with Lois Lane, and you know what? For once, Lois doesn’t get to be “the stupidest woman on Earth”. (“If Superman were to put glasses on, he’d look JUST LIKE CLARK KENT – heeeey …!”, or, if you prefer, “If Clark took those glasses off, he’d look JUST LIKE SUPERMAN – waaaait a minute …!” said Lois Lane never.) Finally, progress, hooray! She also gets to do a few things – even though most of them requires her to be saved by Superman.
Michael Shannon I thought looked sort of familiar, but I couldn’t place him – turns out he was in Pearl Harbor. (Reading this in 2021, after falling in love with Boardwalk Empire, is hilarious.) Which brings me nicely on to the subject of Michael Bay. Jesus Effing Christ are there a lot of explosions! We’re bombarded with things smashing into other things, buildings that get entirely wrecked, and so on. The thing is, because there are so many things blowing up or being smashed to pieces that what should be the climax, the final showdown between Superman and Zod gets lost. It’s just yet another (effing loud*) round of buildings getting smashed, so instead of it being the culmination of the battle it’s just a continuation of the battle, which has got tedious by then. There are only so many times you can see a Kryptonian being thrown through multiple walls before you start clock-watching.
And that’s another thing I don’t get. If Clark is so concerned about humanity, why didn’t he go somewhere without people in order to have a big-ass showdown? (Apparently, this is something done in one of the Christopher Reeve films.) Saying to people they should get inside because they’re not safe on the street … and then a few seconds later, they start smashing up the buildings? That’s supposed to be safer?! When they get into a café or whatever it is, Clark doesn’t fly straight out to make sure the humans inside aren’t in severe danger, no, he sticks around fighting indoors so the building can get smashed up some more. It’s ridiculous. And I haven’t even mentioned the last-second evacuation of the Daily Planet. It’s a bit like seeing a tsunami approach, but not decide to move away until your toes get wet. Epic emergency planning fail!
Another thing that’s ridiculous is when Superman says he doesn’t want to be tracked … and proceeds to tell Swanwick (?) that he’s raised in rural Kansas. (He’s an “all American boy” too, which is hilarious considering the Jersey he’s from isn’t exactly New Jersey.) Because there’s simply no way the US military could trace someone a reporter had no problem whatsoever tracking down. Clark could just as well have handed them a “Greetings from Smallville!” postcard.
I don’t really know what I expected of this film, to be perfectly honest. In many ways, it’s very good. The Krypton backstory element, the CGI, the actors … But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel as if it’s as good as it could have been. It’s not a bad attempt, but I just didn’t like it near enough what I thought I would, or even should. Disappointing though it is, I came away thinking “well, that was an okay film, I guess”, not “wow, that was a great film, I wish the sequel was out tomorrow”.
3.6 out of 5 of whatever that weird, dark metal was.
* Seriously, Showcase Nottingham, I love you, but why the hell did you have to go turn up the volume all of a sudden? There are reasons we prefer you over Cineworld, and a big one of them is because you’ve always had a very comfortable volume setting. One that even sensitive introverts can live with. I really hope it was a one off.