The most interesting thing about Superman has always been his unacknowledged status as the American Jesus, a figure defined by his genuinely good character and compassionate nature. Most superheroes are far more interesting when out of their spandex disguises and revealed for whom they are. Batman and Iron Man are striking by themselves by Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are fascinating in the way they are unbalanced, troubled men in dire need of counseling. Clark Kent may be an act but he’s a great one, a kind, dorky goofball who couldn’t possibly be the Man of Steel. The disguise was never the glasses but the demeanor.
Man of Steel is too much Super, not enough of the Man. It takes giant liberties with the character and, while Superman is my favorite comic book superhero, I’m not precious about the changes; I only wish the alterations were good.
Superman (Henry Cavill) fails at keeping his identity secret, is investigated by a plucky reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and battles the evil Zod (Michael Shannon). If you’ve seen Superman II, where Superman was played, definitively, by Christopher Reeve and Zod was scarily portrayed by Terrence Stamp, you’ve already seen the better version of this story. If you’ve seen the previous five Superman movies, even the lesser sequels, then you may be surprised how noisy, over-plotted and uninvolving this movie is. Made to sell lots of toys and provide a “record breaking” opening weekend for its studio, Man of Steel begins terribly, becomes tolerable at best and only succeeds at bombarding its audience with lots and lots of spectacle.
Russell Crowe, in possibly the silliest performance of his mostly impressive career, plays Jor-El, Supe’s father, in a 20-minute prologue that’s set on the planet Krypton. The sequence steals visually from The Matrix and the Star Wars prequels. The movie already seems beyond salvaging, as little baby Kal-El is sent to Earth, setting up a child-to-manhood narrative that it strangely abandons. Instead, we get too-brief, choppily inserted flashbacks. Cavill, who was awful in Immortals and The Cold Light of Day, comes across like… how to say this tactfully… a smug douche bag.
Adams is strangely unappealing, chemistry-free as Lane, Shannon is limp in his first big blockbuster role, Laurence Fishburne never gets to make the juicy Perry White role his own and, even with lots of unconvincing old age make-up, Diane Lane, playing Ma Kent, will never convincingly appear unattractive and could have played Lane herself.
While the special effects are tremendous, as are the super-punch-outs, there’s so many of them, they finally become uninteresting. The explosions never stop. I still don’t know how Superman could kick a truck into a power line without making a sound or how Zod can conquer space travel but send a message to Earth’s TV station with worse pixilation than my Netflix streaming account. Also, why can Superman kill a villain with supernatural powers in such an absurdly simple way? And what’s with all the plugs for IHOP, Sears and U-Haul?
At two and half hours, it’s never dull but doesn’t make you care, either. Director Zac Snyder does away with his tendency to over-use slow motion but otherwise, this is as badly over-directed, heartless, frenetic and dumb as the other movies from “The Visionary Director of 300.”
Film buffs and movie critics smelled blood in the water with After Earth but the disappointment of Man of Steel comes as a real shock. Christopher Nolan is credited as co-screenwriter and producer; I wonder if The Joker held him hostage when he signed on to this. If this is the newer, grittier Superman, it has a long way to go. Nothing here replaces the earlier films or John Williams’ classic theme music. Though I must say that I liked the final scene and the merciful way the end credits told me I could go home.
MAN OF STEEL
Rated PG-13 / 143 Min.