Man Of Steel
US (2013) Dir. Zack Snyder
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it even a Superman movie?
It’s fair to say that Zack Snyder has put his own stamp on the much told origins of arguably the most famous superhero of them all and the end results have divided opinion, much like Snyder’s other works. Thanks to 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, Snyder was seen by many as the one who would bring Krypton’s favourite son into the 21st century, making up for the lacklustre attempt of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns in 2006.
With a helping hand from the “saviour” of the Batman franchise Christopher Nolan, this is either a recipe for genius or disaster. Well, the good news is that Man Of Steel isn’t as bad as the naysayers claim it to be. The bad news is that they have a point about some of its flaws.
We all know the story so no recap is necessary but Snyder has opted for a subversive and much darker retelling, taking many liberties with both the storyline and characters which purists will no doubt raise their eyebrows at. It’s a bold move which largely pays off, removing a lot of the naivety found in the original telling of this seventy-five year old tale, giving it a welcome modern spin. As much as previous films have been true to the comic books of old, this film is true to the comic books of today.
The premise behind this storyline is that the existence of the alien being is already known to everyone when intrepid reporter Lois Lane sparks off a major national and global interest in trying to locate this remarkable being that saved her life during her on site stint of a spacecraft excavation project. This makes the story appear like it is told in reverse and while cause heads to spin but stick with it because it actually makes sense.
Elsewhere the villainous General Zod and his small crew of exiled troops lament the destruction of Krypton and plan to make the Earth the foundation for a new Krypton but first they have a score to settle with the son of Jor-El. So far, so familiar to the version brilliantly told via Richard Donner’s seminal classic from 1978. But this is where the similarities between the two films end.
Throughout the film the ghost of Jor-El tells Kal-El – now Clark Kent – that as the first natural born Kryptonian in many years, he is blessed with the ability and potential to bridge the two worlds of Kyrpton and Earth and lead us earthlings onto a path of righteousness and a peaceful existence. In other words Kal-El is for the first time (on film at least) being presented as a Messianic figure. It’s not blindingly overt nor does it evangelise but it is an easily detected analogy within the presentation of the character we all know and love.
Another area where Man Of Steel differs from its many predecessors is that this is more of a straight-up sci-fi film and not a superhero film. With shape shifting spacecraft, ergonomically fitting spacesuits and laser rifles there is more to connect this film with say Transformers than with Superman.
In fact, the action scenes are so frenetic, bombastic, noisy and chaotic, complete with the head spinning quick edit presentation that cause the viewers of lose all focus on who is doing what to whom, one might wonder if Michael Bay didn’t sneak in and handle these scenes on Snyder’s behalf. Truth be told, it is these hyperkinetic action scenes that detract from the film rather than lift it to the level of mind blowing spectacle. If less is more is what you seek from your films this may not be the film for you.
And this is an inherent problem with the film overall – excess. Seeing someone crashing through a wall mid fight is a cool visual but a dozen times in ten minutes is too much. Elsewhere when Jonathon Kent dies, it isn’t from a simple heart attack as we have seen before but, well, I won’t spoil it but suffice to say it is the equivalent of dealing with a housefly with a nuclear missile, losing all of the emotional impact of this pivotal death in the process.
Snyder also went for a fractured narrative, telling his story with flashbacks interspersed with current day events, a move that both sometimes works and sometimes irritates although the most effective and emotionally rich use of this is in the final act, which concludes with an open door for the recently announced sequel.
Onto the cast and it is fair to say that everyone here handles their roles with the requisite canniness for a blockbuster like this, although Henry Cavill sometimes looks a little lost but that said, as much as Christopher Reeve was Superman for my generation, I have a feeling that Cavill will be for his. Elsewhere Russell Crowe turns Jor-El into Obi-Wan Kenobi while Amy Adams is the Lois Lane we SHOULD have had in Superman Returns! Michael Shannon is no Terrence Stamp but his Zod is gleefully more unhinged which works well here.
I never thought I’d say this, but Kevin Costner brings a touch of gravitas to his essaying of Jonathon Kent ably supported by a natural Diane Lane as Martha. The only complaint is that Laurence Fishburne wasn’t as irascible as Perry White should be which always added to the dynamic between he and Lois.
Man Of Steel doesn’t deserve to be hated but it is clear to see why it polarises opinion. It delivers top notch blockbuster action on an immense scale but often gets just a little indulgent, a case of “just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should”. The 1978 version will remain the definitive origin tale of Superman for me while Snyder has brought it up to date. If he can just learn moderation we can hope for a sequel of greater substance.