I think most Superman fans will probably agree with me when I say that there really hasn’t been a good film adaptation of the comic book hero’s story. The Christopher Reeve movies were good for their time, and the TV show Smallville was actually pretty good, but otherwise, Superman hasn’t been successful on the big screen (just remember the godawful Superman Returns). That’s why Man of Steel was getting so much buzz.
Now, I’m not really a fan of Superman (I know, it’s like I’m a communist or something. I just don’t find his character appealing). That being said, I was really looking forward to this movie because it was directed by Zack Snyder, who you might know for directing 300 and Watchmen. Seeing how well he adapted those into movies, I thought, “Yeah, this guy can do justice to Superman.” And with Christopher Nolan (who brought Batman back to life) behind him? Look out! But you know what they say—high expectations lead to disappointment. Before I explain, take a gander at the plot…
Here’s how Warner Bros. describes the plot: “A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.”
Man of Steel‘s biggest problem is that it wanted to be awesome. That’s not surprising, considering how Marvel is currently breathing down DC Comics’ neck. So Man of Steel had a lot riding on its cape. Since Christopher Nolan’s Batman films did so well, Superman was the next target for a superhero franchise. And you know that DC Comics and Warner Bros. were really hoping that Man of Steel would do well because, if it did, it would bring them closer to their dream of creating a Justice League movie to compete with Marvel’s The Avengers.
Knowing how much was riding on this movie, it was very apparent that director Zack Snyder and his team were trying to make this the movie everyone wanted, which is a good thing, but they kind of screwed themselves doing so. You see, everything with this movie felt try-hard, from the special effects to the action sequences. While the movie looked great, it just…wasn’t. The action was too central to the film, which overshadowed the movie’s most important part—the story. Since this was supposed to be the reboot film, the one that would give us Superman’s backstory before jumping into his other adventures, the story should have been treated like the foundation of this film (because it is). Without that foundation, the fight scenes are meaningless.
The movie started well. We saw Superman’s birth and Krypton falling to all hell, so we were shown exactly how he came into existence, what made him so powerful, and why he was sent to Earth. We also saw the rise (and slight fall) of the movie’s villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon), which gave us more backstory to work with so that we understood why he was gunning for Superman later. This part gave me hope for the movie. And then, suddenly, Superman was an adult, and we were given flashbacks of his youth with the Clarks in Kansas.
This way of telling Superman’s story was a major disservice to the movie. Again, I return to what I always talk about with sequels (I know this isn’t a sequel, but it applies, so shut up). The writers always end up writing for an audience that already knows the story, relying on the comics, the Christopher Reeve movies, or Smallville to do the storytelling job for them. But they forget that they have an audience mixed with people who know the story and people who don’t. Rather than refreshing the story that the Superman fans already know and setting up a character for those who don’t, the writers used flashbacks (God, I hate that) to quickly jump through all of the non-action parts to get to the action parts. This is the f***ing reboot! You can’t treat the story like it’s a tangent to everything else when it is by far the most important part of said reboot. UGH.
Speaking of using flashbacks, was the film editor having seizures during this movie? Because the editing seemed like a ridiculous mess. The story jumped around (thanks to flashbacks), the pacing was just awful, and it felt like everything was thrown into the movie haphazardly. And while we’re on the more technical film stuff, whoever was working the cameras needs to be punched. They weren’t even using handhelds, but they couldn’t keep the cameras stable to save their life. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves with movies.
Okay, let’s talk about the actors. Yes, Henry Cavill is hot. But his acting as Superman? I’m unconvinced so far. Maybe it’s because he’s just an okay actor; maybe it’s because he didn’t have enough of a story to prove himself. I don’t know. It will probably take another Superman film to determine whether or not he has some skill beyond looking pretty. Amy Adams as Lois Lane, however, I loved. Her Lois Lane was a scotch-swilling sassypants with a touch of vulnerability, and this I will credit to both her skill as an actor and the writers making the character more than just a whining damsel in distress.
Michael Shannon as General Zod was just downright amazing. He’s crazy, and he plays Zod’s “I was born to be a warrior” part well. Then again, Shannon is always a good villain because he’s got “psychopath face.” Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, though they had smaller parts as Clark Kent’s adoptive parents, really nailed it in their flashbacks with young Clark Kent. I mean, the flashbacks as a storytelling device sucked, but Lane and Costner made them worthwhile with their intimate moments of parenting their adopted son. Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s father, felt like Russell Crowe playing Jor-El (In fact, that’s Crowe’s problem in every movie).
More good things? I like the tone of this film. Like Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder decided to go darker and show more of the conflicts Superman has as an immortal raised to feel the morality of humans. And it works so much better than the campy Dean Cain-style of “Hey, look at me. I’m Superman wearing glasses, and nobody knows!” Sure, we get a little nod to that at the end of the movie when Clark Kent goes to work for The Daily Planet, but at least in this adaptation, Lois Lane isn’t an idiot and recognizes him. And, of course, the action sequences, though I’ve harped on them for the first few paragraphs, look really great. You can tell a lot of money was spent on good special effects. And because I’m a music nerd—Hans Zimmer created a beautiful and bold score for this film, which is perfect considering how beautiful and bold Superman is supposed to be.
Overall, Man of Steel was a good attempt at reviving Superman, but it didn’t feel like it completely fulfilled the “film we’ve been waiting for” criteria. I, personally, was disappointed in this film because it was obvious how great it could’ve been with a few minor tweaks in the editing and balance of backstory and action. While the tone of this movie and its actors is considerably darker and more realistic than former versions of Superman films, a lot of the backstory is set aside for action scenes that look great but offer no heart. Hopefully, that balance can be fixed in future sequels. But, for now, sit back and enjoy Henry Cavill’s package in the Superman suit.