Man of Steel (2013)
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay), David S. Goyer (story)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Seven years after Superman Returns, the original superhero is given the “Nolan treatment” in this big-scale, big-money reboot. Louder Than War’s Tom Eldred writes…
It would be unfair to say that I don’t write this review with a certain degree of bias towards the subject matter at hand. Being a huge fan of comic-book movies, stemming from a childhood love of superheroes, I have fallen firmly on the side of Marvel in the sometimes heated battle of “Marvel vs DC Comics”. Spider-Man has always been my favourite hero growing up and whilst his appeal was found in his relatability to my teenage self, this very same quality was weaved throughout a majority of Marvel’s characters and drew me more towards them over their DC counterparts. I firmly believe that it is this quality that has helped Marvel translate their heroes to the big-screen with such earth-shattering success.
The evidence is there for all to see, from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (and more recently Marc Webb’s reboot The Amazing Spider-Man), Robert Downey Jr’s outings as Iron Man and the five X-Men films have all raked in massive box-office earnings and (mostly) strong critical acclaim. But last year’s Marvel superhero team-up The Avengers not only fulfilled the dreams of comic-book fanboys everywhere, scoring a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes but also broke multiple box-office records and is now the third highest-grossing film of all time.
The Avengers, masterminded by Joss Whedon, has helped place Marvel firmly on top of DC in the cinema world, which is not entirely surprising considering that the only hero who has been flying the flag for DC in recent years is Batman in Chris Nolan’s incredibly successful Dark Knight Trilogy. A lacklustre and generally very terrible outing for Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern did little to help and so DC made the decision to bring back the Godfather of superheroes once more.
Directed by Watchmen and 300 director Zack Snyder and based on a script by David Goyer, the tone of Man of Steel seemed to be heading in only one direction, confirmed when it became apparent that Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas would be reteaming with Goyer after their work on The Dark Knight films. Throughout the entire development of the film and the time leading up to it’s release, in all the interviews with cast and crew and the extensive features on it, one word has cropped up more than any other: grounded. The expectation was that Nolan would give the original superhero the same treatment he gave to Batman and enforce a sense of realism to his world and character. The concept around which this idea involved was certainly an interesting one; how would we, the human race, react to discovering that there was an alien living among us that had the powers of a God. Unfortunately, after seeing this concept come to life last night at a cinema in Budapest, I can safely say that all my prior fears about the film have been realised, and that Snyder, Goyer, Nolan and co. got this one very, very wrong.
I will start with the positives from the film. Amy Adams is truly exceptional and delivers a very interesting spin on Lois Lane. Certainly not the tenacious, damsel-in-distress reporter portrayed by Margot Kidder in the original Superman films, she brings a lot of strength to the character in a more subtle and delicate way. Kevin Costner is calm and assured as one of the guiding voices in Clark Kent’s life but his turn as Jonathan Kent is almost buried by the action and effects-heavy movie. And here is one of the film’s biggest problems; it is simply far too brash, boisterous and downright loud for a Superman film. It almost feels like Snyder was intent on causing as much damage to planet earth as he possibly could, without actually destroying it. His direction, at times, is immensely irritating. Clearly forgetting how to use a tripod or hold a camera steady, it was virtually impossible to work out what was on the screen in front of me half the time. There was also no end to the amount of times he would quickly bring the camera in and out of focus, particularly favoured in the flying scenes.
Not much better than the directing was Goyer’s script. I think after the success of The Dark Knight films everyone has managed to forget that David Goyer is also the man who wrote the sequel to The Crow (I’m sure many people didn’t even realise there was a sequel, that’s how bad it was), Jumper and (worst of all) Blade Trinity. He successfully fills the film with hammy and stunted dialogue encapsulated perfectly in Henry Cavill’s robotic delivery of the line “You’re a monster, Zod and I will stop you”. And here we reach the man himself – Henry Cavill, playing one of the most iconic characters in all of cinema history. He is a physical sight to behold, a solid wall of muscle but beyond that, I find little to comment on. That seems to sum up the fundamental flaw with Man of Steel; beyond the big, boisterous and visually impressive face, there is no beating heart. Nolan and his team have forgotten to add the soul that gave Richard Donner’s Superman films life and filled almost every single viewer, adults and children alike, with amazement and wonder. And this is where my gripe with the overall concept of the film comes in; it simply does not lend itself to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s original comic-book character. Kal-El is not Bruce Wayne. He is not a dark, troubled character with the same deep-running emotional problems and violent streak.
It would be unfair not to mention Michael Shannon’s impressive turn as the villian of the piece – General Zod. Channeling some of the bizarre and evil characteristics of his performance in last year’s Premium Rush, he is extremely convincing and at times makes a compelling argument as the uncompromising terrorist. Russell Crowe should also be noted for his performance as Jor-El. He is adequate, if nothing else but simply cannot live up to the legendary performance of Marlon Brando as the natural father of the Man of Steel.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I have not accepted that Superman needs to move forward into the modern world and must evolve to become a part of the “iPhone generation”. The fact that I regard Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns as a forgotten and unrealised masterpiece of the superhero genre would certainly support that idea, particularly when you consider that the main critique of that film was it’s old-fashioned and supposedly outdated take on the comic-book hero. My argument is simply be this: if Marvel can give their heroes heart, can make their films enjoyable and humorous and retain the core of the original character from the pages of it’s source material in a modern context then why couldn’t DC do the same with Superman?
This was not intended to be a continuation of the Marvel vs DC debate, however I think that the success of Marvel in the cinematic universe gives an important bit of context to the failings of Man of Steel and highlights the reasons why they still have a long way to go before they should consider a Justice League film. Of course, money is more important to Warner Brothers than making a good film and Man of Steel’s very strong box-office return will likely mean that they push ahead with the proposed DC heroes team-up. And as for Man of Steel? I feel that Snyder, Goyer and Nolan have not treated the character with the care and delicacy he deserves. This is one they have simply gotten wrong.
Look out for Henry Cavill’s coughing fit as he flies around the “earth machine”. You’ll understand just how shit it is when you see / hear it on the screen.