Published on June 20th, 2013 | by Darren Byrne1
Movie Review: Man of Steel, AKA Superdull
It should have worked. But it didn’t.
It should have been the best Summer actioner. Directed by Zack Snyder, who drove the excellent 300 and The Watchmen, this movie had the full package on paper – Russell Crowe playing Jor-El (taking over the reigns from Marlon Brando); Kevin Costner and Diane Lane playing the very human Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark’s earthbound parents; the lovely Amy Adams taking on the hardened Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane; and the genius Michael Shannon playing the big-bad, General Zod. And that’s before we even look at the reliable presence of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. And yet, there wasn’t an ounce of the innovation we saw in the relatively recent The Dark Knights or Inception.
I’m not going to give much of the story away, but there’s very little I could spoil anyway. It’s the usual Superman tale – in order to save him, Jor-El sends his son Kal-El off to the cheery planet Earth, where he is hopefully raised by a loving Kansas family and not a pack of wild hillbilly cannibals. Thankfully, he does land in Kansas and two homely folks raise him like the son they could never have. He must then come to terms with his magical powers and ultimately save the planet.
As comic book origin stories go, it has to be the most well known, so clearly Nolan and Goyer wanted to inject something fresh. Instead, they simply fleshed out the start of the tale, giving Russell Crowe far too much screen time and introducing us to the CG planet of Krypton. Frankly, the first 20 minutes of this film were pretty pointless.
Do you know what a MacGuffin is? It’s a term used to describe an often meaningless object or goal within a story that drives the plot forward. In the Indiana Jones movies, it’s the Arc or the Crystal Skulls, etc. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the thing is, it just matters that our protagonists move towards it. Man of Steel is full of MacGuffins. Whether it’s Clark’s search for Jor-El, or Zod’s search for the “Codex” or the crow-barred in “World Builder” (or something??), this movie is all MacGuffin and no real plot development.
But some of my favourite stories are without any great plot. What they have instead is great characters and juicy, believable character development. This is Superman, one of the finest comic book heroes, who unlike most heroes, wears his mask during the day, hiding as Clark Kent. The inner turmoil, the emotional wrangling, the God complex and the daddy issues… where the hell were any of these things in Man of Steel?? An unshaven Clark spends the early parts of the movie searching for answers and is just cheery cheery when he gets them, then shaves. He receives painful life lessons from his adoptive father, only to ignore all the advice later on. It’s so empty.
Henry Cavill is beautiful. I could stare at him for hours, but he could not carry this character at all. Perhaps it was the poor script or Snyder’s over use of CG and Battlestar Galactica camera jumps, but acting really seemed to take a back seat in this film. I’ll come back to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and Michael Shannon’s General Zod in a little while. For now, I’ll just point out the annoying underused Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Richard Schiff, Kevin Costner… what’s the point of having a great cast if they’re not doing anything?
Action, yes, this film has action. For the most part, it’s fresh and huge and impressive and mind-blowing and all the other adjectives that get pumped out at this time each Summer to describe the latest Michael Bay extravaganza. Frankly, I need more. Once I’ve watched buildings being demolished for 30 minutes, I start to long for something different (and no, smashing up a satellite in space did not count as different). A good half hour of action could have been ripped from this movie and not a word of dialogue nor a step of plot would have been sacrificed. Action for action’s sake is not good enough in a movie about such an iconic character.
Before I finish with a quick rant about the main characters and give my summation, I have to mention the score. I had high hopes. Hans Zimmer was chosen to take on a task that had been done so unbelievably well in the past by John Williams – I felt he had to deliver big. Instead, the music throughout was shockingly empty. The explosions and the scraping of metal proved far more evocative that anything Zimmer presented us. I was disappointed.
I was really looking forward to Michael Shannon as the menacing Zod. I wanted a foe as terrifying as Bane or as manic as the Joker. Instead, we just got an angry shouty stompy guy. His dialogue was atrocious. I wonder if they gave him a script at all or did they just tell him to behave like an angry child. Clearly, the bad guy next time around will be Lex Luthor, but I can’t help but think Man of Steel could have done with a bit of baldy’s smarm this time around. The whole film lacked wit; the bad guys more than most.
Henry Cavill will undoubtedly play Superman again. There is a sequel on the way and an ensemble film with the Justice League in the works. I only hope he learns that there are more expressions available to him than cheeky smile and brooding grimace. I know he can act – I’ve seen Midsomer Murders.
Lois Lane, the hardened reporter, more man than any other man in a man’s world of men. She’s tough and gritty and feistier than an angry squirrel. So, why then was she played by the sweet and cute and cuddly Gisselle from Enchanted? I know Amy Adams is a good actress, but she was not right for this role. She had such little screen time and spent most of it looking confused. I’m not a fan of recasting for sequels, but in this case, I think it would be worthwhile.
Overall, Man of Steel is a fun enough film. There are plenty of big bangs and smashy smashy moments to keep you awake without taxing your brain too much. It could be shorter, it should have a better storyline and the time spent making some pointless casting choices should have been spent developing the characters far more. I know this is a comic book movie, but if X-Men can do it, if Spiderman can do it, if Batman can do it, the greatest superhero of them all should be able to do it.
I wanted more. I wanted better. I certainly didn’t want to be bored. Save your cash monies and go see Star Trek Into Darkness again instead. It’s still in theatres now.