By Marty Mulrooney
Man of Steel is a superhero film directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch) and produced by Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises). A reboot of the Superman series, the film stars Henry Cavill as the titular man of steel, with Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as main antagonist General Zod.
Man of Steel opens on the planet Krypton, which faces imminent destruction due to its unstable core – a situation caused by its inhabitants using up all of its natural resources. After a military coup overthrows the planet’s ruling council, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) launch their baby son Kal-El (the first natural birth in millennia) into space, destined for planet earth.
Crowe is absolutely fantastic as Jor-El – this opening sequence could have easily felt too fantastical and proved tedious while audiences waited for the main event, but the character of Jor-El makes you care from the outset. The coolest and most badass scientist imaginable taking on General Zod and his followers while riding what appears to be a dragon – what’s there not to love? Thankfully, scriptwriter David S. Goyer (who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman trilogy) finds a way to keep Jor-El in the film even after this visually impactful and exciting opening is over…
Which is just as well, because Crowe’s is arguably the best performance in the entire movie and he steals every scene in which he appears. Man of Steel plays out in a non-linear fashion, with many scenes show in flashback. Henry Cavill is perfectly cast as Kal-El/Clark Kent. He certainly looks the part and despite not becoming Superman for quite some time, it remains enjoyable to not only watch his transformation into a superhero, but to witness his life as a young man who must always live weighed down by the burden of a lie and walk away from conflicts no matter how frustrated and angry he gets. Yet despite being an actor worthy of the role the script often lets Cavill down, leaving his dialogue to feel wooden and his actions to feel peculiar and odd.
To be fair, this isn’t really Henry Cavill’s fault. Zach Snyder directs in an almost handheld style that adds an extremely personal touch – the look of the film is perfect and the stellar CGI is convincing enough to never pull the viewer out of the experience. It must also be noted that Hans Zimmer’s new theme tune is a triumph. Yet despite nearly all of the main ingredients clicking into place perfectly, the storyline is full of plot holes and many of the supporting characters fail to ring true.
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are superb as the adoptive parents of Superman, but Amy Adams as Lois Lane falls completely flat. Her acting is perfectly fine for the most part, but the actual character never has any real purpose and the plot often bends itself backwards to drag her along for the ride. She never convinces as the Daily Planet’s finest. You know she’s Lois Lane so she’ll be romantically involved with Superman – but the film doesn’t earn their inevitable first kiss and squanders any potential chemistry through poor storytelling.
On the plus side, when Clark finally puts on the famous suit (updated to look more believable, i.e. without the red underpants) and tackles General Zod’s full-scale assault on Earth, these complaints are easy to forget about. A mid-runtime fight in Smallville is also suitably epic and Superman always feels as vulnerable as he is powerful. It’s a shame then that Michael Shannon is seemingly cast more for his ability to snarl dialogue than his actual acting range, but he still presents a formidable villain that is more than a match for the man of steel.
It may seem like this review has been more negative than positive, but it’s only because this reboot gets so many things right that its numerous faults are so glaringly obvious and disappointing. The one aspect of the film that is a risk that pays off is the fact that it doesn’t try to emulate the Christopher Reed take on the role of Superman – Cavill never plays the bumbling idiot (instead, he’s a drifter trying to find himself) and his transformation into the God-like saviour of planet Earth is handled well. Why then does Zack Snyder choose to tack on an unbelievable ending that undoes all of this hard work? Man of Steel presents a Superman we can believe in, and finishes with a Clark Kent that’s totally unbelievable. It’s still a good film (just), but it could have been great – for now at least, The Dark Knight has nothing to worry about.
7 OUT OF 10