Man of Steel (2013)

★★

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Man of Steel PosterDirector: Zack Snyder

Release Date: June 14th, 2013 (UK & US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Fantasy

Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Batman fans, close your ears. It’s time to come clean: Zack Snyder has a very iffy track record. For every ingenious graphic novel re-imagining there’s a hollow sucker punch. Presently, we can only cross our limbs loyal to Nolan and hope for a Snyder hit in 2016, but if his upcoming superhero face-off is anything like Man of Steel, it’d be best to quell those dreams. This Superman reboot isn’t anything to scream about, not unless those screams are riddled with unsavoury expletives. There are one or two great moments that only serve to thicken Snyder’s woes, acting as snippets of what could have been. Rather, what we see is disjointed, all-too-familiar and far too reliant on CGI. Never has a superhero gallivant felt like nothing more than just an opening act. And a pretty measly one, at that.

Having been sent to Earth by his parents during the destruction of planet Krypton, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) has grown up as an outsider surrounded by humanity. Displaying otherworldly powers, Clark eventually discovers the truth behind his own origin but is encouraged to retain secrecy. That is, until General Zod (Michael Shannon) threatens to harvest Earth and terraform the planet for the benefit of his and Clark’s Kryptonian race. Buoyed on by a robust moral code and assurances from journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the newly christened Superman must live up to his moniker.

In its primitive stages, Man of Steel is caressed by a solid narrative basis. We watch Clark’s early journey through life, sometimes in the form of flashbacks that are invariably effective. His struggles to adapt are pitted against an authentic prerogative to help others. As a child he rescues a bus-full of school compatriots yet instantly reverts back into an attitude funded by reclusion. It’s not instantly clear why, but we soon realise. (“People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”) The superhero genre is fully literate when it comes to principle-juggling and any subsequent strands of righteousness, therefore these elements ought to be employed with a twist. Sadly this one’s on the straight and narrow.

Despite being touted as one of 2013’s biggest extravaganzas prior to release, the outing carries an inertness that compromises any ingenuity. David S. Goyer’s screenplay is bombarded by exposition from the get-go, so much so that what we’re watching feels like an hour long prelude to proceedings when in fact, said time frame is the opening to the main event. There’s a lot of talk about genetic codices. Other than his commonly applied Superman title, our lead has two further names bestowed upon him: Clark and Kal-El. He also seemingly vacuums his way through an inordinate amount of jobs, from fisherman to military aider. All of this time spent building up the central character is unnecessary. As opposed to presenting Superman/Clark/Kal-El within a context of effective simplicity, Goyer’s script tends to opt for overcomplicating matters.

By the time we meet love interest Lois Lane the film has gone through a descriptive rigour. From what appears to be an unduly long opening act, events meander into a CGI-stuffed conclusion, equally unnecessary in length. A whole central act is missing, one that should cement our character’s mindsets and throw up internal hostilities. Lois goes from an investigative reporter interested in Clark’s uncanny abilities to his romantic concern after only a single scene — if not for Amy Adams’ charm infusion, her character would’ve been as pithy as they come. This is a two hour film that flies by, but not in a fun-induced fully-engrossing manner. Instead, lost narrative chunks highlight a lack of meaty content. Forget drama, the filmmakers’ seem satisfied with generic set-up and action.

And there is a lot of action. On occasion, the film sends out pleas for resuscitation through energetic sequences and flamboyant visual turns. Apart from all the bombastic alien light shows and exotic explosions (did somebody invite Michael Bay over?) Man of Steel purveys a gritty realism that actually works in its favour. Snyder utilises shaky cam and a monochromatic colour pallet as a means to present Superman within realistic boundaries, an attempt to show the apparently indestructible being as quite possibly human after all. It’s a shame that CGI-gorging eventually prevails in a display of all-encompassing consumption. One fight scene towards the end is particularly unforgivable in its obvious computerisation. Realism is substituted for video game-esque exaggerations, removing rather than endearing us to goings-on. Perhaps Snyder is indulging himself here — he certainly loves his ‘low, rapidly approaching blast of wind’ camera shots.

Michael Shannon is a left-field choice to play the main villain General Zod, but a choice that transpires to be the best thing about Man of Steel. His arrival on Earth is greeted with discomforting eeriness, the “You are not alone” telecast proving to be one of the film’s most successful moments in terms of emotional circulation. Sporting a peculiar white goatee, Shannon is domineering as Zod, facial expressions stoic and purposeful, overcoming the infrequent dialogue faux-pas. (“Release the world engine” might be the least intimidating line a villain has ever uttered when in the process of launching a deadly attack.) Dawning the red cape, Henry Cavill also does well. It’s a huge role and he isn’t afforded much to sink his teeth into, but the Brit relays just enough of a charismatic glimpse to signal a productive future. Russell Crowe manifests every now and then as Superman’s biological father, his efforts wholesome but not entirely effective. Frostiness battles affection, and the former usually wins.

Zack Snyder’s Superman revival is weighed down by a tendency to streamline towards convention. The film is essentially a carbon copy of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, only it severely lacks the Norse God’s raucous charm and humour. Here, superficial reigns supreme. Wearing more than few chinks in the armour, Man of Steel is a bit of a dud.

Man of Steel - Henry Cavill

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros.

Author: Adam (Consumed by Film)

I'll be at the cinema if you need me.

23 thoughts on “Man of Steel (2013)”

  1. It felt like too much, for a story we’re already being re-introduced to, and characters we have to get used to for a little while. But nope, Snyder couldn’t help himself and therefore, at the end, everything feels a bit jarring. Good review.

  2. Nice work. I agree completely. When I think about the things that made superman an interesting comic or movie character to begin with they’re generally lacking here. I think an alter ego should always be sufficiently different from the hero, but in Clark Kent / Superman’s case that’s the whole appeal of the character for me. You’ve got to have a bumbling, geeky Clark, not a brooding, muscular drifter. Still there are some good points, like you say, but it was a bit of a mess.

    1. Great point Stu. I’m not much of a comic book guy so I never really thought of the geeky Clark Kent side, but I can completely see how it would’ve added appeal now that you mention it! Thanks mate.

  3. Nice review Adam. I agree with you here. It just ended up falling flat and I didn’t really care what happened in the end. I liked the first half or so but it just ended up being another brainless superhero blockbuster by the end. And I hated that they had to shoehorn the kiss in at the end when absolutely nothing had led up to it previously!

    1. Exactly. Ultimately, things begin to feel very forced and it really hinders the characters. Really disappointing! I shudder to even think about Dawn of Justice. Save us Ben Affleck! Thanks Chris.

  4. Great review as per! Completely agree, especially in regard to Michael Shannon. Some of his dialogue really did suck though haha. Thought they could have trimmed a fair bit of fat from around the edges on this one. Way too much exposition and filler. Nice work man!

  5. You’re totally right about it missing a middle act. And the action scenes were horrible. Which was something I thought Snyder would do well after seeing 300. I’m not sure what went wrong but its descends into a mess

    1. The film certainly loses focus as it progresses, becoming a not-very-thrilling action piece. Hopefully Snyder can rescue what’s left and do something special with Dawn of Justice!

    1. I missed it in cinemas so this review comes in tandem with my first viewing and, even a year later without the outcry in the air, it still doesn’t do it for me. It’s not completely without merit though, thanks mainly to Michael Shannon. Cheers for stopping by Dan.

  6. I am with you 100%, buddy. I was so ready to love this film last summer, but GOD what a letdown. Destruction, destruction, destruction–that’s pretty much all I got from it. Makes me terrified what Snyder will do with Batman…but we’ll see. Another fantastic review!

    1. Great minds think alike! Ah, I know. Scary thought. Especially after how amazingly well Nolan revived the Batman character and franchise. Please don’t ruin it Zachary! Thanks. 🙂

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