Man of Steel
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer (screenplay), David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan (story)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe and Christopher Meloni
Rabid fans of Superman have been chomping at the bit to finally see Zack Snyder’s take on the DC comic icon. Snyder has proved to be a technically superior director with 300 and Watchmen, and he continues that tradition with Man of Steel. The film is incredibly well done and the impressive set pieces will satisfy anyone looking for an action-packed summer extravaganza. However, underneath the slick facade, Superman has lost his soul. Man of Steel is a telling title. The film is cold, sterile and lacks any emotional depth. Fault the story from David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, not Snyder.
Steel is a reboot of the origin story of Superman. The opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s loud, busy and bloated. The population on planet Krypton has found itself facing a planetary crisis foretold by scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe). His warnings fall on deaf ears thanks to a civil uprising led by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Jor-El decides to launch his newborn son Kal-El in a spaceship headed for earth. He has also hidden the codex for the Krypton species, in hopes of preserving their population.
Flash forward and Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is now a grown man living on earth. He lives as a drifter, randomly partaking in acts of heroism, but promptly eluding detection by disappearing. Through a series of flashbacks and fast forwards, we see how Kal-El (earth name Clark) was taught to hide his powers by his earth father Jonathan (Kevin Costner). Kal-El / Clark struggles mightily with his desire to help people in crisis at the cost of being ousted. It’s his burden to bear, so to speak. It finally catches up with him when he assists Lois Lane (Amy Adams, investigating a fallen Krypton spaceship) after she is struck down by a mortal injury.
This moral conundrum becomes the centerpiece of the film when General Zod and a handful of his cohorts descend on earth to reclaim Kal-El, along with the Krypton codex. That pretty much sums up the piecemeal plot, which takes a backseat to smash up action. Snyder’s take on Krypton is wholly a sci-fi rendition, as is most of the film. Some fans might welcome this updated version of the Superman story, but gone is the nostalgia and fun of the source material.
As for the action, it is relentless, so much so that the movie feels like one overlong set piece that is virtually indistinguishable from any Transformers movie. When the action is this pervasive, it ultimately strips the film of thrills. It’s numbing. The final third of the movie amounts to watching buildings sliced in half and crumbling into heaps over and over again. I lost count of how many times this trick pony was trotted out, but somebody seems to think obvious visual references to 9/11 will thrill audiences. It doesn’t. After the endless final confrontation between General Zod and Kal-El, the resolution is cheap and nonsensical.
Lois Lane is plucky and capable save for their first meeting, but Adams and Cavill lack chemistry. The best performance (and the most believable relationship) comes from Costner as Clark’s earth father. His scenes with Cavill give the film some sorely needed emotional weight. Diane Lane plays Clark’s earth mom, but has precious little to do. Cavill is okay, but not particularly memorable. It’s telling that my biggest takeaway from Steel is that Hans Zimmer has managed to bring us another magnificent score. Snyder hasn’t made a bad film; he’s just brought us one that is interchangeable with a dozen other sci-fi films. This version of Superman simply lacks staying power. Here today, forgotten tomorrow. – Shannon