Directed by: Zack Snyder
Produced by: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: David S. Goyer
Story by: Christopher Nolan
David S. Goyer
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel
Starring: Henry Cavill
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by: Amir Mokri
Editing by: David Brenner
Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date: June 14, 2013
Running time: 143 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $225 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $619, 681, 205
Ahoy there, strangers! As I am heading to London this week and after a short return for a couple of days, I'm taking my Scouts for their summer camp, I'm having to cram a lot of work in this week, both in terms of watching movies and reviewing them. Already I've got to see Pacific Rim (more of which when I get to that one), and tomorrow I've World War Z penned in and for Wednesday I reckon I'll be seeing Monsters University, and perhaps there'll be another one got in there before I head on holiday, so, for more reviews and what have you, keep your eyes posted!
Today's movie under the rubber glove (it came into my head, make of it what you will) is Man Of Steel, the latest attempt to reboot the Superman character. To put this in context, I'll have to say that I am a Superman fan, both of the movies and the original DC comic source. Incidentally, one of my favourite interpretations of the character recently was Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar's Superman: Red Son, which does a simple but effective what-if, being that Superman lands not in Kansas but in a Ukrainian farm in Soviet Russia, but becomes this brilliant political and psychological interpretation of the character, but, alas, I digress... Anywho, this latest onscreen outing for Supes comes by way of Christopher Nolan (and Emma Thomas), the greatest living filmmaker and helmsman of The Dark Knight Trilogy, and a not-so great living filmmaker in Zack Snyder. In fairness, 300 was good, but everything else, and I'm still including Watchmen, is just dispensable, especially Sucker Punch. Although the preferred option would be to have Nolan direct, we've got Snyder in the chair and despite this, I went in thinking with Nolan behind this and the fact that I'm into the character's story, this'll be a good movie. The backstory is more or less the same with a few variations: Krypton is facing destruction, and General Zod (Michael Shannon) goes rogue on the ruling council, and following this coup, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) send their newborn son Kal-El's spacecraft, along with the genetic codex of the Kryptonian race, to the planet Earth. After this prologue, we find the now thirty-three year old Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) living a nomadic existence, hiding his identity and struggling with the loss of his adoptive father. However, the threat of the public exposure by way of the Daily Planet's Lois Lane (Amy Adams), his discover of a Kryptonian spaceship buried in the Arctic and certain non-negotiable demands by a returning General Zod, Kent is forced to take responsibility for who he is. Got it? Good!
First things to say about the good stuff here is that some of the supporting actors are cast into roles in which they perform well. Russell Crowe has gotten to the age where he can pull off the father-figure role with suitable authority, and his take on Jor-El is pretty good. Also well-cast is Diane Lane, whose Martha Kent fills the void of matriarchy with a real human quality. Most impressive in the cast though is Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent. Costner's performance is understated appropriately, for this is the kind of part that could have been way too melodramatic. Carrying off the part with legitimacy, the character's role in shaping the future-Superman is integral to the story and Costner does with a genuine sincerity of purpose. Another element of the film which impressive was the Hans Zimmer score. The great maestro is a welcome replacement by-way-of-Nolan to Snyder's usual go-to composer Tyler Bates. It's his work on the film that does the most to convey the sense of scope and power necessary for the Superman story. Although clearly taking a page from his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy, Zimmer gives his Man Of Steel compositions enough of it's own personality to make it clearly it's own thing, and what he does here is arguably the best thing about Man Of Steel. Finally, although I have quibbles (more of which in due time), the budget of the film has been clearly well-spent on the special effects and action sequences. The terraforming sequence is a highlight in this regard, and as a general note the special effects lack the hokiness that sometimes come with these blockbuster aesthetics, regardless of the budget, so, hey, well done to the special effects guys!
However, and this is where things get started, although I did like a number of elements in Man Of Steel, it is a largely troublesome film, the key issues of which emerge from (I know I'm going after my usual target!) the messy script. For starters, the film is scripted as such that it feels like two different movies at different points in a franchise crammed into one movie. It has the whole origin story thing going on (which clearly scribe David S. Goyer has been taking notes from his Batman Begins work), chopping back and forth between time and eschewing a lot of traditional chronological order. On the other hand, the whole crux of General Zod's villainous motivations and the driving force of the plot itself feel like that of a sequel. When the two attempt to coalesce, they don't merge as well together as they are clearly intended, and as such, the movie feels a bit all of the place. The second main issue to emerge from the script is the problem of characterisation. Despite having all this emotional baggage, Goyer fails to convince that this Superman story is doing anything new and interesting above and beyond what we have seen happen in so many of these superhero movies before (not just superhero films, mind), things about troubled souls who have to shoulder a burden they didn't ask for but are nevertheless forced to take responsibility for their purpose/destiny. Also, the whole Clark Kent/Lois Lane subplot is given nary any time to develop to develop into a legitimate romantic angle. Really, Cavill and Adams spend very little on time onscreen together, and whenever they do, it's all basil-expository nonsense to rattle the plot forward. I defy anyone who believed that these two could ever potentially fall in love, apart from the fact that Henry Cavill looks buff and what have you. Furthermore, General Zod's arc falls far from the genuine convictions that Goyer is attempting to strive for. I mean, it's not by any means something to go by, but at least you had some sort of belief in John Harrison as a character in Star Trek Into Darkness. Here, the antagonist's motivations are lacking. This scripting issue also leaks into the performances of the central players. Henry Cavill may look the part, but all he's given to do apart from look good and fight a bunch of bad guys consists of him brooding and talking morosely about all the crap that he's going through to get to the point where he becomes Superman. Amy Adams too suffers, lacking some of spunk required to play the part of Lois Lane, who is meant to be a pretty gutsy reporter for all intents and purposes, but instead seems like a poorly-depicted archetypal fish out of water, or rather the wrong end of the 'curiosity killed the cat' adage. Even the mighty Michael Shannon, who in the many films I've seen him in has never been anything but an engaging and genuinely intriguing screen presence, instead comes across a sub-par villain who eulogises in a way that ties into the film's borderline-Gaian environmentalism and fills it with a dullard's turn of Shakespearean drivel (sorry Michael, I love your work, and I can safely say it wasn't your fault!). The final issue that overarches into what's wrong with the film (and I know that this is a personal thing) is how everything is approached with the utmost of seriousness. The thing about the Superman character is that not only is he a terrifically politicised figure that has all this baggage, but he's also a great and is supposed to carry a sense of charm and charisma. I think Christopher Reeve was the perfect Superman, pitching it just right between taking it seriously and not taking it seriously, and it'd be a daunting task try and touch that, but to give the character the whole Dark Knight treatment is out of touch with what it's about. The film is also shot in such a way by Amir Mokri that a lot of the hues in the lighting (and I'm sure post-production had something to do with this too) ensure that the movie has a lot of the colour desaturated. That means that I couldn't tell whether or not the sets were really wonderful because frankly the film was so dark (pun intended) that I couldn't see anything. Even the iconic Superman costume is indued with the film's overarching shades of grey tonality. Like I said, it's a personal thing, but this is not the treatment that the Superman character requires, or deserves.
Well, as you might have guessed from the general level of detachment in my review (for which, I do not apologise), the feeling was mutual for the film. Granted, you do get the impression that the filmmakers are trying to do something new with the character, giving it the whole Dark Knight treatment. It also has some things going for it, including a strong supporting cast, particularly in Kevin Costner, whose character is the only one sufficiently fleshed out, a fine Hans Zimmer score and some stunning special effects, particularly the terraforming sequence, so I'll give it that. However, the script by David S. Goyer is the primary fault, impacting on a narrative level, the characterisation problems extending also to the actors (how is it possible that Michael Shannon is bad in a movie?) and an overall problem with the uber self-serious tone of the film, which shrouds everything not in the iconic red cape, but an ugly grey cloak that would be more befitting the sour curd that Charles Foster Kane becomes. My good friend at Danland Movies said to me that critics didn't know how good they had it with Superman Returns, and I couldn't agree more. It has some good moments, but Man Of Steel is nevertheless a misguided enterprise with a hell of a lot of excess bloat to boot!
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.0/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hungry (it's annoying me, but I'm always wanting to eat of late!)
P.S. Go read Mark Millar's Superman: Red Son!