The comic book fun of Superman is shredded and the caped superhero gets in touch with his solemn science fiction side in Man of Steel. Sadly, director Zack Snyder seems to have also got in contact with his inner Michael Bay resulting in an overbearing use of digital action that snuffs the personality and heart out of the film.
In the far reaches of space, the planet Krypton is dying and in the midst of a military coup from the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet’s chief scientist, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), saves his newborn son, Kal-El, by putting him in a spacecraft and setting it on a course for Earth. Years later, adult Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) goes in search of his extra-terrestrial heritage while dealing with his new found superpowers.
Man of Steel injects the Superman tale with a heavy dose of sci-fi and it works to make the context of the story more palatable with the serious approach Snyder and screenwriter, David S. Goyer, take to the material. The Kryptonian race is scientifically advanced and their history is full of deep space exploration, cloning and terraforming. Even on Earth, Clark's powers are explained using solar energy and DNA. It’s a nice touch and science acts as a gateway to adding grit to the realistic aesthetic Snyder and Goyer are trying to give the film under the watch of executive producer, Christopher Nolan, who humanised Batman with acute realism in the Dark Knight Trilogy.
The plot works best when dealing with Clark's identity crisis. Having to keep a secret about his special abilities combined with his orphan status provides a good platform to build the character on. Clark is aggravated by bullies as a child and an adult but he must keep his temper in order. There is a fine line between Clark becoming a hero or a villain and it's exciting watching him take the tentative steps towards becoming Superman. Unfortunately, Goyer's scripting features constant flashbacks which hinder the story without developing the character and Snyder's non-linear storyline fractures the film's momentum. Clark also has an annoying habit of wandering into disastrous situations to necessitate action set pieces. It's as if his presence results in freak oil rig explosions, bus accidents and tornadoes. The dialogue is full of exposition and banality. Scenes follow a question and answer format, who am I? What is that? Explain, explain, explain. There is even a sequence where reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), says to her editor who won't print her article "I am a Pulitzer prize winning journalist". Thanks for the reminder.
The action is excessive and laborious despite a few enjoyable joy flight sequences with Supes. Snyder embeds the US military heavily within the film (the Bay influence aka Bayfluence) and the trigger happy response to everything is painful to watch. There are long set pieces with super powered characters beating the pulp out of each other while causing a catastrophic amount of damage that strays into comical territory with how silly it gets. During a fistfight between Superman and Zod, almost every manmade structure gets pulverized. Even when the fistfight heads into space, the adversaries manage to find a satellite to also smash. Of course, Superman is young and inexperienced in Man of Steel thus the destruction is a byproduct of his novice status. Overall the explosive elements are far too excessive and there is an overuse of digital effects used that could possibly animate 10 new Pixar films.
Cavill's Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent is a dullard. The costume does all the work while Cavill's jaw line does some of the acting. It's big budget cosplay and nothing more. Shannon yells his way through the duties of the villain without projecting any fear. Adams puts Lois Lane in the category of "helpless romantic interest" but the talented actress has nothing to work with in the first place.
Han Zimmer's score is the true mark of how lackluster Man of Steel is in execution. Not even Zimmer's triumphant work can elevate the material. It’s like an entire orchestra is pushing this giant boulder of a film up a steep hill but to no avail.
Man of Steel festers in the hedonism of hyperactive modern action films. The sci-fi update works but Snyder's boom-crash opera lacks a real heroic pulse to do the iconic character justice in this reboot.
[rating=2] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies