An alternative review of the film Man of Steel

Zack Snyder does empty spectacles better than a branch of Specsavers that’s got no stock of lenses left. With Dawn of the Dead, he (almost) legitimised the horror remake.

Zack Snyder does empty spectacles better than a branch of Specsavers that’s got no stock of lenses left. With Dawn of the Dead, he (almost) legitimised the horror remake. For 300, he took ownership of hyper-stylised violence and chest pounding which would have been five minutes long without the slow motion. In Watchmen, he took some brave decisions that divided fans of the graphic novel, and took, in my view, the best shot a director could have at adapting that layered mind-batterer of a piece of literature.

I haven’t seen Sucker Punch. I don’t intend on doing so. He has now been entrusted with Superman in Man of Steel, with Chris Nolan casting a watchful eye over proceedings to ensure he doesn’t run rampant with overwhelming stupidity. There are moments, however, where you wish he’d been slapped on the wrists a little harder.

Rampant with overwhelming stupidity

I don’t know where you’ve been if you haven’t heard the Superman genesis story by now, but it’s not here. Home planet blows up. Mummy and daddy send him to Earth. Insane superpowers. Blah blah blah. The story hasn’t made its way onto the big screen since 2006’s Superman Returns with Kevin Spacey, so even though it’s a familiar tale, the opportunity to show it in all its fizzy bang-bang 21st century glory is a ripe one. On Krypton, Jor-EL (Russell Crowe) fires his son Kal (an infant Henry Cavill, who you might spot fully grown in a movie-long cameo as Superman) into space; specifically, Earth.

The film focuses on his confusion rather than his heroics as his parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) urge him to reign in his powers to blend with his human peers. Upon the arrival of zealot General Zod (Michael Shannon doing Michael Shannon) he decides, with the support of roving reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to save the planet. If that’s a spoiler to you then you should genuinely consider enjoying other things.

On the plus side, the film looks and sounds great (bar some ropey CGI in the opening section on Krypton). Everything after Zod lands is visually kinetic, brutal and absolutely destructive. Buildings get punched in half like Styrofoam cups, oil tankers are casually kicked at assailants, helicopters are thrown at other helicopters: it’s impressive despite not really knowing when to stop.

Genuine emotion and threat

Likewise with the stylish, if a little dated and derivative, opening scenes on Krypton. If you’re going to set a dramatic series of events on an exploding planet, you may as well make it look exactly like the world of Avatar gone the way of The Matrix, with a sprinkling of Prometheus for good measure. Credit where it’s due to Hans Zimmer, who has yet again given a layer of genuine emotion and threat to a bombastic Hollywood production.

Unfortunately, a film is not just its pyrotechnics, and there is everything else to consider. If you’re trying to make an audience care about a protagonist, you do NOT ask Snyder to persuade them. What could have been a careful existential exploration of being a God amongst men has emerged as a sequence of ponderous, flat and forced conversations.

Even Lois, who knows Clark’s true identity (in a twist on the folklore that actually works) is a one note cardboard cut-out of a ‘tough-talking’ reporter. She also, laughably, defends her Superman story to her editor with ‘But I’m a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist,’ in one of the clumsiest pieces of exposition I’ve seen in recent years. The chronological jumps from child to teen to super adult could have been interesting in the hands of Nolan himself, but they come across awkward, disorientating and badly paced.

Snyder has Superman pulling a Jesus Christ pose

A note to Snyder: you cannot simply dangle a star-spangled banner in the background or have Superman pull a Jesus Christ pose in the name of symbolism. It doesn’t add anything and it turns off British audiences. It does not excuse a flabby script or bloated plot.

It’s not even as if the idea behind the film, the exploration of Clark’s conflict growing up, isn’t a good one—it could have gone to really interesting moral and philosophical places. It just didn’t. I would watch a sequel (and one is strongly hinted at come the end of the movie) but it needs to involve two things:

1) Doomsday
2) Some painful dilemmas for Clark to mull over.

What set The Dark Knight apart is that Batman risked losing everything he stood for in the name of absolutism. Superman shares that trait. It would be fantastic to see that put to the test- Snyder handled Watchmen well enough in that regard.

The Super part? Competent to good. The Man part? Hmm. Unfortunately it’s the man part we relate to.

Next time, Zack.

What do you think? Will you watch Man of Steel? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter. You can read Grace Dean’s review of Man of Steel here.

Photo: Xurble