I’ve always had a problem with Superman. I could blame it on his terrible dress sense I suppose, the unflappable Ken-doll haircut or that pointless disguise, but the thing that really bugs me about Clark Kent’s alter ego is his unrelenting selflessness. He’s just too damn heroic. Not the worst trait for a Superhero I hear you cry, but recent comic book adaptations have thrust flawed yet fearless protagonists into the fray.
Batman wrestles with inner-demons all of the time, as does Iron Man, but Superman isn’t human and therein lies the problem. It’s not like he doesn’t show signs of human weakness, but with God-like stature and an alien upbringing, it’s not always easy to connect with the son of Jor-El.
Zack Snyder was a strange choice of director for me too, but then, back in 2006 I thought Bryan Singer was the perfect match for this kind of thing. Superman Returns sure had its moments, and there’s a lot to love about the romanticism of it all, but Singer dropped the ball in terms of action and plot, and as a result, Superman’s return was a chore to sit through.
Snyder is no stranger to superhero movies either, having already helmed the big screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, Watchmen. Like Superman Returns, Watchmen was a stunning proposition at times, but it too was a deeply flawed cinematic experience, not to mention unforgivably forgettable. Don’t even get me started on Sucker Punch…
Which brings us to 2013’s Man of Steel, Snyder’s hotly anticipated reboot of the Superman franchise. General Zod (Shannon) is attempting to overthrow the powers that be on Krypton, a dying world with little hope of salvation. Chief scientist Jor-El (Crowe) launches his son into space, the planet’s first natural-born child for centuries. Crashing on Earth, super-son Cal-El is raised by humans, hell-bent on keeping his unimaginable powers secret. The Kent’s (Costner and Lane) only want what’s best for their boy in blue, but 33 years down the line, General Zod is relocating to Earth and it’s only a matter of time before Clark Kent’s secret is revealed.
We’re all familiar with the Superman origin story so it’s easy to see where Snyder could’ve slipped up, but in fairness to David S. Goyer’s screenplay, Man of Steel never feels like it’s going over old ground. The essential ingredients are put in place, even if they do feel rushed at times, and Snyder makes enough tweaks to keep it interesting. Krypton for one is an awe-inspiring sight.
Richard Donner’s Superman was a light-hearted romp, with comedy; heart and humanity eclipsing the cinematic wonder of watching a man take flight. Reeve’s Superman found solace in alter ego Clark Kent, but Goyer’s screenplay barely scratches the surface and as a result, Snyder’s Man of Steel lacks the warmth of previous incarnations. Having said that, his colour scheme matches the mood of the piece perfectly; dark greys are prevalent with bursts of light few and far between. I don’t think I laughed once.
Cavill works hard to add depth to a character still finding his feet on Earth, but only time will tell if he’s truly nailed the part, a second instalment should see him embracing the lighter side of Clark Kent. When it comes to playing Superman though, Cavill is the perfect match. The suit is spectacular and judging by the female response in our local fleapit, he looks the part both in and out of costume. I’m still not sure about the cape though, the only benefit it seemed to have was when General Zod used him as a Krypton bowling ball.
Michael Shannon is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s mightiest screen actors and he’s on fire here, overflowing with ferocity and menace. Surprisingly, Goyer’s Zod isn’t quite the villain you might expect him to be, and come the films epic conclusion, like me you might find yourself sympathising with the guy, at least until he turns the city streets into a giant pinball machine. Like Cavill, Amy Adams’ will benefit from a second instalment and Costner, Lane, Crowe and Fishburne add further weight to a bulging cast list.
Where Man of Steel truly takes flight – take note Bryan Singer – is in its action sequences. You’ll struggle to keep up at times but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We’re talking about God-like powers at work here, superhuman strength and the destruction of anything that gets in its way. Skyscrapers fall thick and fast, city streets are reduced to rubble and fighter jets are thrown through the air like tiny darts. The destruction of Earth has never been so wild and the final act ends with a deafening punch.
Goyer’s script doesn’t always bring out the best in Superman, but Snyder more than makes up for his recent failings. Man of Steel is an action packed origin story that – though lacking in heart and humour – delivers in size and spectacle. A second helping could prove to be Snyder’s undoing, unless he brings the heart to match the heroism, but Man of Steel is so much better than it could’ve been. They’ve barely scratched the surface on this one (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but with Snyder, Cavill and Goyer so game; you do get the feeling they might be onto something.
Arguably empty but undeniably epic, Man of Steel is this year’s most striking sci-fi movie. A blast from start to finish with the promise of good times ahead. What more could you ask for? AW