Man of Steel is the kind of movie that I mostly enjoyed while watching it and like it less and less every time I think about it. It felt different in style and tone from the 1978 Superman and I appreciated that, but upon further thought those differences seem vapid. Superman has always been incredibly difficult to bring to the screen, (both small and big screen) and while Man of Steel tries valiantly to take the series in a new direction I think the results ultimately fall a little flat.
Man of Steel is brought to us by director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan. Zack Snyder may be best known for his style over substance epic 300, but he has also crafted such films as Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. Savvy audiences will realize that those movies were also devoid of anything resembling a coherent plot. Snyder is a visual filmmaker first and foremost with scripting duties tailing so far behind that they may not actually be in the race anymore. Christopher Nolan, who is widely known for the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, has crafted beautiful stories and wonderful visuals, however he suffers somewhat in his pacing and storytelling flow. Nolan is assisted by his Batman Begins co-screenwriter David S. Goyer on the script. Goyer has had some great ideas for the superhero films he has worked on, but he has an awful ear for dialogue and can singlehandedly destroy a scene with his words. Unfortunately this trio has combined not to elevate each other, but to combine all of their worst faults.
Henry Cavill stars as Superman and he certainly looks the role. He plays him as brooding and unsure for most of the film never really getting emotional about anything. That may be for the best as I’m unsure that Cavill has the capability to dig deeper than skin level. He isn’t asked to do much besides look godlike but he delivers that with aplomb. The lovely Amy Adams plays Lois Lane who is inserted into much of the movie whether she belongs there or not. She is given so truly awful dialogue and delivers it as best she can. I think of a scene where Lois is talking to her boss at the Daily Planet about a story when she exclaims that she is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Dear Mr. Goyer, no one talks like that. Most people do not walk around telling people that they are Pulitzer Prize winners, and in this case, I would imagine that her boss would already be aware.
The movie begins, as did the original, on Krypton minutes before the planet is due to collapse. Superman’s father Jor-El, played surprisingly well by Russell Crowe, sets in motion a plan to send his son to Earth so that their race may live on. This simple premise takes about twenty minutes to come to fruition as Snyder turns the Krypton apocalypse into a full fledged sci-fi extravaganza. Crowe battles Michael Shannon who plays a more purpose driven version of General Zod. Jor-El is of course successful and Kal-El is sent to Kansas. We are treated to a mostly non-linear story of how Kal-El ends up being Clark Kent and his struggles to learn how to cope with being a god among men. Clark survives being an anonymous do gooder until the inevitable arrival of General Zod. How and why Zod ends up on Earth is near unintelligible. The final act of the film is the cgi battle that takes place across America with a destruction level so monumental that the property loss would be in the mega billions and the loss of life would be tragic beyond comprehension. This third act is where the movie becomes tedious at best.
The fanboy in me really wanted to love this movie. A slighter darker, more realism based Superman? Sign me up. The fanboy in me is what gives this movie a passing grade even though it probably doesn’t deserve it. I like that it tried a different tone because the campiness of the 1978 original would certainly not have worked in the age of Dark Knight nihilism. Ultimately, I give it a pass for being Superman although I hope that the boatload of money this makes allows for a more streamlined and dynamic sequel.