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Man of Steel

Returning to my season of comic book movies now although this was not originally part of it. I only just watched this recently and finished writing the review last night but thought I'd throw it in just now. Oh and aplogies to my good buddy Rodent who I know despite everything still did rather love this.


Year of release

Directed by
Zack Snyder

Written by
David S. Goyer
Christopher Nolan (story)

Henry Cavill
Amy Adams
Michael Shannon
Russell Crowe
Kevin Costner
Diane Lane

Man of Steel

Plot - The planet Krypton is on the verge of destruction, with nothing being done about it despite the warnings of Jor-El (Crowe), the planet's chief scientist. With Krypton's council overthrown by General Zod (Shannon) and his followers, Jor-El and his wife are able to send their newborn son, Kal-El, to safety by putting him on a spaceship bound for Earth. The ship lands in Smallville, Kansas where the infant boy is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who raise him as their own. As he grows up the young Kal-El learns the truth about his birth and begins to discover that he has incredible powers at his disposal. Now an adult, Clark Kent (Cavill) wanders the Earth, living a Nomadic lifestyle when he discovers a Krytonian ship that crashed on Earth thousands of years ago. Also discovering the ship and Clark's secret is Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane (Adams), who after hearing his story decides to keep his true identity a secret. By accessing the crashed ship however, Clark has alerted General Zod to his presence. Travelling to Earth with his followers, Zod demands that humanity turns Clark over to them or face destruction. The only way that Zod can be stopped is if the newly dubbed 'Superman' can do so.

For anyone who has not seen Man of Steel yet but plans to subject themselves to it be warned that there are major spoilers ahead.

The release of this film sparked two main questions. The first was obviously about the quality of the film itself. And secondly, was Henry Cavill able to fulfil Christopher Reeve's substantial shoes and make for a worthy Superman? Well I personally think that both questions can be answered in almost the exact same way. Aesthetically they achieved the 'look' with a decent degree of success (Cavill's physique and Weta's visual effects respectively) but I found both the Superman character and the film as a whole to be completely lacking in any sense of warmth, heart, wit, humour or just good old fun. Over the course of the last decade Christopher Nolan took the superhero movie to new heights of credibility with his serious, realistic take on the Caped Crusader. With Nolan acting as a producer this time out, and having supplied the story alongside David S. Goyer, the film attempts to port over the same grim, gritty approach that worked so well for Batman. But this is Superman!!! Placing him in such a bleak world just does not feel right on any level.

As anyone who has paid a decent amount of attention to my reviews will know, I love my action movies! Were I forced to choose just a single genre to live with for the rest of my life, then action may well be the front runner. But as this movie proved, even I can suffer from action fatigue. There's an accepted way to approach a film such as this; spend 30-45 minutes building up the character to a point where we care about them and then throw them into the action. Well Man of Steel completely ignores that approach and turns it on its head. Right from the opening moments it is pretty much just one action sequence on top of another, with the film never really getting around to that pesky character development whatsoever. The film's final act does pretty much consist of just one never-ending smackdown that pits Superman against Zod and his cronies, a sequence which lasts some 45 minutes! Now it's possible to get away with this as long as the action is imbued with a degree of creativity and variety, as was evident in the big conclusion to The Avengers. Sadly I found both of those qualities to be completely lacking throughout their battle. It was just a constant stream of the characters punching and throwing each other through the infrastructure of Metropolis, destroying one building after another. This also threw up an issue that similarly affected Star Trek Into Darkness in my eyes - the glazing over of collateral damage. Just as with the final sequence of Into Darkness, the large scale destruction of their battle must have resulted in thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of deaths. And yet not once is it acknowledged. We never see a body and there is no mention of those who will surely have perished. And while Zod is responsible for much of the destruction, Supes himself would have to take some of the blame. It gives the impression that he doesn't care about the people of Metropolis, and yet when Lois is in trouble he springs into action.

Film Trivia Snippets - Across the numerous roles required for the film it seems that just about every name in Hollywood came into consideration at one point or another. When it came to the role of Clark's parents Julianne Moore, Lisa Rinna, Jodie Foster, Sela Ward and Elisabeth Shue were considered for the role of Martha Kent; while for the part of Jonathan Kent names under consideration were Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood, Michael Biehn and Kurt Russell. When it came to the role of Jor-El both Sean Penn and Clive Owen were contemplated on, while Viggo Mortensen was in the frame to play General Zod. /// Now when it came to the characters of Lois Lane and Zod's henchman Faora it really does seem like every 20 or 30-something actress in Hollywood was pondered over. When it came to Lois Lane, names considered included Natalie Portman, Charlotte Riley, Anne Hathaway, Dianne Agron, Kristen Stewart, Malin Akerman, Rachel McAdams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kristen Bell, Lake Bell, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and Jessica Biel. And as Faora was concerned, Diane Kruger, Rosamund Pike, Alice Eve and Lindsay Lohan were talked about. /// Although Amy Adams did have quite a patient wait before she finally landed the role of Lois Lane. She had actually auditioned for the character twice before, first for an abandoned Brett Ratner version and then for Superman Returns.
One of my main gripes wit the film was the entire look of it. The colour palette of the film matches its much bleaker tone, its aesthetic throughout is very drab, grey and washed out with nary a primary colour in sight. Again it just doesn't feel like a natural fit for the character or his world. I also had a lot of problems with Snyder's directorial style, hating many of the stylistic choices he went with. There's a style that is very prevalent these days and seems to be aimed at adding a sense of realism to a film. It's the shaky, handheld camera look with the lens flares and clumsy manual zooms. It's a style that works for certain types of films but not for a film of this nature. The tale of an alien dressed in blue tights fighting against other aliens isn't a story crying out for realism. Now as I mentioned in my opening statements of this indictment the visual effects by Weta are admittedly very impressive, so it's a shame that Snyder's clumsy, shaky direction works so hard to obscure them. The action sequences really do just become a chaotic blur that assaults your senses and attempts to beat you into submission by becoming ever and ever louder. While the credits may list Zack Snyder as Man of Steel's director I have my doubts about that. Throughout the film and especially during that mind-numbing finale that appears to last forever, I had someone else in mind shouting out directions - Anchorman's Brick Tamland.

Alongside Snyder's direction where this film really falls down is with Goyer's woeful script which manages to fail on pretty much ever level. The plot was simplistic and completely uninvolving, the dialogue was clumsy and on occasion laughable and pretty much every single character was mishandled. Every single character across the board has absolutely zero depth and gives us no reason to care about them whatsoever. To call them merely one-dimensional would be generous in the extreme. And even the very few characteristics that Goyer does attempt to imbue them with feel completely wrong for such established characters. Particularly getting the shaft in this respect are Ma and Pa Kent. In pretty much every screen iteration so far, whether it be the original 1978 film, the 90s Lois & Clark TV show or the Superman prequel show Smallville, it has fallen to Jonathan and Martha Kent to raise Clark and teach him about the values of humanity. It is they who help mould Clark into this great beacon of hope for the world. Well not in Goyer's world they don't! That role is completely snatched away and given to Crowe's Jor-El, and even worse than that they are lacking in their typical humanity and compassion. At one stage Costner tells young Clark that perhaps he should have let his classmates die in a bus crash to preserve his secret. What?! Come on, that isn't even close to feeling right. And that leads us onto that scene. Even though its barely six months since the film was released, already the 'tornado scene' has reached a level of infamy in superhero circles that is arguably matched only by Peter Parker's emo dancing in Spider-Man 3. And it's certainly worthy of such infamy because it's a dreadful scene. To start with, the logic of Jonathan risking his life instead of the invincible Clark is already pushing it. The fact that Clark then holds himself back and allows his father to die? Beyond the poor writing of the scene it is also constructed and shot really poorly, resulting in a scene so bad that it's laughable.

While I understand that Man of Steel is a reboot of the character and the franchise, and that some things are perhaps going to be tinkered with, many of the story choices they have made are just baffling. As you'd expect the film opens on Krypton which admittedly is presented in quite impression fashion in terms of its visuals, and does feel decidedly alien. However I didn't think that it actually felt like Krypton; a feeling that was only enhanced when Jor-El hitches a ride on a f*cking dragon!!! Like I said I don't have an in-depth knowledge of Superman history so perhaps I'm missing something but where the hell did that come from? The only conclusion I was able to come to was that with Weta providing the visual effects for both this film and James Cameron's Avatar, they mistakenly included an errant CGI file of one of Avatar's flying beasties. Then there's the complete mishandling of the Superman/Clark Kent character. A large part of the reason why I've never particularly liked the Superman character is that as an invincible alien who is little more than a perennial do-gooder I don't find him all that relatable or interesting. It's the Clark Kent persona that brings some interest. It's the Clark Kent persona that brings humanity to the character and endears him to audiences. And yet this film chooses to withhold that side of his character until the very last second. Doing so also robs the film of that classic established dynamic that should exist between Clark and Lois, of Lois falling in love with Superman completely unaware that she is working side-by-side with him. In fact the whole relationship between the iconic lovers is really poor, never giving us any indication of any attraction or possible love there until out of nowhere their lips lock in a clinch at its conclusion.

And then there's the character of Superman and his sense of justice. I addressed Jonathan's death earlier, and as bad as that scene is, amazingly it has some strong competition in the controversy stakes amongst its viewers thanks to the conclusion of Superman and Zod's battle which sees Superman kill Zod by snapping his neck. Now while the scene didn't pain me as much as it does many other Superman purists, it still felt completely out of place for Superman to do such a thing, particularly in such a brutal fashion. And beyond how right or wrong it was for the character my other question about it would be - you can kill a Kryptonian just by snapping their neck? That seems a little bit simple. And if it was just that easy and Clark was willing to do it why not do it a lot earlier and save thousands of lives and millions/billions of property damage when he was just throwing him around Metropolis? Much of the film's dialogue too is clunky and risible, and at times I imagine I could feel the embarrassment of the actors having to deliver such lines, many of which would qualify as amongst the worst lines of the year. And at times the dialogue didn't even make sense, for example the moment where Zod tells Superman that “there's only one way this ends, Kal; either you die, or I do.” Hmmm. Now I'm not claiming to be a great maths whiz or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's two ways you've given there Zod old boy.

Film Trivia Snippets - For the iconic role of Superman himself, Henry Cavill emerged from the final shortlist of names to grab the part. The other names on that shortlist were Matthew Goode, Arnie Hammer, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Zac Efron and Colin O'Donoghue. And this finally allowed Cavill to shake off his tag as a nearly man. He had actually been attached to play Superman in the ill-fated “Superman: Flyby”, a project written by J.J. Abrams, directed by McG and set to star Robert Downey Jr. as Lex Luthor which eventually fell apart. When the project was revived a couple of years later Brandon Routh was instead cast in the role. Cavill had also been the runner-up to both Daniel Craig for the role of James Bond, and Christian Bale for Batman. /// /// When Zod broadcasts his message to Earth we see it being delivered in English, Chinese, Portugese, Esperanto and Klingon! /// Most of the scenes set in Smallville were filmed in Plainfield, Illinois. Coincidentally, a massive tornado actually destroyed much of the town in 1990 killing 29 people of of the town's 4500 population. A tornado obviously plays a large part in the film itself, leading to the death of Jonathan Kent. /// When it came to who would take the directorial reins, Darren Aronofsky, Duncan Jones, Ben Affleck, Tony Scott, Matt Reeves and Jonathan Liebesman were all considered before Zack Snyder was eventually chosen.
When it comes to describing the performances, the all-encompassing keywords would be along the lines of 'bland' and 'flat'. Once again though this largely harkens back to Goyer's character development, or lack thereof, because the cast are given absolutely nothing to work with. And it's a real shame because it's actually quite a strong cast of talented individuals that was assembled, individuals such as Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne. And yet not one of them is able to rise up above the severe constraints placed upon them by the script. Cavill may have an impressive physique but his performance never hints at the charisma of Christopher Reeve, the man who will always be Superman. As for Amy Adams, I'm a big fan of hers but she just feels completely out of place for the entire film. And with so little material to work with it's no surprise to find that Cavill and Adams have absolutely no chemistry together. Now when it comes to villains for this type of venture there are generally two directions they can go in. You either get the over-the-top, colourful villain or you get the sadistic villain full of menace. Sadly Shannon's General Zod is pitched pretty much right in the middle, resulting in a very unmemorable nemesis for Superman to combat.

In the epic fanboy war that is Marvel v DC, I'm very much a Marvel guy, both on the page and the big screen. And in terms of the latter, if this is really the best that DC has to offer then that certainly won't be changing anytime soon. Make Mine Marvel!

Conclusion - Slower than a lackadaisical slug. Flimsier than a piece of wet cardboard. Able to flop spectacularly in a single movie. Man of Steel is a complete turkey. A turd. Or a turd-key if you would! Back in my review for Richard Donner's revered 1978 effort I noted how it was quite evident that the film-makers had a great affection for the Superman character. Well with Man of Steel I didn't detect a single trace of affection whatsoever from Goyer, Nolan and Snyder. Bleak, joyless, nihilistic and completely lacking in any warmth, humour, heart or simple fun. I may not be a Superman guy, but even I know this isn't right for a Superman film.