Review: Man of Steel

20130618-135445.jpgThis Zack Snyder directed reboot hopes to be more successful with fans of the Superman story than Bryan Singer’s 2006 effort, eschewing the fanciful camp of the previous films and replacing it with a harder, more realistic edge (no doubt using producer Christopher Nolan’s template on his Dark Knight trilogy), but does it work? Well, sort of.

After an action packed prologue detailing how and why Kal-El/Clark/Superman gets sent to Earth (dying planet/civil war), the first hour or so is basically Superman Begins, even following the template of flashbacks within flashbacks and not ever showing us the suit for a long while. The early flashbacks work very well as a tool to humanise Clark Kent with the discovery of his X-Ray vision power a terrifying highlight, as well as the scenes of Clark as a drifter. And with two father figures to choose from Clark is never short of a bit of paternal wisdom, it’s just a shame that when he truly becomes Superman all of that hard work goes out the window.

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It’s not the actors fault, as they’re all doing their best. Henry Cavill cuts a fine figure as the titular hero, but he’s solid if not spectacular (Superman was never the most interesting of characters anyway) but due to the darker-in-tone script he’s never given the chance to be charming or bring any levity to proceedings. He’s all-serious, all the time and it makes the film, about a man from outer space with superpowers let’s not forget, less enjoyable as a whole. In fact, everyone in the film is like that. Amy Adams at least is given a slightly different and more believable Lois Lane to play, but again gone is the sparky interplay and fun between her and Clark/Superman. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner give good father figure but they’re only there to provide exposition and give advice respectively. I don’t even know what the point of having Laurence Fishburne in this movie was either, wasted as he is. Thank goodness then for Michael Shannon who imbues his General Zod with real menace and crazy eyes, and is the only one that looks like he’s having any fun with his character.

A criticism levelled at the previous iteration of Superman is that there wasn’t enough action. There’s no danger of that here. It’s basically the antithesis to Superman Returns; not a minute goes by without someone punching someone else, something exploding, a gun being fired, or something spectacular or destructive happening. Watching super powered beings fight each other on land, in the air, IN SPACE is fun no matter who you are and here is where the Snyder excels, using his experience on his previous films to show the full range of Superman’s abilities. The problem is that all this sound and fury comes at the expense of any kind of character development or emotion. The script seems much more concerned with showing you what Superman can do than making you care about why he’s doing it. And the action sequences (the last act especially) go on for so long that there’s a real danger of becoming bored with all this empty spectacle.

I’ve been focusing on the negatives but the film is still a great summer blockbuster, but you just wish it had a little more confidence to embrace the inherent silliness of its premise than try to give it the Dark Knight treatment. All in all, the film feels more like a test run for a new franchise and as such it sets up the new universe neatly by the end, but hopefully next time around we’ll have a truly great Superman film rather than one that treads water so much.

3 stars

Review by Jonathan Cardwell.

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