Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner
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Man of Steel could’ve been Batman Begins. Remember that. Opening on a heartbeat and stylised out-of-focus camerawork, Kal-El is born. Amid Krypton’s imploding surface, Jor-El (a distraught, determined Russell Crowe) fights to send his son away from the chaos, away from the crumbling shell of his planet. 10 minutes over acceptable prologue time and overpoweringly CGI-heavy, Man of Steel starts very much as it means to go on: unimaginable destruction punctuated by scenes which the Zack Snyder / David Goyer / Christopher Nolan team believe are meaningful.
They are meaningful, of course, in Superman lore. The first shot is of the birth of Superman. That’s incredible, right? Technically, yes, but the shot isn’t. The shot is of Russell Crowe looking twinkly-eyed with some CGI equipment around him; from the off, it feels as though something is missing. That trend continues. The film pauses its natural instinct to crush, implode, smash, ruin, obliterate, destroy, wreck and demolish to glide over major origins moments, often presented in flashback form. As bad as it sounds, the film appears to remain in flight purely on the achievements of the comics beneath its cape.
Centrepieces Henry Cavill and Amy Adams do little to help the situation. Cavill makes it through by being quite attractive and looking like a good guy, while Adams seems worried to mess with Lois Lane too much. Both come across flat and uninteresting, but Adams manages to stretch to dislikeable thanks to the writing. Starting the film as a go-getting, if clichéd, tough female character (downing whiskey, annoying major members of the US Armed Forces, generally being a good journalist), she then meets Superman and spends her time falling out of/off things and screaming until, naturally, the man in the red cape catches her.
The most likeable character in the film turns out to be Clark Kent’s foster father, played by Kevin Costner. Warm, caring, thoughtful and a tough realist, Costner plays it perfectly as the source of Kal-El’s uncertainty about the human race. He’s only in it for 15 minutes, but Costner serves as a reminder of how dull the other characters can be… with one exception.
Man of Steel could’ve been Batman Begins. It could’ve been dark, serious and conflicted, but should it have been? Superman isn’t conflicted or tormented. Drinking in the sun’s radiation, he is literally a beacon of hope. He lives to protect good, not to avenge it. Then in walked the answer: Michael Shannon’s General Zod. Clad in a black suit, built for war, his hair slicked forward and speech delivered in an efficient drawl while staring dead ahead, Zod brings the conflict and the torment.
Definitively ruthless, he was born as a warrior to protect Krypton – only the small hitch of its eradication slowed him down. Struggling to adapt to a world Kal-El has had years to master, Zod and his vigilante soldiers host a couple of Man of Steel’s better moments before building the film to a numb apex of demolition, rushed dialogue and yet more CGI buildings razed to the ground.
Man of Steel has moments of geeky awe, moments of true interest and a little conflict, but greedily drowns it in CGI wreckage, exposition, collateral damage of a genocidal scale and a plot which, ignoring the holes, rarely stimulates or questions.
Man of Steel could’ve been as simple, as real and as thought-provoking as Batman Begins, but misplaced ideas of action and ignorance towards character mean that Superman, for now at least, is stuck in a bland, disposable world; a messy, empty spectacle.
iTunes / Blu-ray Extras
With titles like “Legendary Characters” and “All-Out Action”, the extras with Man of Steel may seem even less self-aware than the film, but they do document some of the struggle involved to make a new style of Superman film.
The former featurette lists each character, describes them a little, with primarily Goyer and Snyder discussing the changes made to make the film work, with the respective actors chipping in. It’s interesting, but not nearly in-depth enough to really grasp the effort put in to alter something that people are so accustomed to.
“All-Out Action” is precisely what you expect. A peek at the CGI destruction the film so massively overused, it details the training the cast went through (cue a topless Cavill lifting a huge weight) and is overlaid with generic phrases from trainers and a speech from Deborah Snyder (producer) on how physical fitness is “a state of mind”. We recommend opening a comic book instead.
Krypton Decoded is a half interesting and weirdly presented information short about the technology of the new Krypton. Hosted by a tanned, insincere, grinning Dylan Sprayberry (Clark Kent at age 11), cheaply written but containing interesting facts about the world of Krypton and the technology present make it worth watching – although it’s very tough to get past how annoying Sprayberry is. Overall, considering the manpower and effort that apparently went into Man of Steel, the extras seem surprisingly like an afterthought.
Man of Steel is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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