Well, they blew this one…and I guess the writing was on the wall. I never felt that what worked for the Caped Crusader would work for the Man in the Red Cape, but I held out hope. Superman and Batman are two entirely different animals, however. And while Christopher Nolan did a marvelous job in directing the “Dark Knight” trilogy…he’s far from infallible (just ask me sometime how I feel about the overblown, overrated “Inception”). And Nolan’s scent can be detected all over director Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”. And in his role as producer, and sharing credit for the story with screenwriter David S. Goyer (also of “Dark Knight” penning fame), you knew ahead of time their particular influence would be vast. And yet for an extended period, you got the feeling that everything might just work out okay. And I maintained this belief even after Superman’s Kryptonian Dad, Jor-El (Russell Crowe–who probably would’ve been the one in the tights 15 years ago) hopped onto some sort of winged beast to escape from a rebelling General Zod (an all-anger Michael Shannon). I mean, is this the “Man of Steel” or “The Lord of the Rings”? But I also appreciate the desire to go maverick, and shake up the whole franchise. There’s only one Christopher Reeve, right? So, the whole rethink of the origin story for Supes was okay with me to some degree. In other words, I admire the hell out of the attempt. But the final result still fails. This film won’t only have you longing for the late Mr. Reeve, but you’ll realize just how brilliantly Terence Stamp pulled off the character of Zod in 1981’s “Superman II”. Stamp was evil and menacing, but gave us a villain who was like an effete god. Stamp’s interpretation was fun. Shannon, a terrific actor, just glowers here. It’s a major disappointment. And it’s too early to tell how Henry Cavill will fare in the title role in the expected sequels, but I’m hoping for much more. The bombastic second half of “Man of Steel” pulled the rug out from under him on any gravitas Cavill was working towards in the first portion. He’s handsome and all, with nice, big muscles. He also bellows a lot (I counted at least three mournful screams). Again–the approach of being anti-Reeve is the correct instinct. It’s just that Cavill doesn’t do enough to make you forget Chris. Box office, so far, is on Henry’s side–so I’m certain he”ll get another shot.
So, as brief as possible: The planet Krypton is about to be destroyed by an unstable core, so says scientist Jor-El (Mr. Crowe). General Zod (Mr. Shannon) leads a military coup that overtakes the ruling council of Krypton…so you’ve got your good guy and bad guy all set up–so far, so good. Jor-El blasts his infant son (Kal-El…or, you know who) into space towards a small blue planet (aka EARTH) to save him. Meanwhile, Zod and his cohorts are caught and banished into the Phantom Zone…then Krypton explodes. Jonathon and Martha Kent (a quite good Kevin Costner and a dowdied up Diane Lane) rescue little Kal after his rocket crashes on their Kansas farm, and they name him Clark and raise him as their own. Pa Kent realizes early on that Clark is different (ya, think?), and when those super powers start making their appearance, Jonathon Kent figures that he’ll have to have young Clark learn to suppress them. And he mostly does, but some slip-ups start a few people wondering. Like that time when a teenage Clark’s school bus driver has a blowout and the bus full of students goes hurtling over a bridge and into the water below. It seems they’ll all drown…until Clark single-handedly pushes the vehicle out of the water. A few of the kids witness him doing it…and the gossip grows. As most of you already recall I’m sure…there’s nothing he can do to save Pa Kent. Although the way Clark’s Earth Father bites the dust this time seems like it belongs in another movie. And this origin story has Clark Kent taking a variety of odd jobs around the country to find himself. So, a melancholy Clark (at this point, the buff Henry Cavill) travels and takes employment under assumed names. He also occasionally rescues some folks…like those guys at the burning oil rig that Clark works on one season. Eventually, he arrives in the Arctic, where he discovers part of his past—and meets a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter named Lois Lane (a perfectly fine Amy Adams). And soon arriving, years after being sprung from the Phantom Zone…General Zod.
There are quite a few references to Superman being 33 years old. Oh, brother. Get it?! He’s a saviour, he’s an alien—he’s Jesus Christ! Hey, 2006’s “Superman Returns” played with that theme too, but it somehow seemed more appropriate there. And subtler. Plus, all the chancier, re-jiggered origin stuff is usurped by plain-old smashing things in the film’s second half. Superman’s battle with Zod levels half of Metropolis! There’s almost no human stake to it. It’s barely coherent destruction and explosions. The filmmakers build up a sizable portion of good will for over an hour…and then they abandon it. Compare “Man of Steel” to last year’s “The Avengers”. “The Avengers” wrecked a city too…but it was done with high style—and you always knew what was going on. “Man of Steel” is just chaotic. It’s a shame really. Want to hear it from an 8 year-old? According to my second-grader son, the new Superman was just “okay“. OKAY!!! That’s a pan from a kid, if there ever was one. He says it’s his least favorite Superman film…and he loves the abominable “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” from 1987. I never influenced him on how to feel after this movie…I guess he’s just a chip off the old block! And he also noticed how Superman barely did anything super…with the specification of spectacularly saving people. No catching airplanes or throwing elevator bombs into space for the 2013 incarnation…he’s too busy brooding and smashing, brooding…and smashing some more. Really, it completely loses its way in that last hour. They didn’t simply change the path of Superman…they deadened it early and then dumbed it down late. We need some real pizzazz after sitting through that first portion…and what Snyder ends up giving us mostly stinks. He was the wrong director for this, and I wish Nolan and Goyer weren’t involved either. The sequel will be better you say? We’ll see, but I’m more than skeptical now…especially with this creative team. “Man of Steel”, as my son will tell you–it’s not awful…it’s simply okay. And he’s much nicer than I am.