Man of Steel may fall short in a number of ways from being a satisfying film experience, but none of them are related to decibel volume. From Hans Zimmer’s score (which never seems to stop running with its dramatic flourishes) to the ear-splitting near constant action, this reimagining of the Superman saga is filled with loud noises! Or as Brick puts it much better:
300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder was brought in to reinvigorate a franchise that devolved into utter silliness in the late 80s with the Christopher Reeve versions (after a solid first two outings). And there’s the matter of Superman Returns just seven summers ago. That picture was meant to restart the series but was deservedly met with mixed critical and audience reaction. Returns, directed by Bryan Singer, chose to establish a continuum from the original Reeve flicks. Nothing wrong with that… it just didn’t work for the most part. Box office results were not great. Even though it made $200 million domestically, that was considered a letdown and the idea of Brandon Routh ever donning the cape again fell by the wayside.
Man of Steel goes its own way and concentrates more on treating the Superman character as what he truly is… an alien. And an alien who is unsure how to establish himself on planet Earth. Man of Steel correctly plays up the notion that us Earthlings may not be so quick to welcome this superhero to our world. Yes, he can help us. He could also destroy us.
The decision to go that direction marks the film’s most satisfying and new concept. The execution of the concept is a mixed bag. Henry Cavill makes a serviceable Superman, though if we’re in comparison mode – he doesn’t leave even close to the impression that, say, Christian Bale did as another famous crusader. There’s no time for him to play the nerdy Clark Kent and we’ll wait until the inevitable sequel to see how that pans out.
Casting is an issue here. Amy Adams is a supremely talented actress, but I would maintain she’s miscast as Lois Lane. Nothing particularly wrong with her performance, but the character is not well-written and she has limited chemistry with Mr. Cavill. Michael Shannon is another terrific actor, but he’s a bit shackled to what he can do with his General Zod character other than dramatically spout sometimes silly dialogue. The actors who acquit themselves the best are Kevin Costner as Clark’s Earth daddy and Russell Crowe as Krypton daddy. And Antje Traue as Zod’s second-in-command is actually the most memorable villain.
The makers of Man of Steel obviously wanted to go in a more serious direction here than previous Supes pictures, closer in spirit to the Nolan Dark Knight flicks (Chris Nolan is an exec producer). A lot of the early action set on Krypton is well-developed and exciting. To me, it’s the last half of the movie that gets tiresome. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall action. A lot of it works, but some of it doesn’t. There are certain special effects shots that surprisingly look cheesy. There are others that look amazing. The main problem: the movie fails for the most part to establish any emotional connection to the audience (save for the Costner/Crowe scenes). The idea that Superman and Lois fall for each other feels forced. By the time we’re sitting through the endless fighting in the final 45 minutes, I got… well, bored to be honest.
Man of Steel sets itself up perfectly for a sequel and I hope it gets better… same feeling I had when I watched The Amazing Spider-Man last summer. Don’t get me wrong, film fanatics – Man of Steel is worth a look, but it might leave you feeling a little hollow inside. At least there’s a whole lotta:
**1/2 (out of four)