Man of Steel (2013)
“Tracing the origins of a superhero has never been so wearing on the human mind.”
GRADE: D (2/5 stars)
by Richard Rey
When an entire planet is destroyed and all we feel is indifference, that’s a problem. Director Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the DC Batman franchise (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) was both critically acclaimed and highly successful in the box office largely due to its unwavering commitment to the series’ pitch black tonality, effectively captured in screenwriting, cinematography and performance by an ensemble that included an Oscar for best supporting actor for Heath Ledger. Sadly, that mastery of mood slips through the fingertips of director Zack Snyder (300, The Watchmen) in Man of Steel, the re-launch of the beloved Superman franchise, and in no small way; indeed, the movie suffers from the same self-identity crisis as its protagonist, unable to confirm or deny its place as a tedious Clark Kent biopic or a high budget Hollywood blockbuster. But one thing’s for sure, there’s a whole lot of empty involved in the pic –wallets, emotion, creativity, and fun to name a few.
Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is the first natural birth on Krypton for years and his conception couldn’t come in a timelier fashion considering the alien planet is on the verge of exploding due to the exhaustion of its natural resources and energies brought about by its own citizens. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the coup-minded General Zod (Michael Shannon) are at odds regarding the destiny of the Kryptonian people. When the former launches his newborn son Kal-El into space along with the Codex – a skull that harnesses infinite power and energy – the unthinkable is about to unfold: the very first alien will walk and, eventually, fly among us. However, superpowers will clash here on Earth when Zod tracks down the man of steel in search of the Codex that would save the remnants of the Kryptonian race and allow for a new start.
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play the rural Kansas couple who find and adopt the extraterrestrial orphan Kal-El who they call Clark Kent. Living a life on earth when you have super powers is apparently the most unpleasant thing you can experience, or so we’re told time and again in a speak-your-emotion-don’t-wear-it-on-your-sleeve fashion thanks to the writing of David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. What could have been a fun time growing up for the all-American superhero – imagine reports of beer runs at the local 7-11 where a teen enters in through the front door and exits through the roof in highflying fashion or, even more amazing, the ability of a sixteen year old to read the minds of teenage girls, the possibilities are endless – turns into an unconvincing weep fest where the recluse boy Clark is the loneliest of us all. Even the adult Clark, played respectably by Cavill, seems to be more of a confused man-boy than a legitimate protector of Earth. It’s beyond me why Nolan, Snyder and company would strip this franchise reboot of nearly all humor, lightness, wit and fun – perhaps this is why the movie’s runtime felt especially long. This sort of watch is an unpleasant one-time only experience that instills more darkness than hope in its audience. Can’t we humanize the alien while allowing for an occasional smile or half-grin, at least? Not this time around. By films end we walk away with more of a sense of loss than victory, even after we’ve seen the teenage Clark save a school bus of students from drowning. Tracing the origins of a superhero has never been so wearing on the human mind. Yet for all the blackness, it still feels like the filmmakers didn’t really know what they wanted more: an extremely tedious detail-oriented layout of Kal-El/Clark Kent’s upbringing (Act’s one and two) or a blockbuster hit packed with in-your-face, super loud action (Act three). And with Snyder rather than Nolan calling the creative shots, it plays out like a muddled mess.
The few times humor is involved are, not surprisingly, the best ones: Superman taking a crash course in flying and a mouthy trucker who gets what’s coming to him (to name nearly all of them). Had the filmmakers lightened up and given us quality popcorn flick entertainment with more wit and intelligence – a Marvel trademark – it would’ve been a much more positive movie-going experience. Comic book fanatics will likely be pleased-to-tears with this extremely in-depth look into the boy behind the S (which stands for hope, not Superman, in case you were wondering) but wider audiences may find the flick far too heavy for its own good – especially since we’re living in the Avenger-era. Visually, it’s what you’d expect of any big budget Hollywood comic book film of the past decade with the exception that many of the sets and props feel recycled – the Kent’s farm looks like it was ripped right off of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.
Simply put, the movie isn’t anything special for its genre and the weighty, hollow mood will keep it from being the type of blockbuster we’ve grown so fond of. It is, however, the much needed springboard for future Superman installments that, with any luck at all, will allow us to breathe and maybe even laugh, if not just once.
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Runtime: 143 min
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan (story)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Theatrical Release Date: June 14, 2013 (wide)