Hey guys, I went to see one of those “super hero” movies everyone’s been talking about!
Man of Steel (2013)
2006’s Superman Returns has a bad rep. I would argue that most of it is ill-deserved too. For one reason or another, audiences didn’t really connect with it and here we are. After pretty much dining out on Batman for the past 8 years, DC knew they had to step their game up to catch market leaders Marvel. Pre-release, I went back and forth on being excited for Man of Steel, but eventually settled on getting hyped. I rationalised it thusly: DC can’t afford for the film to suck. They still have eyes on a Justice League film and it’s not going to happen if people don’t like Superman. The script is by David S. Goyer, who has had great success with the Dark Knight trilogy. Speaking of ol’ Bats, director Chris Nolan had taken the producer role this time and had a hand in the scripting. All the elements are there. Director Zack Snyder has a great eye for visuals, but tends to get a bit carried away with himself (see the visually arresting but offensively shit Sucker Punch) but the down-to-earth duo of Goyer and Nolan would keep him grounded. All the time though I had a niggling voice in the back of my skull. The trailers certainly pointed towards a gritty, more realistic take on Superman. I hate this “grittification” of superhero films. Just because it worked for Batman, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everything. We learned this lesson with the pandering, shoe-gazing The Amazing Spider-Man, which took all the fun out of Spidey and left us with an angsty chore of a film.
“My son was in the bus! He saw what Clark did!”
Despite everyone and their dog knowing Superman’s origin story, Man of Steel tells the tale of Kal-El (Henry Cavill), an humanoid alien who was shipped off the dying planet of Krypton as a baby by his parents and sent to Earth, where he was raised by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Whilst on Earth, Kal-El (named “Clark” by the Kents) discovers he possesses superhuman abilities, like super-strength, laser vision and with enough practice, flight. After keeping his identity semi-secret for decades, it all starts coming undone when intrepid investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) starts digging around following various urban legends about a mysterious man’s superhuman feats. Clark is forced to come out of hiding when fellow Kryptonian and war-mongering bastard General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his group of thugs threaten to commit planet-wide genocide unless Kal-El gives himself up. Reading that back, I realised Man of Steel‘s story is solid. It’s a fresh take on the familiar and it works. The cast are all great too. Cavill is a brilliant lead, Adams nails a tricky role and Shannon is a fantastic villain. Star of the show for me though was Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. The Kents are integral to the Superman story as they give him his morality and understanding of the human race. Costner gives some wonderful speeches to the young Clark that manage to be genuinely affecting. I want him as my dad.
The film’s opening didn’t give me a lot of hope for the rest of it. We see Supes’ dad, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) arguing with the council over Krypton’s future, then a takeover attempt by Zod. Jor-El takes it upon himself to steal this thing and blah blah blah. There’s an awful bit where he calls a big CGI dragonfly/bat thing and rides it amidst explosions and all sorts of shit. It was a CGI nightmare akin to Attack of the Clones- just packing the screen with as much CGI as it can handle. It all goes a bit Avatar with the flying beast, then a bit Matrix as we see babies in pods. I felt my heart sink. Was this it? Thankfully, the film pulls it round, but it was a scary 20 minutes, I tells ya.
I suppose the two main criticisms of Superman Returns were its retro cornball approach to the mythos and lack of action. Both of which are answered here with varying degrees of success. The film takes on Superman’s origins as a course of solemn duty more than anything else. It takes itself very seriously and I think that’s my main problem with it. I also think by taking this approach, DC are just confirming the misconception that Superman is a boring hero. Yeah, he’s practically invulnerable and has nearly all the powers, but he has the weight of humanity on his shoulders. He can punch a meteor into dust, but he can’t stop the people he cares for from being endangered or dying. None of that really comes through in the film. Superman’s just another introspective hero douche. I think they rushed the Lois/Clark thing too. I didn’t buy the love angle for one minute and I wish they’d held off until a sequel.
In action terms, things have been kicked up a fucktillion notches. The film can barely go 5 minutes without some big sequence happening and I loved it. The superhuman smackdowns between Zod’s crew and Superman are incredibly well done and injections of much-needed fun. I never got tired of watching people getting punched with the force of a freight train and flying backwards through debris and various shameless corporate tie-in buildings. Superman’s final fight with Zod is a proper climax too. Metropolis gets leveled and it’s genuinely thrilling stuff. I was exhausted and deafened by the time it was all over, but I was still pretty content.
“He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him!”
“How? He’ll be a god to them.”
Man of Steel is an odd one. Instead of a bold step to try and bring DC up to the Marvel benchmark, it’s a strange case of trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. Putting the all-American bastion of good through the dark ‘n gritty filter doesn’t work. It’s all a mite too cynical for me. Levity isn’t a bad word. You can have earnest without being corny. The Captain America flick is a great example. In this film, characters are almost embarrassed to call him “Superman” and that’s part of the problem. Man of Steel certainly isn’t bad. I liked a lot of the elements, but it didn’t hang together as a whole. The tone is also all wrong. For fuck’s sake, it’s Superman! Let’s try and have a little fun when sequel time rolls around, eh?