America’s favorite blue-eyed immigrant is reborn again, in a Zack Snyder reboot that gorges itself on visuals while remaining decidedly earthbound in every other department.
A lot has been made of producer Christopher Nolan’s involvement, he who made Batman solemn and crime-capery, so expectations have been high for this particular treatment. His influence can be felt in the wistful flashbacks and the almost slow-motion set-up shots that wallow, self-lovingly. But Snyder’s film is nowhere near as tight as Batman Begins.
So we’re back with the origin story of Kal-El (Superman), who, if you need reminding, is the infant scion of Krypton, propelled to Earth in his galactic Moses basket, just as his home planet explodes. The interplanetary sci-fi element is really pumped up here, with an early (and really long sequence) on volcanic, battle-torn Krypton, with typically grandiose Zack Snyder production design.
Whereas in 1978 Marlon Brando had his 15 minute pay day, as Supes’ father, Jor-El, in this version Russell Crowe gets to stretch his legs, take up arms and then feature in the rest of the Earth-bound story as a ghostly hologram. His part is overstretched and he’s there for exposition.
Clark’s earthly parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent are played by Kevin Costner (good casting) and Diane Lane. The flashback sequences on his childhood days, with various growing pains, are nicely played, although it feels like they fill in somewhat for the lack of substance in the ‘present day’ story.
And so to muscles and that historical cursed part of Superman. Henry Cavill looks the part. The jaw is hewn of Jersey’s finest granite and those pecs look like two small newborn babies have been smuggled underneath. It is just a shame the screenwriters haven’t given him the best scope to enjoy the role. For much of the time he’s meant to be moody and unsure of himself, like Hamlet without the words. Having kept the Clark Kent disguise mostly out of the story, this is one surly superhero, with less warmth than the Christopher Reeve version. The film will be hugely successful and he will do fine, but he comes across as wooden if we are being honest; he should get on the phone to his agent about drafting in some Iron Man style levity for the next one.
Our villain, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is the best written character here. Shannon smoulders and menaces in style, throwing his armour off with glee, in the finale.
At its best, Man of Steel does MONUMENTAL really well. Just look at Superman hovering, full frame, about to avenge and take flight, with Hans Zimmers’ orchestration billowing under his cape. These are mere snippets though, like trailers for another film, while this one never really takes flight. As is becoming his trademark, Zack Snyder seems hellbent on his visual fetishes, but the product is all orgasm with very little build up.
It is a shame because the special effects, and the flying pyrotechnics, have a digital fidelity and whizziness about them that Richard Donner could have only dreamed of for Superman: the Movie. When the earthbound drama is this moribund, you yearn for a better follow-up now that the origin is done and dusted.