Warning: More spoilers than the film’s Wikipedia page.
Man of Steel
I must confess I remember little of Christopher Reeve’s original Superman films. I must have seen one or two because I clearly remember some badly shot flying scenes. I have not seen much of the 2006 film either (the one with Brandon Routh in it). When I say ‘much’, it means I must have started seeing it but was soon lost in the bad story, the acting or some such thing (I don’t remember which).
The point is, none of them matter to this review. I see Man of Steel as a fully qualified stand-alone film and not as a reboot. It may be the beginning of an era when DC may end up doing a Marvel with the interconnected movie thingy that seems to work (just), but let’s not bother about that.
Five minutes into the film with all the partially interesting back story featuring a doomed Krypton, the only thought in my head was – Is this Star Trek? What’s with the lens flares? I could just barely make out the Kryptonian skyline behind all that light on the screen. Are lens flares snuck into the film during editing to hide all the bad CGI? Hmm… Point to ponder. Thankfully though, lens flares did not reappear (as far as I can remember). And also distracting to the point of insanity were subtitles. I don’t know if this is theatre-specific or not but displaying subs for a movie also releasing in regional languages is just unforgivable.
Moving on, the film relies heavily on action (and therefore, CGI) to temporarily engage/distract people in/from the feeble story.
We open with a Krypton on the brink of self-destruction due to an unstable core when a guy called Zod, obviously angry with the politics on Krypton, stages a coup. Jor-El, Zod’s ex-buddy tries to stall him while also trying to save his son Kal-El who happens to be Krypton’s first natural born son in decades. So Jor and his wife shoot baby into space, Zod kills Jor and finally the rescue ships arrive.
Evil General Zod and his team of baddies are then held captive aboard a spaceship by incompetent Kryptonian bureaucrats and exiled to float forever in the cosmos in some state of biological suspension. Only, when Krypton blew up (which everyone knew it would), Zod and others were suddenly free aboard a spaceship which they could now command. How lazy did the screenwriters have to be! I mean, what was the bloody point of that sentencing? This is the final scene from the Avengers all over again.
Meanwhile, Zod’s after a rabbit’s foot called the Codex which was incorporated into Kal’s DNA by Jor-El and wife and Zod has to harvest it to build another Krypton on Earth. Yeah, it makes no sense and was never properly explained in the movie. Predictably, Superman saves the day and Earth and mom (Earth mom) and girlfriend and everyone important enough for the final credits by defeating Zod and Co. but somehow still manages to destroy half of Metropolis and possibly its residents in the process. When I said this was a feeble plot before, I meant it to be a deliberate understatement.
The acting is decent enough. Henry Cavill plays a convincing Superman. Amy Adams also gives a good performance. But the show-stealer was Michael Shannon as General Zod. He had some powerful verbal and physical moments scattered throughout the film. Kevin Costner was also impressive as daddy Kent. Samuel L. Jackson had barely a cameo and felt underused. There was no Lex Luthor in this movie, not even a glimpse. Disappointing.
Superman is depicted as being extremely powerful. He is always lifting entire spaceships and oil rigs and flying off into the stratosphere and emerges from missile impacts and dangerous explosions with literally no scratches. Which begs the question: what the hell is that suit made of? The other Kryptonians too exhibit pretty much the same properties. In short, there’s nothing on earth that could hurt them except Superman. Naturally, epic battles have to be fought to cause any damage at all. The problem is, these battles tend to blow up everything in their wake. By the end of the movie, most of downtown Metropolis is brought to sea level. And there is every reason to believe other parts of the Earth have suffered too.
Superman may have brought peace. But at what cost. How many millions died in these senseless battles? Either Superman is not aware of what’s going on around or doesn’t care. I think it’s the latter because we see him on multiple occasions casually dragging Zod into populated office buildings and department stores. To occasionally show his human (?) side we are shown ‘acts of bravery’ where he saves a person or two when who knows how many hundreds are dead or dying. It just failed to look very convincing.
Then there are scenes of hammy dialogue of the first rate – “You are a threat to Earth and I will defeat you” or something along those lines. Cringe worthy, really. This film also suffers from some terrible space-time fluctuations. Superman is really powerful – I get it, but how do you expect people to believe he can fly halfway across the globe at no time at all. He was just there and back again before I could say ”What the f?” OK. Artistic licence. But explain this: One second, Zod and Superman are fighting in a large area somewhere in downtown Metropolis where all buildings now lay in rubble, with Miss Lane and her boss as spectators. Next, they fly off to resume fighting in a museum somewhere out of eyesight. 30 seconds later, as Zod lay dead in Superman’s hands, there comes Miss Lanes to comfort him. Nobody said she’s from Krypton too! Or have they discovered teleportation? I takes Usain Bolt a full 9 seconds to cover 100m.
But the most important thing about Man of Steel is that it works. It somehow, miraculously works. You really wouldn’t notice things because the movie is filled top to toe with heavy action and explosions and just coasts along, never lingering too much. It’s all over before long and even though you’ve already forgotten the story, you would have definitely felt entertained. It may not be funny like the Avengers and doesn’t have the same degree of star power but it’s thoroughly enjoyable. I didn’t even realise it was well over 2 hours long until after the movie. Now that is some achievement.
Finally, in retrospect, I feel slightly let down by the Snyder-Nolan collaboration. I know it is unrealistic to expect the same realism showcased in the Dark Knight trilogy of Man of Steel but I can’t help feeling they could have done more with the story, toned down the CGI and other things and given Superman fans the hero they deserve. Alas, it was not to be. Still, I would definitely have a go at the sequel. May be Justice League is waiting to hit the big screens, too. Will a DC Universe work like Marvel’s did? Who knows what the future might hold.
All images herein are Intellectual Property of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
© Nikhil Narain 2013