This is another reboot of the ‘Superman’ series telling the now very familiar story of how Kal-El was sent to Earth and became known as Superman. Henry Cavill plays the part as an invulnerable but rather joyless super-hero in a joyless film. Zack Snyder directs a screenplay by David S. Goyer. Snyder who made his mark with the film ‘300’ can manipulate images but fails to bring them to life.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
Superman comes to the screen once more in yet another telling of his origin story, but this time the film is more detailed and violent. The new version is darker in colour-palette tone and darker in writing tone. One expects this tone for a ‘Batman’ film. Batman is sort of Dracula as crime-fighter. Superman is usually lighter in emotional feeling on the small and large screen. While Batman broods about how to stop criminals like the one who killed his parents, Superman on the other hand is deciding, ‘Golly, maybe I CAN collect all the nuclear weapons and bring peace to the world.’ Notable exceptions to the general light tone of Superman were the Max Fleisher Superman cartoons of which several were rather bleak and noir-ish. Since the days of Fleischer I do not remember a Superman dramatization so downbeat.
‘Superman’ films used to be made on the cheap. See some of the Kirk Alyn serials or the George Reeves television episodes. Then after ‘Star Wars’ for a while there was a big push to improve the special effects. These days the producers of comic book films still throw their money at special effects but now also at art direction. Here this made ‘Man Of Steel’ a beautiful film to look at but watching is a rather empty experience. The new Superman is played by Henry Cavill, who has a flinty look, but he is not an expressive actor and he does not make for an engaging Superman. He has nowhere near the personal appeal that Christopher Reeve had.
His fight comes down to brute super-force. The writer has given him a foe who has enough brute super-force to give Superman trouble but enough less than our hero so in the end Superman can triumph. The Man of Steel can just hit a little harder than the bad guys. It would be more interesting if he were out-thinking them.
There are some liberties taken with the original stories. For example, Lois Lane knows Superman before he was Superman. She, in fact, names him Superman. Another change is that his caped suit is now more like body armor with a shape of its own. Superman does something I do not remember him ever doing in a film. Here he can fly with a vertical posture. We usually see him fly horizontally with his arms forward like he is diving into water.
When he flies vertically it makes it obvious that his flying is not just him jumping with the energy coming from his lower body. His flight ability just seems instead to be magical. The revisions and original touches are enough so that the story is not identical, but it is still very similar.
‘Man Of Steel’ looks nice but is a rather cold experience in human terms not unlike director Zach Snyder’s previous films ‘300’, ‘Watchmen’ and the off-kilter animation film with the long name: ‘Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole’. The film has more than its share of familiar actors with Russell Crowe’s talent squandered on the role of Jor-El, Superman’s father. Amy Adams is reasonably cast as Lois Lane. Kevin Costner plays Superman’s foster father, which is again overkill. Diane Lane is Martha Kent, the foster mother. Chief villain General Zod is played by Michael Shannon.
‘Man Of Steel’ is at times a feast for the eyes but still comes off as a film without a soul or even a dramatic centre. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2013