Man of Steel (2013) Directed by Zack Snyder. With Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe.
Throughout a decade of comic book movie boom, the biggest surprise, by way of his lack of prominence, has been the character of Superman. In 2006 Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was supposed to herald the dawn of a new era for the much-loved character and although his elegant film was welcomed by critics, it failed to meet studio expectations in terms of box office and has since been consigned to the proverbial ‘Phantom Zone’ of false starts. Enter the fray Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer on writing duties – fresh from their hugely successful work on the Dark Knight trilogy – to once again attempt to revive the big jewel in the comic-book crown.
The first thing to note is that we’re in reboot mode. With director Zack Snyder in the chair, it’s evident from the start that visual thrills are the order of the day. We begin, very much like the 1978 Richard Donner film, on a dying Krypton. Instead of Marlon Brando, we get Russell Crowe, in place of Terrence Stamp, we have Michael Shannon, oh, and there’s the flying thingy’s from Avatar. Heavy on CG imagery, it looks a lot like the volcano planet in Revenge of the Sith, but amongst it all, there’s not enough of what should be tragic emotion. Instead, there’s just a feeling of ‘that’s that bit of the story over with’.
Once on earth, and away from the green-screens, things begin to pick up. Henry Cavill, as the title character is a marvel of a physical specimen and his every-man take on the legend is much more reserved and introverted than has been seen before. Indeed, the film is trying so hard to distance itself from the lightness of the celebrated ’78 version, that it’s almost apologetic in its utterance of the name ‘Superman’. One character apologetically shrugs as he says – “…that’s what they’re calling him“.
Attempting to bring menace to proceedings is Michael Shannon as Kryptonian bad sort, General Zod. Shannon pulls all the angry looks and shouts convincingly, as well you might imagine, but can only do so much with a role in which he spends large chunks leaping around, knocking buildings down while blowing things up. Twice. More dangerous is German actress Antje Traue, who as Zod’s female sidekick, plays a nice line of unnerving and unpredictable edge.
As a whole, there’s a distinct lack of love and warmth. Between them, Nolan, Goyer and Snyder have sapped most of the fun out of the character, leaving little room for chemistry with the likes of Amy Adams as Lois Lane. In the end, getting Superman right has nothing to do with making him modern and relevant, it’s about honouring what has made him endure for so long instead of being ashamed of it. Man of Steel might have rung the cash registers like the studio had hoped, but it is a hollow echo of the far superior 1978 classic. 3/5