So, he’s finally arrived. And without his underpants. Well, either that or he’s wearing them under his super suit. Judging by the snug fit, I get the feeling he might be going commando. Also, for the traditional red, blue, and yellow, the colour sliders have been dropped about 40%, making Superman’s suit a less traditional maroon, navy blue, and stale piss colour. Roughly equal to when Christopher Reeve went bonkers in Superman II and started flicking peanuts at bottles in his local pub.
Such wanton destruction of alcoholic beverages by the evil Superman is rendered almost quaint by the carnage on display in Man of Steel. But more on that in a minute.
The story, much like Richard Donner’s Superman, starts on Krypton at a time of crisis. Where that film was pretty efficient in its setup, with General Zod already captured and destined for the Phantom Zone (and Superman II), Snyderincreases the action. It’s hard to picture Marlon Brando riding some big alien dragon thing, but for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, it’s not a problem. He has a trimmer waistline, and CGI on his side. Crowe also dusts off his plummy English accent as he attempts to thwart General Zod’s plans for Krypton. Jor-El and Zod both agree that the dangerously unstable Krypton needs saving before it blows up, but they approach the problem in different ways. One with reason, the other by fucking shit up.
It’s nice to see a bit more back story between Zod and Jor-El. The action heavy opening is fairly enjoyable, but at this point, I’m thinking, “I hope this doesn’t become overstuffed with oodles of CGI. The signs are there. Will Snyder rein himself in?”
Now don’t get me wrong. This is a Superman film after all, the tale of a god like alien who can fly. I expect spectacle. But, I dunno, there has to be a line, right? Maybe it’s expected of the director of Sucker Punch to not only step over the line, but also to do a somersault over it, followed by a couple of cartwheels, before grabbing his junk and going, “Huuurnngghhh!” Because that’s exactly what he does.
Mind you, when Henry Cavill lets loose, fully suited up, for the first time against two of Zod’s soldiers in a small town, it’s fantastic. At this stage of the movie, I can even stomach the collateral damage. There must be some loss of civilian human life, but you never see it. Innocent bystanders say stuff like, “Get inside and close the windows!” Yeah, sure, double glazing is renowned for protecting against frickin’ laser beams fired from the eyes of superhuman aliens, or an exploding petrol tanker being hurled through the air.
But… it’s a comic book movie, and sometimes I’m a little more forgiving. Superman’s first big fight scene really works and is exciting to watch.
One reason for this, is Antje Traue as super baddie, Faora-Ul. She’s the real surprise in Man of Steel. Sexy, super confident, a little smirk on her face, she looks like she enjoys having super powers. In many ways, she surpasses Michael Shannon’s turn as General Zod, who is lacking the casual, baleful disposition of earlier Zod, Terence Stamp. It’s a one-note performance, kind of angry all the time, and not much more. If it was anyone other than Michael Shannon, I wouldn’t be bothered. But it’s Michael Shannon! I’ll be honest, I was expecting a bit more from him. Cool beard though.
Man of Steel is still an origin story (yes, another one!), but one that chops it up into present day and flashbacks. I bloody loathe flashbacks. They’re rarely done right, and Man of Steel is no exception. They bring the present day story to a halt, and we get a small scene that isn’t really given much time to do anything before we’re hopping back to the present day. Although there is one pivotal scene with Superman’s adopted Earth dad (Kevin Costner) that is quite good, mostly the flashbacks make the film feel like it’s not really sure where it wants to be, what story it wants to tell.
The film really falls apart in the last third where the action and CGI goes insane. The devastation is incredible. It’s like Zack Snyder is trying to outdo The Avengers. It worked in Joss Whedon’s film, because Marvel heroes just have a different vibe to them. Man of Steel is an altogether more serious film. There’s a lot of soul-searching. But the huge amounts of seriously apocalyptic damage meted out to everything in general, to the point where it starts to get boring, reduces the impact of one of the big emotional scenes of the movie.
In the end, there’s too much spectacle. With Superman I also look for a sense of wonder. There’s precious little of that.