Hollywood loves reboots. If it’s been done before, it’ll be done again (maybe even in the same decade). I found 2006’s Superman Returns to be a very enjoyable superhero romp, but Warner Brothers publicly denounced the film’s performance (apparently $400 million was below expectations) and went back to the drawing board. Although I’m not a fan of origin stories, I was eager to see if Zack Snyder’s unique vision and Christopher Nolan’s Batman touch could usher in a new era for the iconic superhero.
The casting of Henry Cavill in the title role definitely makes more sense than Brandon Routh. The latter didn’t exactly have the most charismatic presence, and he was perhaps the weakest link in Superman Returns. Cavill on the other hand is pretty darn great in Man of Steel, evoking just the right dose of steely confidence and vulnerability. And yet, he’s never too vulnerable (Henry’s massive size obviously helps with that). His performance is a true star-making turn, and I’m excited to see him grow into the role even further in future installments. Cavill’s had a tough road to stardom; he was famously passed over for the role of Bond (a role that would have fit him perfectly) as well as Superman a couple of years back in a reboot attempt that never saw the light of day. Thankfully, it feels like all is now right in the world because as far as I’m concerned, he was born to play this part
Amy Adams was a welcome surprise. I wasn’t fan of this casting choice at first, but Adams does a tremendous job with Lois Lane. She straddles a fine line between being a damsel in distress and a proactive strong-willed reporter. However, while she and Cavill have some charming chemistry, I didn’t feel the script developed their attraction nearly as much as it should have. The two only had a handful of encounters before the film suddenly positioned them as soulmates. The fact that we already know their story helped the film in this regard, but I still would have liked to see more of Lois and Clarke’s budding relationship.
Less successful is Laurence Fishburne who is pretty much wasted as Perry White, Lois’ boss and the editor of The Daily Planet. He’s not given much to do and appropriately finds himself lost in the shuffle. I was also displeased with Russell Crowe who bored me to tears as the lifeless Jor-El. It often felt like he was just there to spout off clunky exposition and not much else. Thankfully, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were outstanding as Clark’s parents; both actors being down to earth and incredibly relatable. The real revelation though is Michael Shannon as General Zod, the antagonist of the story. Shannon completely owns the role, capable of expressing a ton of rage and menace without uttering a single word.
A lot of the criticism leveled at Superman Returns revolved around the belief that the film didn’t have enough action. Thrill-seekers will be pleased to know that Man Of Steel is jam-packed with prolonged fight scenes and explosive set pieces. The CGI is thoroughly awesome although I wasn’t too enamored by the flying sequences (I can’t seem to pinpoint why). Interestingly enough, the action scenes manage to make Superman a viable fighter even in hand-to-hand combat. However, by the end of the film, I found myself a bit numb to all the destruction (and this is coming from the biggest action aficionado). Interestingly enough, Superman seemed indifferent as well, which raises an intriguing issue; shouldn’t our hero care about the zillions perishing in the crossfire? I know we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief as audience members, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it contrasted everything Superman stands for.
Another beef I had with the film was its severe lack of humor. The subject matter is tackled much too seriously, and the numerous cheesy speeches about the greater good definitely didn’t help. There were a couple of humorous moments but they were too few and far between. Joss Whedon managed to infuse some hilarious humor into the sprawling epic that was The Avengers, so there’s no reason Man of Steel couldn’t have implemented a few more laugh-out loud moments to break the tension.
In addition, Man of Steel doesn’t really have a standout moment – that one singularly powerful moment (think Bruce Wayne finally climbing out of the pit in The Dark Knight Rises) that gives you goosebumps and cements a film’s unforgettable quality. The film has several memorable sequences, but it’s missing that one truly transcendent moment of extraordinary filmmaking. Nevertheless, the greatest compliment I can give Man of Steel is that it sets the stage for an engaging franchise; I can’t wait for Snyder and company to jump right into the next chapter of Clarke’s life (the follow-up has just been fast-tracked to production). Here’s hoping Supes’ next adventure follows in the vein of such epic superhero sequels as X2, Spiderman 2, and The Dark Knight.
Special Note: If you have the chance, I strongly recommend experiencing the film in 2D. The 3D conversion greatly dims the proceedings and the film is an already dark affair. If there’s one thing I thought Superman Returns did better, it was its bright, comic-book tone that supplied it with an arguably funner feel. Man of Steel is aesthetically a tad too grim for my taste. Call it the Nolan effect perhaps?
While it’s not the masterpiece I was hoping it would be, Man of Steel is still a terrific blockbuster that’s equal parts thrilling and poignant.