Man of Steel,
directed by Zack Snyder
(Warner Bros., 2013)

The current cinematic version of Superman was heavily impacted by several factors. The lawsuit filed against DC Comics by the heirs of Superman creators Siegel and Schuster made it necessary to speed up progress on the making of the film in case DC lost the rights to the character. Another factor was the addition of Christopher Nolan as producer and Synder as director. Both love dark 'n' gritty to a nearly comic degree and were determined to re-invent the character along new lines. Last but not least, mistakes made in the creative direction of the Brandon Routh-led Superman Returns meant that some big changes were on the horizon.

DC did not lose the lawsuit, but the need to secure the image and rights meant the movie was already on a fast track. As a result, the risk-taking is overdone, the plot is thin, the action hurried and the aftertaste is shallow and bitter. Of all the Superman films ever made, Man of Steel is unequivocally the least imaginative.

The first among its many failures is the attempt to work over Superman into a noir hero. He is not, and filming the movie in dark blue and gray overtones won't make it so. It only makes for a movie that is physically hard on the eyes because it's nearly impossible to distinguish one scene from the next. Also, putting Superman into an intractable position (that he went a long way toward creating) and then "forcing" him to act in a manner that is allegedly against his character won't make him dark and flawed and morally ambiguous like Batman, no matter how hard the attempt.

All that is accomplished is a mindless spectacle of graphic violence and over-the-top action that is so generic that it loses all distinction as a Superman film. It's not fun. It has no charm. There's no characterization. There's no chemistry between block of wood Henry Cavill (Clark Kent) and the phoning-it-in Amy Adams (Lois Lane). It's joyless, loud, overwhelming and hellbent on sermonizing about destiny and selfhood and father-son relationships. It rips off so much from the Batman franchise that I'd almost call it the fourth Batman movie. It's a poor knock-off at best.

The final nail in the coffin is that the plot is essentially the same as Richard Donner's Superman 2. There's not even the element of surprise to keep it going. The only accomplishment it does manage is the incredible feat of feeling both rushed and overlong at the same time: rushed because little or no creativity went into this reboot, and overlong because it's one long violent segment after another. My final complaint is that I was looking forward to a real look at Krypton and was treated to unexciting set pieces stolen from the Prometheus movie.

At the end of the movie we do not know who the man behind the cape really is. But some superhero movies do better in the sequels, and since the sequel is already fastracked, let's hope that the producers and directors trim the excess next time around. They might also wish to consider making a movie about Superman, not trying to re-invent a character into something they think he should be.

review by
Mary Harvey

17 August 2013

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