An hour of solid, revisionist present-day updating of the Superman mythology (borrowing heavily from the 1978 Christopher Reeve film) comes to a crashing, thunderous halt midway through Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The last hour or so of the film – filled with wall-to-wall action and top-of-the-line CGI effects – is such a numbing experience that I felt beaten into submission by the end.
You get your money’s worth, I guess, as Man of Steel culminates in an extended destruction-of-Metropolis sequence that attempts to outdo similar scenes in Transformers 3 (Chicago) and The Avengers (New York). In terms of pure on-screen debris, it might accomplish that goal; in terms of filmmaking finesse, it’s sorely lacking (the Transformers film, for all its other faults, remains the high water mark for this sort of thing).
Key problem: much of this destruction is occurring due to the final showdown between Superman (played by Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon), two alien beings that I can only presume are immortal due to the sheer amount of damage they absorb without even slowing down: punch after punch that sends them hundreds of feet through dozens of buildings, and they get right back up. If they can be killed – or even hurt – the movie hasn’t properly informed me how (kryptonite, Superman’s one weakness, is completely absent here.)
What’s the point? How many punches to we need to see them exchange before we’re bored witless? I lasted about 15 minutes, during a Kansas sequence in which the filmmakers very nearly circumnavigate the issue: we’re not concerned about Superman, but we do worry that Zod is sufficiently distracting him long enough to allow his cronies to hurt some other minor characters (military men played by Harry Lennix and Christopher Meloni).
This sequence – the first big battle scene in the movie – just about works. But then comes the Metropolis stuff, which goes on… and on… and on. Skyscrapers collapse into dust and rubble, explicitly evoking 9/11 imagery, as tens (hundreds?) of thousands of lives are lost in the wake of the BIG Superman/Zod battle; Superman even flies him out into orbit, gets in a punch or two by a satellite, and drops him right back into Metropolis – instead of some isolated, deserted locale somewhere else – so more carnage can unfold in the city.
And then, the filmmakers – so out of touch with reality in their PG-13, if-you-didn’t-see-them die-onscreen-it-didn’t-happen vision – ask us to care about a single, random family that Superman must save in order to restore peace. Yes, please, save them. After the entire city has been reduced to rubble.
But everything started out so promising!
Opening scenes on Krypton, with Russell Crowe as Superman’s father, Jor-El, show a sheer scope and vision – and CGI f/x prowess – that far eclipse the Marlon Brando stuff from the 1978 film. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane – as Pa and Ma Kent, mostly seen in flashbacks – are perfect, and lend the film a human heart and soul that would otherwise be sorely lacking.
Not that the all-star cast is perfect. Shannon, as Zod, goes so far over the top that he loses us. Amy Adams is completely miscast as Lois Lane, whose relationship with Superman – which seems to rely solely on our memories of these characters – is sorely underdeveloped. Laurence Fishburne, as Perry White – and I presumed Michael Kelly to be playing Jimmy Olson, but the character is credited otherwise – is completely wasted. Clark Kent doesn’t even work at the Daily Planet in this movie. In fact, Kent barely exists at all – this is all Superman, all the time.
And as Superman, Cavill is, well, bland. But Superman was never the most interesting superhero; the actor seems to meet the requirements of the role just fine. He only seems a little too short, a little too slim – especially in comparison to the towering presence of Reeve – something that the filmmakers oddly call attention to in shots of him amongst other characters.
Unlike the earlier adaptations – which are almost all cheesy, comic affairs – Man of Steel has a much darker, more serious tone that recalls producer Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s a refreshing take on familiar material, and the underlying thematic core – as Superman questions his destiny, and the sacrifices he must make to save mankind – resemble The Last Temptation of Christ more than a comic book movie (of course, the film has to literalize the religious aspect during a scene in which Supes visits a priest).
And then: an hour of Metropolis being obliterated, with nothing of interest, story-wise, unfolding on screen as director Snyder loses control of his film. At least Man of Steel answers that pressing question: What Would Jesus Do during 9/11?
Seen at Cinema City Flora’s IMAX cinema, Man of Steel looks and sounds terrific – even in 3D; every dollar of this expensive-looking enterprise is up there on the screen, captured by Amir Mokri’s camera. Hans Zimmer’s TRON-esque soundtrack is pretty groovy on its own, but feels like it belongs in another movie; John Williams’ classic theme is missed.