My main bugbear with Man of Steel is not, in fact, the endless, CGI-ridden, shakily edited action scenes. I can forgive the high tally of sky-scrapers that Zod gets thrown into. The Superman character was, after all, first introduced to the public in DC’s Action Comics. What would people rather see than action: two-and-a-half hours of Kal-El crying into Lois Lane’s scented tissues? No, the thing that bothered me the most was the complete lack of chemistry between, arguably, the hottest and sweetest couple in superhero history (please don’t start up a debate with me on this one – I don’t read that many comics and you’ll probably win). Watching Henry Cavill and Amy Adams on screen was a lacklustre affair to say the least, one that left me cold and wondering where exactly their kisses came from (the script, too obviously). Don’t get me wrong, I had no qualms with the actors themselves. Cavill did a fine job, suitably furrowing his brow 24/7 and letting his plump lips spill lines such as… oh, wait, I don’t remember any of his lines, forget that. And Amy Adams, who I love, did her best with what she was given. There was just simply no spark between them.
I was so incredibly excited for Man of Steel, and to say I left the cinema feeling disappointed is perhaps too strong a reaction. I expected a lot of what I saw (Kryptonians, Kansas etc.), and was particularly impressed with the opening scenes on Krypton (save some shoddy special effects) where Russell Crowe struts around in a rusty-coloured cape speaking in a delightfully mellow English-accent whilst doing his best to save his planet, his son, and his wife (played by the beautiful Ayelet Zurer, a.k.a Nigella-Lawson-look-a-like-of-the-year). I had goosebumps at one point, and for a split-second I was hopeful that I would be truly blown away by this film. Alas, as soon as we reached Earth and the narrative started to go all higgledy-piggledy, I was taken out of the moment and my doubts started to form. I believe that had the audience been treated to Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent’s childhood first, and been allowed to connect more wholly and intimately with the character and his Earth-father, rather than witness flash-back memories, then there wouldn’t be so many complaints as to the film’s lack of certainty and direction, which is something that I felt strongly.
I personally have no issues with the redesign of Superman’s costume and the overall muted colour palette. This is partly to do with the fact I don’t feel loyal to the character (I’m a Detective Comics girl myself), and also that I am enjoying the current trend of “darkening” superheroes and their back-stories. Put his pants back underneath his trousers, please, by all means. However, I did find myself missing some of the humor of previous adaptations. I think I only laughed once when the soldier says that she thinks Superman is “hot”, and even then it was only a light chuckle, partly in reaction to the rest of the audience laughing. The “Lois Lane tries to say that word but gets interrupted by audio feedback” joke wasn’t funny as I had seen it a million times in the trailers, and to be honest, they shouldn’t have relied on that moment alone to provide the “light entertainment side” to this oh-so-deadly-serious reboot.
The thing (or person) who took this rating from three to three-and-a-half was Michael Shanon as General Zod. Scrumptiously unhinged and highly strung, his military leader-turned-rebel was a genuine highlight. Screaming his way through his lines with the veins popping out of his neck and forehead, I was hooked whenever he was on screen, and had the strongest reaction emotionally to his speech towards the end when he talks of his “soul” (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it – I don’t want to give too much away). As for the very last moment we see him (again, I’m avoiding spoilers)… I can’t even begin to explain how I felt. It was a brave move, but one that I can confidently say paid off extremely well, as it not only added a layer of interesting depth and anxiety to the Superman character, but also injected a sudden, cold and shocking reality into an otherwise blockbuster-y world. I can see the aftereffects of this particular moment being played out absorbingly in later movies. Fingers crossed.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on superheroes, but I do enjoy reading them, researching them and watching them. Superman is undoubtedly a symbol of hope and sacrifice (the film quite transparently makes the connection between him and Christ). He is the bullet-proof, flying man in the sky, come from another world to save mankind from greed and corruption. Far from the grim, human reality and money of Batman, Superman is a soul detached from business and an “alien” in more ways than one, lit up and shining as a beacon to those in despair. Dirty the bright yellow S, smooth that spit curl back, and you’re sure to come up against some opposition. Is there any point in making Superman gritty? The answer is yes, if it’s done fantastically: if the American-dream symbolism is handled with a contemporary confidence and merged seamlessly with uncertainty and hard-times. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder’s vision is one where only the aesthetics are darkened to perfection.
FINAL VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ 1/2