Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Man of Steel

For any adaptation of Superman to work, the viewer must successfully related to Superman’s experiences growing up on Earth; his interactions when assimilating into our way of life, the tremendously devastating loss of his father and the fact that ultimately- whether humanity deserves it or not- Superman sees something in us worth fighting for, worth protecting. It's all tall order, sure, but it has been done before. Does Man of Steel achieve this? Does this star-studded 225 million dollar CGI powerhouse manage to deliver this emotional journey to the viewer? No. Not one bit.

Note- There are small spoilers ahead.

Helmed by Watchmen director Zack Synder, Man of Steel begins on Superman’s home planet of Krypton, a planet that due to an increasingly unstable core is facing imminent destruction. Despite this looming planetary death, General Zod- basically the commander of the Kryptonian army- kicks off his plans to overthrow the Krytonian government and declare martial law. There is method to Zod's madness though, and this instantly sets him up as a good villain, as his reasons for his actions could be seen as justified.

However, this is soured by his murder of Superman's daddy, Jor-El, who manages to stop Zod's plan. He and his followers are then banished to The Phantom Zone, the naughty corner in Superman lore, before the planet explodes. The baby Superman, known as Kal-El is then evacuated from the dying planet without his mother for some reason, and to his new home; Earth. Though the Kryptonian race is wiped out, Zod and his followers emerge from The Phantom Zone with one thing on their minds- to find the son of Jor-El, and create a new, strong and prosperous Krypton. Meanwhile Jonathan and Martha Kent find Kal-El, they adopt him as Clark Kent, and thus begins the story of Superman.

If I were to sum up Man of Steel with a simple phrase it would be “style over substance”. Don't get me wrong; there are things that hit the mark here. Most notably, Henry Cavill is an absolutely perfect Clark Kent/Superman. Through his performance he manages to deliver a convincing Clark Kent, and one that literally doesn't understand his place on planet Earth. He wanders from town to town, from job to job, without any real goal in life. This change in his origin story is very much welcomed, instead of the usual, “Well, I'm just out of school with no qualifications, time to get a job at the Daily Planet as a reporter!”

However, while it is welcomed, his time in his hometown of Smallville is criminally rushed and underutilized. But as far as his origins, the biggest fuck up in Man of Steel is how the filmmakers handle the death of Jonathan Kent. In the classic film Superman (1978) starring Christopher Reeves, Jonathan Kent dies of something that Clark couldn’t have stopped or prevented- a heart attack. This scene is gut wrenching and powerful, and for Clark is a clear reminder than he isn't all-powerful, and effectively tears away any sense of cockiness he would have otherwise had.

In Man of Steel, Jonathan Kent dies in a big CGI tornado. In fact, he even gestures to Clark to stay back, out of fear of him revealing himself to the people of Smallville. So, in essence, in Man of Steel Clark could have saved his father from death, and it almost comes across like Jonathan Kent is simply trying to force a lesson on Clark, as opposed to this lesson happening through other, simpler yet more upsetting events like in the original Superman film. The cynic in me assumes they only did it because it meant they could create a CGI tornado, and hurl debris at the camera for a snazzy 3D effect. If that's true it's just sad. Very sad indeed.

Of course, General Zod tracks down Earth and this is where shit hits the fan. Now, while the film’s pacing up to this point wasn’t great, this is where everything gets really mess and any sense of character development within Clark just stops. Simply put, the action in Man of Steel goes from great to just unbearable. The first confrontation kicks off in Smallville between Superman and Zod's minions. It's fantastic, frantic, fast and the depiction of multiple Kryptonians going head to head is really quite epic. In fact, this is where the gem of the film shines, in the form of Zod's second in command, Faora, played wonderfully by Antje Traue. She's the best part of the film, and blends dangerous and sexy in a character that I only hope turns up in a sequel. Then comes the final confrontation between Zod and Superman, a fight that literally levels a city. It's ugly, messy, complicated, confusing, and so infused with muddy visuals that I literally wanted the film to end at that point.

Here's something to ponder. In Man of Steel Superman and Zod almost level a city. They hurl each other through buildings seemingly without a care for whoever gets hurt. In Superman 2 (1980), Superman, knowing that a fight with Zod would cause utter destruction flees the city, and ventures to the Fortress of Solitude. Doesn't this speak volumes? Henry Cavill tries to play that Superman, a Superman that cares for humanity, a race that will never fully embrace him. He tries to play that Superman but the film won't let him. It's not his fault, but the fault of the writer and director.

With Man of Steel they have replaced Supermans emotional journey with an action packed blockbuster that simply doesn't take the time to treat the source material with the patience and respect it deserves. Sure, there's plenty of action and explosions, and if that's your bag, go for it! There's nothing wrong with that. But I felt that this should have been different. Henry Cavill's fantastic portrayal of Superman can't save this film. Neither can Faora, the battle of Smallville or Hans Zimmer breathtaking score. It's a missed opportunity plain and simple, and one that just gets worse as the runtime ticks by. Superman Returns was better.

I did have hopes for a sequel to Man of Steel though, a sequel that purely focused on Superman. But no, next up is Superman Vs. Batman, a film that cast Ben Affleck as the caped crusader. Kill me now.

Man of Steel doesn't quite soar with 4/10

Denis Murphy

Man of Steel at CeX

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