It’s hard to believe that it took so long for Superman to make his way back to the big screen. Not counting 2006’s forgettable Superman Returns (and few people do), it’s been a quarter of a century since the man in the red cape last flew over Metropolis.
In that time, we’ve every other superhero imaginable have his or her day in the sun. Many of them (the Dark Knight Trilogy, most of the Avengers efforts) have proven immensely entertaining, so the producers of Man of Steel had plenty of material to use for inspiration. Why didn’t they?
The latest film to carry the “reboot” label does have it’s moments, sure– but they’re sporadic, and the end result is far more exhausting than exhilarating.
During a prolonged (“long” being the operative part) prologue that’s needlessly complex (especially since everything is explained a half-hour later more quickly and much more effectively), we learn that the planet Krypton is dying and the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) is unsuccessfully staging a coup. The parents (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) of the baby who will become Superman ship the tyke off to Earth in order to save not only his life but that of the Krypton people.
Turns out Earth is different than Krypton, though, and little Clark Kent arrives on our planet with all kinds of, well, super powers, which he discovers in time for elementary school.
After thirty years of keeping his identity secret (at least for the most part), Clark (Henry Cavill) finally has to come out of the phone booth (so to speak) when Zod tracks him down and threatens to destroy Earth and build a new Krypton.
The ensuing mayhem would make even The Avengers cry “uncle”. If you thought the destruction of London and San Francisco in Star Trek: Into Darkness was a bit much, it pales miserably when compared to the abject annihilation that we get in Man of Steel.
Subtlety has never been the strong suit of director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch), but he reaches new heights (or lows… depending) here. Wasting all the time that could have been spent developing the characters or focusing more on Clark’s youth (which ends up being the most interesting part of the movie), Snyder apparently thought audiences would be distracted by seemingly endless amounts of buildings toppling, cars being crushed, and other “let’s just forget there are people in there” bits of utter obliteration.
Snyder apparently either loved to destroy things as a kid, or he didn’t get to do it enough and is making up for lost time.
Although the script by David Goyer (Batman Begins) thankfully never veers into silliness, there’s unfortunately very little that’s actually makes Man of Steel anything more than a rote tale of a good guy fighting a bad guy augmented by crazy visual effects in occasionally worthwhile 3D. The comedy that drove the Iron Man trilogy is glaringly absent, as are the intelligence and maturity that drove The Dark Knight.
The cast can’t seem to make heads of tails of what’s going on either. Cavill is stone-faced and sleep-walking through most of the goings-on, and Amy Adams is far too talented to fit in among all the smoldering rubble (and, damn, there’s a lot of it). Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do score points, though, as Clark’s adoptive parents– thanks to the fact that their emotional scenes are the only ones in the movie where you can hear yourself think.
He may still be faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, but this Superman is far more forgettable than not. Once the ringing in your ears stops.