Boasting the words ‘From Producer Christopher Nolan’, Man of Steel is more accurately ‘From Director Zach Snyder’, accruing to a prolonged and superficial, special effects bore. It’s a seemingly never-ending 143 minutes of clunky plotting and irredeemably cringe-worthy scriptwriting which does little to make the constant sight of super-aliens crashing into things (and each other) at breakneck speeds in the least bit compelling. The stakes are supposedly the future of earth, but with characters
this vacuous populating the planet, it’s tough to give a damn.
The tacky CGI backdrops layered upon the redundant 3D makes it feel more like watching a computer game. Appropriately, its charismatically challenged leading man Henry Cavill is about as vacant as a typical video game hero, unable to project any sense of presence. The ‘origin myth’ is often considered the most compelling part of a superhero’s journey but we’re immediately chucked into a gigantic action sequence in an alien world without the chance to build stakes and characters, let alone a sense of place. It throws around a load of comic book gobbledegook which is indistinguishable from any of the emotionally detached tedium last seen in John Carter or Thor. It doesn’t matter how fantastical the world, stakes and characters need to be built from the start and Man of Steel simply does not make the effort, preferring instead to ramp up the pace in the faint hope that we’ll forget Superman’s origins might actually be a bit rubbish. More importantly, Zach Snyder doesn’t seem to possess the imagination to remedy its flaws, typically preferring to go for surface over substance. He’s unable to identify little things in the Superman world which might be quite interesting and zoom in on these things, instead aiming for scale and spectacle and missing both spectacularly. It doesn’t help that just like with Snyder’s previous comic book directorial effort Watchmen, he seems to have lost the key to his editing suite.
Once Krypton is destroyed, the supposedly ‘evil’ General Zod (Michael Shannon) is banished and a fatherless baby Kal-El lands safely on earth and we’re treated to a host of clumsily inserted flashbacks to explain how the alien baby was raised like a normal human child all his life, inter-cut with the story of the adult Clarke Kent. Clarke goes from job to job, covering any tracks left by his superhuman powers before miraculously discovering a Kryptonian scout ship which allows him to communicate with his real father’s consciousness (god forbid the film really had to guts to get rid of Russell Crowe after 10 minutes). Also coming across the ship is Louis Lane (Amy Adams), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. We know this because her characters introduces herself to us by proclaiming ‘I am a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist’, one of the countless cringe-worthy and unconvincing moments of screenwriting included because the film hasn’t got a clue how to introduce and develop characters. From then on the film is nonstop action sequences (if it wasn’t already), with aliens colliding into aliens, without any sense of either man’s powers besides boasting ‘superhuman strength’.
It’s a soulless and humorless, production line experience. Nolan’s Batman has proven that a comic book film taking itself seriously is not a flaw in itself but the film suffers an ugly lack of vision and style. There is no sense of a world created, no sense of fear and absolutely no screen presence from Henry Cavill, who incidentally looks ridiculous in the cape. Somehow the likes of Batman and Spiderman can get away with over-the-top comic book costumes for its heroes because it’s a small part in an extraordinary, interesting world. In Man of Steel, Cavill trips over his cape spectacularly. Even Michael Shannon’s villain doesn’t do a great deal, which can really only be blamed on the direction. Any sense of style is replaced with shoddy and generic (and probably very expensive) special effects which feel less real than last year’s comparatively micro-budget superhero film Chronicle, simply because Man of Steel forgoes the development of plotting and characters before its ceaseless collisions crash and burn, both literally and metaphorically. It’s a superhero film which has all the touches of being made by committee, leaving ideas and characters undeveloped, hiding behind a blur of overblown hysteria.
Man of Steel is out now in the UK and US. Running time 143 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).