Well, it’s been a long wait but it’s finally here. After Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel stood as my second most anticipated movie of 2013 for a variety of reasons. Of those reasons, not a single one made me more hopeful for the film’s greatness than the name filling the producer credit for the movie. I am an unapologetic Christopher Nolan fan, and with the vacuum left by his departure from the Batman universe last year, I was desperate for something to fill the void that would be created. What I mean by that is that there have been plenty of great Superhero movies over the past few years, but nearly all of those movies had a sort of tongue-in-cheek removal from reality that made them hugely entertaining yet never quite let viewers forget that none of it is real. Nolan’s Batman trilogy remains one of the only examples I can think of in which I was enthralled by a comic book adaptation rather than just entertained by it. With Nolan’s stamp on Man of Steel combined with it’s absolutely incredible trailers, my bar for the film was set incredibly high. Unfortunately, while the movie isn’t bad by any means, there is no way I can call it great. Snyder’s fantastic instincts for action and spectacle are abundantly clear, but a complete lack of humor coupled with a surprisingly weak script makes it hard not to feel a little bit disappointed by Man of Steel.
The Plot: 6/10
A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
Normally my belief is that any movie over two hours long would have benefited from a little extra time in the editing room to avoid pacing issues. That being said, there have been plenty of great movies in the genre that have supported lengths equal to or longer than Man of Steel and without any issue (The Dark Knight, The Avengers). The thing is, The Avengers had a wide range of leading characters to focus on, and The Dark Knight had an incredibly intricate plot and a riveting villain to shore things up. Man of Steel has neither the character variety nor the elaborate story necessary to justify its length, and once things start to funnel into genre tropes near the halfway point (bad guy wants to destroy the earth, good guy wants to stop him, commence obligatory destruction of New York) it’s hard not to feel a bit bored in the lulls between fight scenes.
The Writing: 5/10
One of the biggest complaints critics have with the writing in this movie seems to be that there is no real humor present in the slightest. As much as I hate to admit it, I understand their point. I understand that they’re not trying to turn Superman into Iron Man and that the writers were going for a more serious tone for the film. My argument would be that the two are not mutually exclusive, as writer David Goyer proved in his work on Nolan’s Batman films. Those movies managed to use subtle yet effective comic relief through characters like Alfred and Fox, yet they never let that get in the way of the gravity of the main plot lines. In an interview with Time Magazine, Zach Snyder commented that “the only ironic thing about [Man of Steel] is that there’s nothing ironic about it”, referring to the reason humor wasn’t used more frequently in the film. While I understand what he’s saying, I still can’t help but feel like a little levity here and there wouldn’t have been out of place. In fact, the few cases where the movie did crack a smile (including one scene involving Kal-El getting thrown bodily into a sign that reads “Last workplace accident in 106 days”) were some of my favorite non-action parts of the movie.
Other than the lack of humor, the writing just doesn’t have much of a spark to it. The first half of the movie is so bogged down with exposition that we never really get much of a sense for the human characters surrounding Kal-El, so we never get much of a reason to care for those characters once their lives start to become endangered by Zod’s forces. I recognize that this is always an issue faced by origin story movies, considering the amount of set-up and explanation that are required, but it’s an issue that’s been handled much more smoothly in the past than it is here.
The Acting: 8/10
When there’s an issue with the writing, it’s always hard to separate the issues with the script from the issues with the acting itself. As such, it’s possible I’m misinterpreting things on either end, but from my point of view I thought that the acting was the stronger of the two categories. Superman’s a tough nut to crack form an acting standpoint, and without the right touch the character can easily come across as boring as was the case in Superman Returns. I thought that Henry Cavill did a great job of mixing the after-effects of his frustrated childhood with the self-contained cockiness that comes with the knowledge of your own near-invincibility. The scenes involving his “detainment’ by the U.S. armed forces is a perfect example of the latter, and I hope that the inevitable sequels will highlight than element of his character now that he’s officially come out of the superhero closet.
Other than Cavill, there’s just not too much to write home about. I absolutely love Amy Adams, but she just seemed sort of bored here. I’ve also been really impressed with Michael Shannon over the last couple of years and was convinced that he would make for an amazing General Zod, but he plays the part with a little too much anger and not quite enough menace to stand up next to Bane or The Joker. I was at least glad to see a lot of great cameo appearances, including Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) and the double-Battlestar-Galactica-whammy of Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani.
The Action: 10/10
Whatever problems Zack Snyder has always had with character development and plot feasibility, he has always made up for in incredible action sequences. From the look of the trailers, that wasn’t going to change in Man of Steel. I can honestly say that this was the one area of the movie that absolutely delivered on its promises, and while it wasn’t enough to make up for some of the other issues I listed above it was still more than enough to make me happy I went. The special effects themselves may be tied with Prometheus for the best I’ve ever seen, even if a lot of those effects are achieved through a staggering amount of collateral damage for the people of New York City. The fight scenes between Kal-El and the Kryptonians are extremely impressive, with the final showdown between Zod and Kal-El standing out above everything around it. It’s so much more fun to watch two super-powered beings bashing each other about than it is to see some bald guy bring the big hero down to his own level with a little bit of green stuff.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 – Good
+ Amazing visual effects and action sequences
+ Cavill may be my favorite Superman yet
– The plot gets a bit too straightforward in the last half of the movie to justify the length
– Very little of the humor we’ve come to expect from comic book adaptations
Rotten Tomatoes: 57 %
Tim’s Film Reviews: 98%
Cinematic Katzenjammer: 8.7/10
Let There Be Movies: 4/5
KCG Reviews: 4/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10
The Focused Filmographer: 3.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 3/5
Bananas About Movies: 2.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 1.5/5
Average: 7.4/10 – Superior