Let me start with a confession: until recently I had no interest in superheroes, either in comics or on the big screen. I just didn’t get it – a bunch of buff men and women with serious cleavage and impossible spines, all prancing about in costumes that to me seemed faintly ridiculous. In addition, I objected to the underlying message that they appeared to represent: that to be a superhero, and to change the world, you must have some sort of special power. (Batman was the only exception I knew of who was the exception to this rule, which is perhaps why he remains my favourite superhero, but this is really a conversation for another day.)
So I didn’t like superheroes. And out of all of them, Superman was perhaps the one who bothered me the most. His outfit always struck me as silly and I didn’t like the fact that he wasn’t even human to begin with, plus he seemed so powerful that I couldn’t see where any possible tension could come from – save for the inevitable appearance of kryptonite.
My opinion of superheroes has changed considerably over the past year or so, helped by a series of very enjoyable movies. Even if some of them were too predictable (Captain America) or didn’t quite hit the spot (Iron Man 2), overall they helped me make peace with the whole idea of the superhero. Yet my doubts about Superman remained, which is why I was so interested in how he would be reimagined in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
The resulting film is a portrayal that manages to stay true to Superman’s origins and classic image, while at the same time giving him a sleek, modern look.
Man of Steel certainly hits the ground running, opening with a fast-paced sequence of events on Krypton. It’s an energetic opening, but perhaps almost a touch too frenetic; it would have been nice to see a little more of the world and the main players in the Krypton society, but instead we have to make do with a few glimpses. This hurried opening is then followed by a series of scenes that jump between Superman’s past and present, lending the film’s first thirty minutes a choppy, stop-start feel.
Eventually Man of Steel shifts gears and finds a more natural rhythm, allowing us to finally appreciate the direction that Snyder and his team are taking the proposed trilogy of Superman films in.
There’s no doubt that Henry Cavill makes for a perfect Superman for the 21st century; he has exactly the right look (i. e. a jawline that could be chiselled from rock) and has clearly put plenty of hours in at the gym – his torso has the appearance of a mountain range. Physicality aside, Cavill turns in a convincing performance with plenty of conviction and just about enough emotional depth – as does Michael Shannon, in the role of Superman’s nemesis General Zod.
Lois Lane is unfortunately a different matter entirely. Amy Adams is simply not given enough to work with, and subsequently Lois Lane is nothing more than an emotional foil for Superman and spends most of the film flitting about doing nothing of particular importance. There’s a serious lack of chemistry between Adams and Cavill, which makes the inevitable romance between Superman and Lois Lane feel completely forced. Laurence Fishburne also feels under-utilised in the role of the Daily Planet’s Perry White.
A further problem with Man of Steel is that the film is almost entirely bereft of humour – there’s the odd snatch of it here and there, but overall there’s a sense that the film takes itself a touch too seriously. At times it’s uncomfortably intense and may have benefitted from a few lighter moments. I can’t help but feel that with Christopher Nolan in a producing role, Man of Steel took its cue from Nolan’s Batman films when perhaps inspiration should have come from elsewhere.
There are other minor niggles. The action sequences are handled well and are suitably epic, but are often too drawn out. Furthermore – and this isn’t really Man of Steel’s fault – there’s a sense that we’ve seen this large-scale destruction on a regular basis recently (Avengers pretty much has it nailed) and so there’s a touch of over-familiarity. The script is generally sound but suffers from the occasional glaring oversight – including one in the film’s climax – that are momentarily disorientating. The 3D, as is so often the case, is almost completely pointless, while some of the product placement is simply invasive.
Yet despite its problems, Man of Steel just about counts as a success. It looks fantastic (the costume design is wonderful), Henry Cavill makes for a perfect Superman, and after a somewhat ragged first thirty minutes the film settles into an absorbing spectacle with plenty of epic sequences. Bonus points are awarded for the lack of kryptonite as a cheap plot device. It’s not perfect, but it’s a sleek, effective re-imagining of Superman that sets the stage nicely for the sequel which will have to improve on Man of Steel’s flaws if the series is to reach its potential. If it can, then we could end up with something very exciting indeed.