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“Man Of Steel” has ear of tin
As the credits rolled on “Man of Steel,” my first thoughts were of how loud it had been in the theater for the past half hour or so. Given that two superbeings had been systematically demolishing a city by knocking each other through buildings, I suppose the volume was apt. But I was glad when it was over. One of the complaints about Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” was that it lacked action, choosing instead to portray Krypton’s last son as a brooding, detached Christ figure, striking the wrong tone for what has always been an essentially fun and wondrous character. Zack Snyder has certainly addressed this issue in spades. However, because of certain choices with the story, Snyder’s Superman is as atonal a characterization as Singer’s, erring on the side of superfluous destruction during the third act. Both Singer and Snyder did good things in their films, but both fall short of creating a believable and relatable hero. “Man of Steel” focuses too much on Superman’s otherness and not enough on the good-natured farm boy raised in small-town America.
“Man of Steel” is more of a reboot of the “Superman” franchise, whereas “Superman Returns” was something of a direct sequel to the Christopher Reeve films. While I understand that reboots are now the norm, and while I didn’t see any reason to reboot “Spider-Man” so soon after the Tobey Maguire films, I can see the reasoning behind revisiting Superman 35 years after we first believed a man could fly. That doesn’t mean we need an “origin” story. If there is anyone in the world that doesn’t know where Superman came from and how he became The Man of Tomorrow, they likely aren’t going to see many movies. I get that Snyder and company wanted to give Superman the Christopher Nolan treatment, making it more realistic and setting it in the modern world, but Superman’s backstory is simple enough that any film can start with him established as the world’s most famous superhero and most unassuming newsman. The necessity to re-establish the origin of the hero only wastes screen time that could be better devoted to character building.
Moreover, the attempt at placing Superman in a realistic and plausible world is flawed from the outset. Superman is patently impossible, which is what makes the character so thrilling. He is an all-powerful being, more myth than man, outside the foundations of rational thought and human understanding. Attempting to explain his powers in anything other than a cursory way is the fastest way to embarrassing plot holes. For instance, you can’t explain Superman’s powers by saying that Earth’s gravity isn’t as strong as Krypton’s—and then have a human walk upright in Kyptonian gravity. It creates distracting questions. Realism shouldn’t be the goal in a Superman movie. Instead, the goal of Superman movie should be a discussion of the limitations of man even in the presence of immense power, or grander thoughts on the vastness of human potential. “Man Of Steel” doesn’t do either. Instead, much like “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” it takes a classic Superman film and tweaks it to fit modern audiences, making sure to give Superman a group of powerful foes that he can actually punch.
Henry Cavill, the latest man to wear the cape, looks the part but doesn’t have much dialogue or development. I’m honestly not sure how much acting he actually did; at times it seems like he was more of a character model for action sequences. Supporting cast members like Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent are effective as they can be given their limited screen time. Michael Shannon as General Zod is less of an authoritarian dictator demanding man kneel, and more of a military leader looking to preserve his race, which is a nice take on an old number. But the action drives the plot and film is quickly paced, making the action itself inconsequential. The film might have been better served by pausing periodically and allowing the audience to catch their breath.
Zack Snyder’s last film was the abysmal and stupid “Sucker Punch.” “Man of Steel” is better by leaps and bounds, although still not as good as “Watchmen.” If “Man of Steel” is just the beginning of a new series, maybe what comes next will be better. There is certainly room to grow. What this film lacks is the heart of the franchise—it doesn’t have the sense of awe that comes from watching a flash of blue and red catch a falling woman with one hand and lift a helicopter to the top of a skyscraper with the other. The audience should leave the theater watching the skies, rather than with their fingers in their ears.