At last it’s here. Regular readers will be aware that this is the big one for DragonDark, accompanied by an avalanche of anticipation that knocks any franchise entry for Lord of the Rings, Bond and even anything with Star in the title into a cocked hat. We’re all about the Last Son of Krypton here, and the wait for Man of Steel has felt agonisingly lengthy.
Naturally a great deal of that expectancy is due to the creative forces behind the reboot; pairing the Dark Knight dream team of David Goyer and Christopher Nolan with one of America’s foremost visionary directors in the shape of Zack Snyder was sure to get mouths watering. The latter may not be to everybody’s tastes, but we’re Snyder fans here; Dawn of the Dead and 300 were barrels of fun, and whatever your view of Watchmen, it took balls of brass to get the project to the screen in the first place when so many had failed. We consider the result about as successful as it was possible to be – amended ending and all. Sure, Sucker Punch didn’t really work, but at least it was an original idea that failed rather than a botched franchise picture.
Here’s where we’ll cheerfully admit to hypocrisy though – we’re all up for channelling that chutzpah into noble failure, but preferably not using our most beloved character in all of pop culture. We had concerns that Warner’s latest tentpole would be taking its cues from the recent Bat-behemoths and spinning the Man of Tomorrow into some darker directions, and Man of Steel has been described as ‘the realistic Superman picture’ from within DC. There’s no doubt that it exists more in the ‘heightened reality’ of recent superhero shenanigans than previous, more fantastical, efforts.
That’s not to see this is a sedate affair. Man of Steel is epic, imaginative filmmaking, and almost certainly the biggest, noisiest epic you’ll see all year. It’ll certainly give those who bellyached about the lack of action set pieces in Superman Returns plenty to cheer. It’s bad news for fans of the characters that we know and love, however – this new cinematic universe seems content to jettison Clark Kent’s civilian life (which is probably for the best, seeing as his ‘disguise’ is even less convincing than the Dean Cain incarnation – which is acknowledged in the screenplay), telling a story of Kal-El and Superman with little in between. The non-linear timeframe throws up some welcome sights of life in Smallville (a particular highlight coming from young Clark struggling to control his powers while in Elementary School). Unfortunately these are few and far between, and seeing as Clark Kent frequently acts as the character’s heart this leads to a somewhat soulless two hours.
Henry Cavill as Superman is … well, Henry Cavill is. He makes a perfectly adequate Supes, in the sense that he fills out the famous costume in an infinitely more flattering fashion than DragonDark managed when we purchased one from Argos last Halloween. Sadly, he lacks the easy, wholesome charisma of Christopher Reeve. He’s not helped by the straight-laced screenplay and its lack of levity, but without the charm of a Downey Jnr, the edge of a Bale or the wit of a Hemsworth, there are no memorable moments that enable Cavill to make the cape his own. If there is a comparison to be made it’s Stephen Amell in TV’s Arrow – a sure thing for any award nomination for Best Cheekbones, but otherwise poker-faced and devoid of any unforgettable attributes. America learning to trust the new alien ally is a theme throughout the movie, and to be perfectly honest Cavill’s performance means we’d probably ask to see credentials and two forms of ID before we let him rescue us from a burning building.
The rest of the cast acquit themselves well enough. Michael Shannon’s Zod is an entertaining scene-stealer, largely one-note but suitably intimidating (and different enough from Terence Stamp to avoid unfavourable comparison). His costume crest is also a cute Easter Egg for fans of the celebrated comic arc Red Son. Amy Adams is quite possibly incapable of giving a bad performance, and her Lois Lane is immeasurably superior to Kate Bosworth (miscasting on an almost criminal level) despite having little to do. That’s a common theme throughout the flick, unfortunately – stunt casting such as Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White is largely ineffective due to underuse. The city of Metropolis, usually a character itself in the Super-mythos, is barely glimpsed, and other franchise tropes such as Jimmy Olsen and Lexcorp are absent entirely.
This does result in these characters enjoying more of a real world sensibility, with Man of Steel’s interpretations of Jonathan and Martha Kent in particular dangerously close to three-dimensional humans rather than the comforting cookie-cutter clichés of homespun Kansas farm-dwellers. It’s up to you as to whether that’s a good or bad decision; it largely depends on just how much a viewer is prepared to stretch the boundaries of established Superman folklore. For us, Clark openly and aggressively berating Jonathan in the fashion of Kevin the Teenager is unforgivably out of character – as is another vital moment which we really struggle to accept – but this is a new world, with a new Superman, and we probably need to begrudgingly suck it up.
The highlights of Man of Steel largely come with the early scenes on Krypton. This is an interpretation of the planet like nothing we’ve seen before, and enough action and 3D effects are provided in the opening minutes to send Helen Keller scurrying for a sensory deprivation tank. It’s this that sets the tone for the movie’s run-time though – set piece after set piece, packed with ear-splitting sound effects and an overbaked Hans Zimmer score. Barely a scene passes without a musical cue, none of which are anywhere close to as toe-tapping as John Williams’ immortal Superman March, and it frequently drowns out the dialogue. Granted, Shakespeare it ain’t (the straight laced script seems to be delivered by the David Goyer of The Crow: City of Angels and Jumper rather than the David Goyer of Batman Begins), but the unrelenting noise starts to grind a viewer down. Coupled with an overdose of CGI – there’s more than a touch of the Transformers about the bouts of Kryptonian Queensbury rules between Superman and Zod and co – and you’re left believing that a man can fly, but not actually caring very much.
If you’re looking for a genuine summer superhero sensation, seeing Iron Man 3 again is the better option. This one offers spectacle aplenty, and judging by the opening box office numbers (and the fact that a sequel has already been greenlit) it may lead to the much-feted Justice League movie may finally see the light of day. For now though, while it’s not quite a Green Lantern-style box-checking blockbuster-by-numbers, we can’t help but be wholly disappointed by Man of Steel’s heart of stone.