Conceptually, I appreciated much about the new mega-blockbuster-in-waiting MAN OF STEEL. After five films of the same ole formula, it’s a relief to see a new take on the increasingly tired Superman mythology. For example, there’s no mention of Kryptonite in this one (the most predictable and drama-crushing device from previous films), and Clark Kent isn’t relegated to working at the Daily Planet. Instead, he’s an aimlessly wandering laborer and an outcast, trying to remain invisible while keeping his true identity a secret. After all, how might the people of Earth react to an alien figure of superhuman strength?
The movie is really about Superman’s journey in taking that leap of faith. This is probably the Nolan Brothers’ major contribution to the piece, and they hammer it home often during the course of the film. They understand that the world responds to Superman in large part because the character represents the concept of a savior (there’s a reason why the Superman logo is second only to the cross as the world’s most recognizable visual). So, in MAN OF STEEL, we’re given many images of Supes in Christ-like poses. And the moment he’s reborn by revealing his true identity occurs at the age of – yep, you guessed it – 33.
But these attempts at depth don’t translate into something deeply felt, and they succeed in sacrificing one of the major joys of the first two films in the franchise: humor. There’s no bumbling charm or romance to be had in this version of Superman, and the central relationship between Lois Lane and Superman/Clark Kent suffers as a result. Amy Adams seems more than game, but she’s barely given an opportunity to register here. And while Henry Cavill is a definite step above Brandon Routh from the previous film (he played Supes with all the personality of a runway model), his decision to play up the more alien aspects of the character leave him slightly remote. Only Michael Shannon as the merciless General Zod comes through as particularly vivid here.
A lack of vividity in the action is my other chief complaint about the film. Remember the climax of SUPERMAN II where Superman battled three foes in a destructive tear through the city? There was a real clarity to the camerawork and the choreography there; you could clearly comprehend and appreciate where each character was in relation to the other, and take in all the activity on the screen with appropriate enjoyment and wonder. Directors seem to have lost the ability to shoot action this way (with the exception of Spielberg). The non-stop action set pieces that populate MAN OF STEEL would probably be incredibly impressive if you were able to see them clearly. Zack Snyder’s whipping, jerking camera, coupled with the inherent murkiness of CGI overload, and further amplified by the decreased illumination caused by the 3D format, make these scenes of action headache-inducing, blurred and incomprehensible. (C+)