(this post was originally published on 22/06/2013 on a previous blog)
Man Of Steel is an origins story in the purist way possible. Every audience member will leave the cinema knowing that Superman’s foundations have been laid well and are ready to be built upon. the film’s universe is laid out as the underground steel struts form the first layer of concrete in what will inevitably become the house that Snyder built. But the difference between a good origin story and a great film are vast and unfortunately whilst Man Of Steel easily manages the former it fails to achieve the latter.
The film’s set up is absolutely one of its strongest points, the entire prologue is extremely well put together. Whether it’s the cinematography, which makes krypton feel extremely alien to earth and highlights a key contrast in the home of Zod and Kal’s family to the planet that superman will call home and the different turmoil each world faces. the first 20(ish) minutes have a highly sci-fi feel to them and Snyder pulls the sci-fi off very well. the effects are polished, the character’s are alien yet believable (if somewhat wooden but we’ll get to that later) the aesthetics are stylistic and gorgeous. All in all the movies prologue is a very good piece of film making and has made me wonder how Snyder might pull of a bigger all out sci-fi film, but I digress.
the first main act of the film follows strongly in the prologue’s footsteps if stumbling occasionally. Superman makes his way to earth and begins to live a regular human life in Kansas however of course the whole time he is hiding his abilities and potential to everyone but his parents. He is given the name Clark and he stumbles through life trying to keep himself to himself and learning how to control the hand he was dealt by taking in his father’s frequent life lessons for him. Unfortunately the film does ram the stereotypical “Superman is quiet therefore must be an outcast and be hated by all but a few” theme down the audiences throat a little too much and whilst the role of outcast fits in to the narrative and tone of the film there are still some cringe worthy scenes based around school bullies, where “superman getting picked on because he’s different” just comes across a little hard to believe. But overall Clark’s personal struggles are framed extremely well and I found myself caring more about his soul searching than anything else the film had to offer.
However once Clark’s soul search begins to really take shape things begin to go quickly downhill. Enter Lois lane, metropolis’s best journalist with a brain for a controversial story and the spirit to fight her corner. Amy Adams does a pretty good job of Lois, she is not without her shaky moments of wooden delivery, but compared to the rest of the cast (except Cavill and Crowe) she is a vast improvement. From the first scene Lois is in we see her being stronger and taking a more central role than previous examples of superman stories. Within minutes of her first line she has entered an arctic research base and insulted its two main researchers. Make no mistake Lois kicks a fair bit of ass. So with such a good set up it was such a letdown that one minute her character is a devious logical badass and the next she is stumbling on to alien ships and just wildly pressing buttons. Lois makes a lot of silly decisions in this movie, and whilst some of them are justified I still couldn’t help but think “wait, what?” whilst I was watching the film and eventually that began to derail the experience for me. it’s a shame that throughout the entire movie the characters are extremely two dimensional, they can be one of two polar opposites, either awesome or stupid. They’re either the one kicking ass or having their ass kicked the only character allowed to be truly flawed is Superman.
This is not the only flaw in most of the characters in the movie. In fact it’s one of many. Most of the characters are extremely stupid and whilst this is okay at first because they don’t truly understand what superman is and blah blah blah, it doesn’t justify them making stupid choices later on in the film. Whether it’s the general’s decision to assume guns can kill everything despite them clearly not doing that, or krypton’s high councils stupid decision of locking Zod away in a safe spot whilst all other Kryptonians are blown to hell or Superman’s streak of stupid decisions at the end of the movie, the whole plot is full of sloppy character choices. These bad decisions are made worse by the piss poor dialogue throughout the whole film. Every 4 out of 5 lines in the film sound overly action filmy and needlessly fighty or corny. It damages Man Of Steel’s more grounded tone when almost no-one speaks naturally.
Man Of Steel also suffers with a great deal of wooden delivery (literally tons of it), Cavill is a very very good Superman/Clark Kent and whilst other critics have complained about how serious he is I found that his portrayal suited the tone of the movie and his more emotional moments were extremely enigmatic and really brought a smile to my face. Lois lane is also generally extremely good, her care and interest in superman is genuine, her inquisitive side is good fun and her moments of fear are very human, her occasional moments of bad acting shouldn’t overshadow her generally strong performance. Russell Crowe is absolutely perfect as Jor-El, fatherly, strong yet caring and all round brilliant. However the rest of the cast are a bit mediocre, Laurence Fishburne has very strong moments as does Michael Shannon, unfortunately Shannon’s Zod seems to only know one emotion: ridiculously angry, and any time he tries to venture from this his performance suffers (except in one scene; the television scene which is genuinely intimidating and one of the movies high points.)
Overall on a 100 point scale I would give man of steel.