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Movie Review: Man of Steel

by Bob Garver

June 20, 2013. How did the people behind “Man of Steel” manage to suck all the fun out of Superman? Here is a walking (flying?) checklist of enviable superpowers, ready to offer assistance with a smile at a moment’s notice, and on top of that he has one of the flashiest costumes in superhero lore. Solemn moments here and there are necessary to any well-balanced story, but everything about this movie is just so drab. The Superman of this movie (Henry Cavill) is practically incapable of joy, friendliness, or any other endearing traits. He is there to fill out the suit and fly from one uninteresting action scene to another.

Most people are familiar with Superman’s origin, but I’ll do a quick recap. A long time ago on the dying planet Krypton, wizened scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) put his infant son Kal-El on a ship headed to Earth. Also surviving was military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon), who was exiled to a prison ship following a failed power grab in the planet’s final days. Kal-El’s ship landed in Smallville, Kansas where he was taken in by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who named him Clark.

It soon became apparent that Clark wasn’t like the other children, and this is where “Man of Steel” starts to deviate troublingly from tradition. The film treats young Clark’s powers as a social curse more than anything, with blatant similarities to autism. Example: Clark gets terrified when he develops X-ray vision and sees his teacher and classmates as freaky skin-bone-muscle hybrids. The other kids bully him for being different, but really it’s a good thing that he can see the world this way. He also manages to pull a sinking bus out of the water, but this just makes people downright scared of him, so he has to conceal that blessing as well.

Clark’s father makes him promise not to use his powers, not even in a matter of life or death, until the whole world needs help from a power they won’t understand. That situation comes about when General Zod invades, seeking some Kryptonian technology imprinted in Kal-El’s bloodstream. He’ll destroy the population in order to get it, and then will probably destroy the population once he has it. Superman has no choice but to reveal himself to the world, which is actually pretty good timing since reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was about to blow his cover anyway, having tracked a path of minor miracles back to the Kent home. Clark does not work as a fellow reporter in the body of this movie, so the beloved dynamic of Lois embracing Superman while rejecting Clark is thrown out the window.  

Once General Zod invades, the film is little more than a series of nonsensical action scenes. I don’t mean “nonsensical” as in funny, because not a thing in this film is even halfway humorous. I just say “nonsensical” because the characters’ motives are dubious and the action is hard to follow. A minor character played by Christopher Meloni seems to be at the center of about three different explosions only to appear in the next scene no worse for wear.

I’m hard pressed to think of anything “Man of Steel” does right. The special effects look cheap, Michael Shannon is miscast as Zod (he makes a good sleazebag, not a rage-fueled super-soldier), even the makeup isn’t done well (look at the hairline on Diane Lane). But my biggest problem with the film is the general lack of fun. I’m not expecting the constant cheekiness of a Tony Stark, but some levity here and there would make this film much less of a chore. The film opened to over $125 million last weekend, but don’t let that number fool you. A lot of people wanted to see this movie once, I can’t imagine any of them wanting to see it again.

One Star out of Five.