Film review: MAN OF STEEL, from Built For Speed

Time once again to break out the earplugs and the Panadol as another pop-cultural icon undergoes an oppressively loud and visually frenzied cinematic re-birthing. Here it’s Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.  This film is sure to divide audiences between those who applaud its fidelity to the original Superman comic, youngsters who love the way it mimics the mass destruction video games on which they have been raised and older audiences who decry its sensory assault and cluttered, illogical script.

Man of Steel begins as an origin story describing young Kal-el’s (aka Superman) journey from the devastated planet Krypton to Earth and his experiences as a child, teenager and young man (British actor Henry Cavill), who has been raised as a human, confronting his emerging superpowers.  When Superman is required to battle the recently arrived Krypton General Zod (Michael Shannon) who appears on Earth espousing a sinister Lebensraum-like plan, the film mutates into an unfocused and unwieldy mash-up of action movie, science fiction film and 9/11 parable.

Man of Steel is largely composed of elaborate action set pieces which are often spectacular and astonishingly realistic.  The flying effects for both Superman and the numerous alien spaceships are among the most believable we have ever seen. While the special effects represent an amazing technical achievement, the endless scenes of bodies ploughing through buildings or super beings hurling each other like Olympic hammer throwers becomes repetitive and even dull. The over-reliance on special effects sucks the emotion and humanity out of this film to the point where it feels as if we are watching a computer game.

In the 1978 Superman film, Christopher Reeve may have been goofy but the audience cared about him. Henry Cavill’s superman is perfunctory, one dimensional and unengaging. This isn’t entirely Cavill’s fault as his performance, like those of the other cast members, is completely swamped by the eyeball-pummelling CGI and the ear-shredding soundtrack.  Michael Shannon snarls and grimaces as Zod but seems miscast; he looks like a serious actor in a silly costume.  He is also subject to what I consider the number one cardinal sin of action movies, inconsistent toughness. Zod claims to have been genetically engineered as a warrior but he constantly has the piss slapped out of him including one appallingly filmed fight scene with Superman’s Dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe) where the two actors, overburdened by their bulky body armour, look like emperor penguins attacking each other.  Amy Adams is feisty as Lois Lane but there’s zero chemistry between her and Superman.  Kevin Costner has almost no chance to register a performance in his brief appearance as Superman’s adopted human Father, Jonathon Kent.

Man of Steel goes to great lengths to appease those wedded to the original dark mythology of the comics.  Superman’s beginnings, Krypton’s social order, the circumstances behind Superman’s departure from his home planet as a baby and the final destruction of Krypton are explored in much more detail here than in the 1978 film.

Man of Steel also adopts a much more serious tone than the Superman films of the 1970’s and 80’s as it eschews the campy humour, the red underpants, Lex Luthor, Kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen.  The po-faced approach generally works but occasionally feels forced, particularly when Russel Crowe as Jor-El emotes in a pompous British accent.

It almost appears as if the pop culture-savvy internet generation require all superhero stories to undergo a post-modern makeover and that Hollywood, in its glorious pursuit of cash cows, is prepared to oblige.  Let’s hope they stop before we see an angst-ridden, ultra-violent, lycra/ mesh-suited Hong Kong Fooey.


Nick’s rating:  Three stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Zack Snyder.

Release date: 27th June 2013.

Running time:  143 mins.


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