Until 12:07 am at the midnight premiere of Man of Steel, the anticipation for this Superman reboot was killing me. Not only did Chris Nolan co-create the story, but the trailers also indicated a darker tone and deeper thematic underpinnings. Perhaps Superman could make a comeback like Batman did with Begins. Such were my excited thoughts… until I was stuck in the middle of a mostly hollow, dull, and inconsistent film that expects you to engage your emotions one minute, then forget them the next, all while putting on an overblown and hollow special effects show. That said, Man of Steel was utterly disappointing; allow me to explain.
Credit must be given where credit is due: the movie wasn’t all bad. I rather enjoyed the performances from Russel Crowe (as Jor-El) and Kevin Costner (as Jonathan Kent), and Henry Cavill did a fine job as Superman… at least, as much as was possible given the painfully dull script. There were many moments in the flashback sequences where the movie really tugs on the heartstrings, especially as a young Clark Kent wrestles with his identity and feeling like he doesn’t belong, all while keeping his extraordinary abilities hidden from the world because “they weren’t ready…” well, all except a scene where (vague spoiler) a certain character dies trying to save a dog, only because he tells Clark to keep hiding his powers (basically, the scene makes absolutely no sense in an awfully frustrating way). The special effects are absolutely amazing, except that they’re so overabundant that they rob the movie of so much of its potential in other areas. There were a few genuinely funny moments, but given the overall solemn tone of everything else in the film, laughter just feels almost unnatural. So the movie has a few strengths, but even those positive points are dragged down by the film’s overwhelming weaknesses.
And the weaknesses abound. In fact these points are so critical and so bad, it would probably be helpful if I organized them into a list:
1. Rushed pace. As soon as the solid prologue about the Kryptonian apocalypse ends, the film feels feverishly rushed, constantly switching back and forth between flashbacks from Clark’s childhood and current events leading up to him emerging as Superman. A lot of these scenes are packed with potential, and they weren’t bad in and of themselves for the most part; the movie’s rushed pace early on simply leaves no room for any meaningful character development. Which leads me to my next point:
2. Dull script and cardboard characters. When people talk, it’s rarely humorous, engaging, or meaningful (except, again, in the case of the film’s father-figures). It feels forced and shallow, which ruins any chance the film had for deeper character development.
3. Mind-numbing action. And I thought Michael Bay was bad… there is so much relentless thrashing, bashing, flying, flinging, and whatever else that the film quickly deteriorates into a wearisome effects show. At a certain point, it just gets boring, because you as the viewer have not been forced to make any kind of emotional investment in these characters and therefore it turns into an overdose of eye candy that lacks substance.
4. Catastrophic indifference. There is so much destruction in this movie, it’s absolutely absurd. Superman is all about saving people, and they attempt to make that very clear by putting him in situations where he’s forced to do just that… but at the same time, the carnage caused by the fights he has with his Kryptonian adversaries would have killed THOUSANDS of civilians. And what of their deaths? I’m still wondering that very thing; for some reason the film just doesn’t deal with all that damage and how that affected people, and because of that, it feels cold.
5. Forced Jesus metaphor. I understand that Superman is supposed to be a Christ-like figure: he’s strong, he’s a savior, and he cares for people. But there are several points in the film where they forced the analogy on the viewer so hard that it feels painfully cheesy. I know this is more of a personal preference than anything else and I know others appreciated the Christ imagery/parallels, but they just felt forced to me, much like the film’s other elements.
Rushed. Bland. Boring. Cold. Forced. All adjectives I would use to describe this massive letdown of a film. Nolan and Goyer’s ideas for Superman were so loaded with potential to make the Man of Steel relatable and, in many ways, human. But somewhere in the translation of their ideas into Snyder’s loud and obnoxious film, the heart of the movie was drowned in a sea of irrelevance. I suppose it’s for that reason that I simply cannot recommend it.