DC’s attempt to compete with Marvel on the big screen begins with Man of Steel, quite possibly the most disappointing superhero movie ever made.
The film starts with Kal-El (Henry Cavil) being born, because this origin story goes all the way to the beginning. After a 20 minute prologue in which his father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and General Zod (Michael Shannon) quarrel over the fate of a dying planet, Kal-El is sent to Earth where he fast-forwards 30 years and becomes Superman. He is then called to defend Earth from Zod, who wants to turn it into a new Krypton.
In terms of structure, the prologue has the movie’s emotional climax, but is set before anyone cares or understands what’s happening. It picks up and sets down Man of Steel’s primary theme of trying to link Krypton’s death to social issues that are causing Earth to die.
Had they put more thought into this sequence it might have been meaningful, but there’s a difference between social commentary and heavy-handed attempts at resonating with headlines. The film doesn’t delve into its chosen social issues as much as it shouts out at them in an attempt to be hip. They even add a shot at the ultra-current American domestic scandal at the end.
The movie’s bi-global scale is also an issue. While the focus is supposed to be on Superman, too much hay is made of what’s going on in the world — both of them. DC is trying to create a Christopher Nolan flavor with its movie franchises, but if all that means is imitating tricks that worked in The Dark Knight but haven’t worked elsewhere (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, this movie), we’re in for a long decade of poor filmmaking.
Ironically, Man of Steel could have solved its bigger structural problem by taking cues from one of Nolan’s earliest film, Memento.
Poor dialogue permeates the movie. A few lines obtrude awkwardly from the film, taking the audience out of it simply because it’s too hard to believe a person would talk like that. Of the cast, only Shannon is able to overpower the inherent badness of his lines.
The third head of the three-headed monster the script creates is stupidity, and oh, is there a lot of it.
Man of Steel features one of the stupidest on-screen militaries in cinematic history. Many soldiers die in the film because they keep firing at Kryptonians no matter how many bullets bounce off them and never make any attempt to defend themselves. Later in the film, someone thinks its a bright idea to fire missiles at a gravity-warping device.
Speaking of gravity-warping, Superman and the military’s plan to save Earth features them creating a black hole on the planet’s surface.
While the script does address some of the sillier parts of the Superman mythos, such as Lois Lane never recognizing Clark Kent and pieces of Superman’s home world being somehow damaging to him, they accentuate the stupidest — why doesn’t anyone else leave Krypton? They did take the trouble to preserve a toddler and a maniac who’d just been sentenced to 300 years for high treason, but everyone else stays and dies with the planet. An Ark doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult concept for these people.
Director Zack Snyder puts together one nice action sequence, but is incapable of truly elevating the movie. The visuals largely attack viewers instead of communicating with them. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is shot in shaky-cam as well. The last fight between Superman and Zod is an unfortunate homage to Matrix Revolutions, where the characters just fly at each other butt heads.
Frankly, with Snyder, that’s what you pay for. He’s proven time and time again that he can deliver stunning visuals but will do absolutely nothing to mend a damaged script.
There’s no telling how Goyer went from something as elegant as The Dark Knight to something this hair-brained in five short years. If DC doesn’t stop trying to recreate the 2008 hit, even the most avid fans will start getting bored with them.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. He has long held the belief that friends don’t let friends go to for-profit colleges. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for reviews of Monsters University and World War Z.