I’m really sick to death of the dark and gritty superhero. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were a huge success because Batman is a dark and gritty character. Just because it works for him doesn’t mean every hero has to be grim. Spider-Man, Superman, etc, these are characters that are about hope, overcoming obstacles, not sullen and living in shadows – ok, maybe not Spider-Man but he certainly isn’t dark and grim. The whole reason Superman doesn’t wear a mask is he wants people to be able to trust him.
While I think Watchmen is a criminally underrated film (I will never understand all the fanboy hatred of this movie), I’ve always had an issue with Director Zack Snyder’s vision. If you look at his filmography – Sucker Punch, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead and 300 the one thing they have in common is they are all dark, shadowy, very ugly looking. That’s not Superman! That’s not Metropolis. Snyder would have been a fine choice for the next Batman movie. For all the money spent on Man of Steel it is one very dark looking movie that was not helped by poorly done 3D.
On the plus side writer David Goyer has crafted a screenplay that borrows liberally from Mark Waid’s excellent mini-series Birthright. It was nice seeing a Superman film that did not have a preening, jokey, Lex Luther as the main bad guy. Right off the bat, Superman faces his biggest challenge – General Zod (a weird goatee looking Michael Shannon) and a whole crew of super powered Kryptonians. They are all invulnerable so how does a fight like this end?
The problem with the movie’s story is once again, at the end of the day it is yet another two and half hour origin story. Who is this mythical person that Producers assume doesn’t know Superman’s origin by now? I mean really? How many times doe we have to sit through origin stories? Can we have at least one reboot of a Super Hero franchise that assumes the primary audience isn’t made up of a bunch of no-nothing idiots?
While Snyder’s Krypton actually looked a little more intriguing than it has in the past, I don’t think I needed to see the first 30 minutes of the film set on Krypton. As much as I’m ambivalent about Russell Crowe, he did bring Jor-El to life in a very real way. It was nice to see some nuance to the character. In recent portrayals (namely Smallvile) he came across as kind of a dick. We even see a bit of Zod’s humanity in his friendship with Jor-el. It is hard to root against Zod because at his core he was engineered to protect Krypton at all cost.
Zod aims to rebuild Krypton by terraforming the Earth using this weird, spidery (did I mention Zod’s ships looked like giant 3 legged Spiders or Octopi?), look ship called The World Machine – that, ironically enough, was designed by Jor-el. In addition to this being yet another origin story, once again we watch a Superman movie where the plot boils down to a fight over real estate.
The story’s structure completely loses Superman. The first ½ hour is all about Krypton, we get a half hour of Superman wondering the earth trying to “find himself” with flashbacks of his childhood – featuring one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary Jonathon Kent (Kevin Costner does a great job as JK) death scenes ever filmed and then we get a very long tedious almost 90 minute fight scene. The flight scenes also looked a bit weird, there’s one close up moment where we see some of Superman’s joy when he first learns to fly. After that every time he flies Snyder uses a wide angle shot so he ends up looking like a spec against a backdrop.
This fight reached a ridiculous, over the top, Transformers, comical Team America level of destruction where I couldn’t help but think – this will never end and who is paying for all of this? It would have been nice if we got some nice shots of a beautiful, gleaming Metropolis, or even a single shot of the iconic Daily Planet Globe before the destruction began. Instead there was no character to the city so watching it destroyed really had no emotional weight.
There are some truly spectacular set pieces and battles that give Superman a sense of grandiosity, beefed up by Hans Zimmer’s amazing score, but these awesome feats of movie making prowess can’t disguise the fact that this movie is joyless, relentlessly maudlin and just ugly looking.
I really liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane, even though she seemed a bit too old. Lois’ story arc here is really interesting and I like how Snyder and Goyer tweaked the relationship between Superman/Clark and Lois. The entire movie seemed designed to get us to the final scene in the movie – by the time we get to this moment it is too late and makes zero sense in light of everything else that happened leading up to it. The movie should have started in this place and worked back – if it insisted on telling his origin once again.
The fact that I haven’t even mentioned Henry Cavill’s mostly stoic portrayal of Superman to this point in the review says a lot. The story’s structure is so jumpy that we barely spend anytime with him. I would swear that it is almost an hour into the movie before he even says anything. It is easy to hire a British actor to play Superman when he barely says anything or mumbles his lines throughout the movie. The one thing they did keep was Superman’s “stupidity.” There’s a point in the movie where he spends 5 minutes telling Zod how to control his powers. My mouth just fell open at how ridiculous this speech was and I wanted to scream shut up you moron.
Most people will say “Oh, this woman just wants Christopher Reeve back.” Yes, I do, but is it too much to ask for a fun, light, boy scout Superman? There’s so much more that I want to say but can’t without spoiling major parts of this movie. I don’t want my Superman acting completely out of character and crossing lines that even Batman has never crossed.
I don’t want to leave you with the idea that I hated this movie, it is a fine sample of big budget movie making, but a Superman movie this is not.