There is a moment towards the end of Man of Steel when the word ‘Superman’ is finally uttered. Numerous other characters struggle to form this simple word for the course of the movie. This is sadly indicative of how far removed Man of Steel is from your typical superhero fare.
Man of Steel is a not subtle story. Besides the cacophony of explosions, fights and superhero smashdowns coming at you, you’ll also have to contend with the bucket loads of exposition. The contextual opening on Krypton might send some fanboys hearts fluttering, but the Halo/Avatar inspired spaceships and laser guns (seriously, when did Superman have laser guns?) left this punter cold. Clocking in at 146 minutes, Man of Steel also drew me out of the plot more than once. I kept losing track of the meandering story as it sluggishly gained momentum.
There’s a point trying to be made about the evolution of the human race, and whether we are ready to learn about Kal-El – or vice-versa – but it just can’t be heard under the sheer brute force. Man of Steel is an uneasy bedfellow when placed alongside the light-hearted romps of the Marvel Universe or the gritty gothic feel of Nolan’s Batman especially with the amount of (admittedly unseen) civilian casualties.
Man of Steel is lacking charm and is almost devoid of any humour at all. The action is too forceful and blunt, and also dangerously repetitive towards the end. The tale of two gods using Smallville as a galactic playground feels cold and dispassionate. All the implied death and destruction goes by without any comment. I’m also concerned that the scenes of falling skyscrapers in what is a visual parallel to New York is a little too soon.
I’ve also got the distinct feeling that this reboot of Superman has shown its hand too early. All the major cards have been played, and with the hyperbolic action sequences, a sequel is going to have to work hard to not be a diminishing return.
It’s not all bad though, it was a brave choice to use Zod rather than Lex Luthor as the main baddie. And it’s a stellar cast that turn up. Christopher Meloni (Law and Order: SVU) gets a worthy adversary in the form of Antje Traue. Richard Schiff (West Wing) has a pleasing, if cameo role. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Jonathan and Martha Kent whilst Laurence Fishburne gets to be shouty as Perry White.
Michael Shannon’s Zod is consistently entertaining as he chews on the scenery. Yet he retains a depth below the surface that makes him eminently watchable. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is frighteningly devoid of emotion and unfortunately merely a cipher to events. The Lois/Clark relationship feels tacked on and rushed, like they absolutely had to have it the movie, rather than naturally arising from the plot.
Russell Crowe almost steals the show as Jor-El who perhaps is at his most effective as a holographic version of himself interacting with his son. But all eyes are on Henry Cavell’s Superman, who is calm, cool, and actually enjoyable to watch, if a little impersonal.
This might be a fresh reinvention, but it’s one that feels like a backwards step in Superman’s 75th year. The visual cues are there alongside some tongue-in-cheek references for the fans, but Man of Steel was a disappointing first re-entry into the Superman franchise for me. Whilst I would like to see more of Cavill’s interpretation of the Man of Steel, it’s got to be a radical change before I’ll see Man of Steel 2.
The Fiction Stroker gives Man of Steel two strokes out of five: