Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Antje Traue
Dir. Zack Snyder
The title is wrong! With everything that happens to Superman in this film, if he was made out of steel he wouldn’t last five minutes.
But let’s not be churlish. Let’s forget everything that has gone before: the pantomime villains, the specs, god forbid John Major’s underpants worn outside the keks. This is a new beginning, a fresh start, a ‘reboot’ I believe is the word they use in the fim/comic industry. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a damn good film and has restored life to a Superman franchise; a cinematic corner that was starting to look a bit jaded and, well, a bit mom’s-apple-pie-ish compared to Marvel’s wickedly bright output and the seriously morbid Batman trilogy.
Seeing Christopher Nolan’s name appear on the credits explains it all. Yes, Zack Snyder directs with confidence and competence, but you can’t help feeling that the Hand of Nolan had a tight grip on Snyder’s shirt collar throughout the process. The result was a comic book film that never really looked like a comic book film.
So, it was all right then, was it Harrison? Well, if we look at the boxes on my very scientific spreadsheet, let’s see:
Big spectacular set pieces – certainly. The destruction of city blocks is so last year! Here we have destruction of entire planets. (And for these scenes not to look realistic in the 21st century is inexcusable.) But we are not let down. Man of Steel puts you right in the middle of the volcanic explosions and it doesn’t hurt.
Characters you don’t want to punch – I was convinced Henry Cavill was John Travolta’s son. The facial similarities are those that only happen by way of DNA. Cavill was a clever bit of casting, wholesome enough to fit DC Comic’s remit of having superheroes you can take home for Sunday dinner, but not wholesome enough to bring up your Sunday dinner ten minutes later. A supporting cast of Michael Shannon as General Zod, Russell Crowe as Superman’s dad Jor-El, Kevin Costner as Superman’s earth dad and Amy Adams as a no-bull Lois Lane, added to the overall grit. Man of Steel may have a lot of gloss, but the edges were satisfyingly rough.
Ubiquitous rolling news scene – yes, we’re starting to expect these in every film involving the earth being invaded or attacked, but the scenes in Man of Steel were particularly eery and realistic. Of course it’s technologically simple these days to achieve some visual accuracy, but the emotional impact of such a big news story was conveyed too. That kind of intangible effect is not so easy to summon up in a superhero film.
Story twists and turns – in spades. But then we’re in comic book territory, which lives and dies by it’s storytelling, so the destruction of Krypton, the arrival of Superman, the discovery by Lois Lane that all isn’t quite what it seems, then General Zod and his goons turning up was a relentless narrative juggernaut. It was occasionally slowed down by flashbacks to Superman’s boyhood days, but not annoyingly so; Kevin Costner was only seen under the bonnet of a truck once and I don’t recall any huge food bowls being passed around a dinner table.
The US military’s incompetence – after all these years gung-ho morons with officer rank still think they can blow up a spaceship with a missile or shoot a heavily armed alien with a pistol. Antje Traue (that’s her real name, the character’s name is the slightly less exotic Faora-Ul) gives short shrift to a battalion of knuckleheads with their rocket propelled thingummies and doesn’t bat an eyelid after being strafed by a Warthog. I know it sounds like a different film, but stay with me.
Two main characters having a punch up – this particular box is in the ‘don’t do this’ section and was ticked with a very thick nibbed pen. Film fans want realistic special effects in inverse proportion to conflicts resolved with two men in a fist fight. (At least that other recent cinematic cliche was avoided in which the bad guy’s girl goes head to head with the good guy’s girl at the same time.)
Only one problem with the film, only one bad box ticked? Mm. Actually there was another fundamental flaw in Man of Steel, a flaw even more heinous than the film’s title. The story starts as the planet Krypton is about to destroy itself because of mining and various other forms of extreme environmental exploitation. As General Zod points out this catastrophe had been brought on by a self-serving, arrogant elite, who not only plundered Krypton, but other planets as well and threw in wholesale planetary eugenics for good measure. Everyone bred for a purpose, no social mobility etc etc. When Zod tries to stop this he becomes the villain of the story!
The action transfers to Earth, with Zod and his cohorts engaged in an attempt to terraform the planet to suit their own atmospheric requirements for survival. Superman receives an unhealthy amount of abuse for siding with the humans and wanting to protect the human race, a species which has its own addiction to environmental exploitation, eugenics etc etc. You start to wonder if the morality behind Man of Steel isn’t the wrong way round. But then there are quite a few scenes in which Superman floats about like a blue Jesus and the semi-religious overtones become a bit clumsy. The bearded pacifist wanderer, the adopted father on earth, real father mooching about all holy-ghost-like, humanity’s saviour descended from above.
The whole thing makes you want to join Zod’s gang and attack the local tea shop, disrupt the school prom. Comparing Man of Steel to some kind of right wing apologists’ fantasy would be going too far, but the idea that a planet destroying elite are the good guys cannot be right to anyone other than guests at a Bilderberg meeting. But let’s face it, if Marvel are the pinko-communist mavericks of the comic world, their rivals must be true blue right?
Tell me if I’m overanalysing things, but I thought that’s precisely what Christopher Nolan wants when people watch his films. Oh and while we’re at it, lets’s start a campaign to Bring Back Zod.