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Man of Steel
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Can Someone Get Zack Snyder To Say His Name Backwards?"
1 stars

Now that hardly a month seems to go by these days without the release of some enormously expensive fantasy spectacular based on a comic book, it almost seems impossible to believe that when the original "Superman" film was produced in 1978, it was looked upon as a potential folly of the highest order. After all, one generally didn't make movies based on comic book characters back then and if they did, they were usually done as cheap rip-offs slapped together for no other reason for their existence other than separating little kids from their allowance money. "Superman," on the other hand, bucked that trend not only by spending an unheard-of amount of money to make it to the screen but doubled-down the gamble by casting a total unknown in the central role and surrounding him with an all-star cast comprised of the likes of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman--actors that one would normally not associate with such silliness. As we all know, the gamble worked and the end result became a huge hit with critics and audiences, spawned a series of sequels ranging in quality from the highly entertaining "Superman II" (1981) to the uneven though not entirely uninteresting "Superman III" (1983) to the downright incompetent ripoff "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" (1987) and is now often cited as being the best of all the superhero movies.

The basic production template for that first film was so strong that when it was decided to try to bring Superman back to the big screen for the first time in nearly 20 years and after a number of highly publicized false starts, the resulting production, 2006's "Superman Returns," more or less followed it to the letter. While it did have a few bright moments here and there, it lacked too many of the things that made the original so impressive--a screenplay that took the whole concept of Superman seriously yet still demonstrated a keen wit that never slipped over into camp, a charismatic leading man in Christopher Reeve who struck such undeniable sparks with Margot Kidder's Lois Lane that even little kids didn't mind the mushy stuff too much and special effects that actually made you believe that a man could fly--and while the enterprise as a whole was hardly a disaster, it never really managed to rise above the level of mild competence at best. However, the commercial indifference it received suggested that the next time that someone attempted to make a Superman movie, a different approach would probably be needed in order to make the character more appealing to moviegoers who were instead turning out in drove for the somewhat darker screen adventures of such superheroes as Batman, Iron Man and the X-Men.

Whatever else one might say about "Man of Steel"--and there are plenty of things to say, though few that can be uttered aloud in polite company--it does contain any number of radical changes designed to set it apart from its predecessors. Alas, not one of these changes is even vaguely effective and the result is a film that is so flat-out awful that about the nicest thing that one can possibly muster to say about it is that it is at least better than "Superman IV." Actually, I am not even so sure about that last sentence because whatever the sins of "Superman IV"--and they are indeed legion--it at least still seemed vaguely interested in exploring the mythos of the character that had intrigued generations of fans since his debut in 1938. "Man of Steel," on the other hand, is content to throw all of that away on the kind of anonymous spectacle that favors the crumbling of backgrounds in every third scene to anything resembling wit, emotion or true excitement. Imagine a "Transformers" movie in which the robots causing zillions of dollars in property damage while pounding the crap out of each other have been replaced with guys in goofy-looking tights and that, in a deeply depressing nutshell, is "Man of Steel."

As a franchise reboot, "Man of Steel" offers up yet another version of Superman's origin story but while it may sound familiar enough in the broadest outlines, the details have been screwed around with in ways more mystifying than mystical. For example, it starts of the faraway planet of Krypton where leading scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is unsuccessfully attempting to convince the ruling body that the planet is about to be destroyed. However, during all this, a renegade group of soldier led by General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrive to stage a violent coup. After escaping the ensuing laser battle by flying away on the back of a giant bird-like creature, Jor-El manages to launch his newborn son, Kal-El, into space in the hopes that he might make it to a seemingly hospitable planet called Earth. For his depravations, Zod and his soldiers are condemned to a form of intergalactic exile but once Krypton finally goes boom, they are set free and begin their search for Kal-El, who is unknowingly carrying the secret for reviving Krypton with him.

In a move so abrupt and confusing that I actually thought that the film had skipped ahead a reel or two, we pick up with the adult Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as he is wandering the planet while trying to remain anonymous, though he is still willing to jump in to fight for a waitress's honor or to single-handedly save the day at an oil rig inferno. Interspersed with these moments are flashbacks to his days growing up on the Smallville farm of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and learning about both what separates him from everybody else and the importance of keeping those differences under control so as not to panic those who might not understand. Eventually, he hears about the discovery of a mysterious craft embedded in ice in the Arctic that turns out to be a long-buried Kryptonian ship containing a message from Jor-El explaining certain key details about his background. It is at this point that he officially shaves his scruffy beard, dons the tights and officially becomes Superman and it is also at this point that he first encounters Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the intrepid Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from The Daily Planet who nevertheless requires rescuing with a few moments of their initial meeting.

In yet another inexplicable move, the action soon shifts back to Smallville as Clark reunites with his mom while Lois almost immediately figures out Superman's alter ego but then fails to do anything about it. It is at this time that General Zod's minions arrive to set a plan in motion that, with Superman's help, will bring Krypton back to life on Earth via the miracle of terraforming, though with the minor side effect of destroying all current forms of life in the process. Although an outsider on both his home and adopted planets, Superman decides that he cannot allow Zod to carry out his plan and this leads to the inevitably massive smackdowns, first on the streets of Smallville and eventually on the streets of Metropolis. The fights are so enormous and involve such much property damage that by the end, the question isn't so much whether Earth will be saved or not as much as it is whether any of it will still be standing when all is said and done.

On paper, this sounds like the basis for a fairly standard Superman saga but the approach that "Man of Steel" takes in regards to the material is so wrong-headed that it makes you wonder whether anyone involved with the production had ever even seen a Superman movie or comic book before. The biggest problem is also its most basic--the complete lack of joy throughout. I know that darker superheroes are all the rage but Superman has always represented something more bright and joyous and optimistic--even his brightly colored outfit stood in marked relief to the more somber hues of his colleagues. This was always an important element because since the stories were dealing with an all-powerful character with no apparent weaknesses other than Kryptonite and women with two L's in the name, seeing him or his alter-ego doing things on a smaller and sometimes sillier scale--saving a cat or truthfully answering Lois when she asks what color underwear she is wearing--made him seem more human and relatable and also came as a welcome contrast to his more over-the-top moments of derring-do.

None of that is in evidence this time around thanks to the inexplicable decision by director Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan to change Superman from sunny to surly. In theory, I can understand why this might have seemed like a good idea at the time--after all, a darker and more psychologically complex rendering of Batman was enormously successful for Nolan and Goyer in the recent Dark Knight trilogy, some of the only superhero films that could plausibly challenge the original "Superman" for the title of the best superhero movie ever. In practice, it is a disaster as we are subjected to a grim and unpleasant story filled with gloomy visuals (made even more so by the painfully unnecessary and relentlessly dingy 3-D photography) and none of the charm that one might rightly expect to see. Even Superman himself is a dreary bore this time around--Henry Cavill is handsome enough and adequately fills out his outfit but has none of the twinkly spirit that made Christopher Reeve a delight to watch even as the quality of his films began to plummet. Hell, Cavill doesn't even make enough of an impression to make one forget Brandon Routh, a notion that I never dreamed could be possible.

Perhaps realizing that he was never going to be able to match the original "Superman" in terms of cheerful entertainment, Snyder clearly made the decision early on that he would instead bludgeon viewers with the kind of ridiculously over-scaled set-pieces that he demonstrated little facility for in messes like "Watchmen" and the infamously awful "Sucker Punch." You would think that it would be impossible to go too far over the top within the context of a film in which the central character can fly and bounce bullets off his chest but you would be wrong. For one thing, hardly a scene goes by without some massive spectacle unfolding before our eyes--this is the kind of film in which a scene featuring a school bus filled with kids plunging into a river would be considered a relatively restrained moment--and even the most dedicated sensation junkies will have hit their saturation points long before the final reels.

And since there is never a moment in which we are asked to care about any of the characters, the threat of their imminent demise never really pays off. (In the worst example of this, the final battle in Metropolis must kill off thousands of people, judging by all the destruction, but viewers are asked to be elated because just enough recognizable members of the Daily Planet editorial board survive to achieve a quorum at their next meeting.) There are also so many scenes with so many extraneous items--especially the opening battle on Krypton where the spaceships-versus-Quetzcoatal battle looks as if it was tagged on to the proceedings right after the opening weekend of "Avatar"--that one gets the sense that they are meant to serve more as commercials for the inevitable line of tie-in toys than anything else. There are so many explosions, implosions and extraneous bric-a-brac on display that there are times when Superman often feels like an afterthought to his own story.

Seeing as how he is a character that has been around and entertaining audiences for more than three-quarters of a century, you would think that it would be easy enough to create a Superman story compelling enough to hold the attention of an audience for two lousy hours, especially with the amount of money on hand to bring it to the screen. Sadly, "Man of Steel" has absolutely no evident grasp of what it is about the character that has captivated audiences for so long and neither the enormous amounts of money on hand nor the surprisingly strong cast--outside of Cavill and a decidedly uncomfortable-looking Russell Crowe, the casting is largely spot-on (Kevin Costner is especially good, though it is too bad that much of his work is undermined by his supremely silly final scene)--can help make up for that fundamental flaw and the end result is the kind of cynically-constructed craptacular that makes something like "The Green Lantern" seem almost palatable by comparison.

The rules of contemporary superhero movie etiquette compel me to inform you that, unlike so many other films of its type, "Man of Steel" does not have anything to offer viewers after the end credits have run their course. The real tragedy is that it doesn't have much of anything to offer them at any point before the end credits either.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22735&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/13/13 10:51:35
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User Comments

10/10/20 Ed Riddick Great stars elevate script-but can only do so much. Interesting story. Too much CGI. 3 stars
8/09/19 Dr. Lao Its hard to make a Superman movie that never feels heroic, but they did 2 stars
10/29/16 morris campbell not perfect but better than superman 3&4 &superman returns 4 stars
3/28/16 Aj wales No chemistry between superman and lois at all. Cgi overload. Dull in colour and script. 2 stars
3/19/16 Timasaurus13 Finally a good Superman film! Acting/Score/Cinematography is just magnificent! 5 stars
11/05/15 Nigel Terribly disappointing film. Didn't know what it was trying to be. 1 stars
7/19/15 Keith Langman I hate Zack Snyder. Captain parlor tricks returns with a superman so Jacked up he can't mov 3 stars
3/10/15 DaveB Finally, action in a Superman movie 5 stars
10/05/14 CURTIS NOT BAD---SEEN A LOT WORSE 3 stars
9/02/14 Joe I liked it 4 stars
3/09/14 Charles Tatum Nice visuals and FX, but what an awful script 4 stars
1/03/14 reptilesni Wow. That was really depressing. 1 stars
11/17/13 Chris Mckenzie It was pretty good, but not great. 3 stars
11/16/13 The Big D Finally--a superhero movie made after 1985 that's NOT stupid and nerdy! 4 stars
11/07/13 deceiver Yeah, it's hollow and empty and second-rate 2 stars
10/23/13 Bernie Very disappointing. Found it boring. 1 stars
9/09/13 sreekiran muralidharan heavily action packed superman film that lacks kinetic thrills 3 stars
7/18/13 Joe It wasn't bad. 3 stars
7/01/13 Koitus Eh; it was okay. Cavill was great as Superman; sequel??? 3 stars
6/25/13 Jesse Zuno I found the Sears product placement annoying. 3 stars
6/25/13 Apollo Film Renders Sup just another guy with powers 1 stars
6/23/13 action movie fan some good moments, cahill great but action too stylized and video gamish 3 stars
6/22/13 Mark Did they even spend a day writing the script? BAD! 1 stars
6/18/13 Pierre Mosbey Cavill was bland, but great action sequences. 4 stars
6/18/13 frank no heart. joyless. skip it. 2 stars
6/18/13 gc. An updated version of s.m. 1&2, nothing new here. 3 stars
6/17/13 Krypton IS on the periodic table. You've lived too long when you hear Lois Lane say "If we're through measuring dicks" 1 stars
6/17/13 Jake Numbing action. It just wasn't fun 2 stars
6/16/13 Fan of Supe for 60 years Enjoyed it -- looking forward to sequal 4 stars
6/16/13 Bob Dog Bad. Real bad. They should have hired a real writer. 1 stars
6/15/13 Darkstar It was fucking awesome! A little slow to start, but once the action started, WOW! 5 stars
6/14/13 KingNeutron Liked Cavill and Costner, and that was about it.Too dark and grimy, +I hated the spaceships 2 stars
6/14/13 mr.mike I have 0 complaints. 5 stars
6/14/13 Libby "Man of Steel" has no heart. Dialogue sounds like it was written by a five year old. 2 stars
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  14-Jun-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Nov-2013

  14-Jun-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 12-Nov-2013

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