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Man Of Steel (2013, USA)

17/06/2013

Director: Zack Snyder    Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne

man of steelI suppose it was only a matter of time, given Marvel’s success with their joined-up movie-verse and the stratospheric popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that D.C. would attempt some sort of similar in-house consistency with their cinematic efforts. Clearly the lessons of Batman have been learned (not to mention the Green Lantern movie. I suppose mistakes are only bad if you fail to learn from them!)

It comes as little surprise then that Nolan has been recruited, along with his Dark Knight collaborator David S. Goyer, to inject a new lease of life into D.C.’s other figurehead, Superman. And boy does it show. This is a much more serious treatment of the character than we’ve seen on screen before, a darker, edgier approach to the story that we are all so familiar with. You know, like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Only with Superman. And herein lies the problem. Man Of Steel suffers from a sever case of over earnestness, the sort of dead pan, po faced grimness you’d expect to find in a serious drama and not in a big budget comic book adaptation. Aren’t comics supposed to be fun?

It’s not to say the film is without its merits, there is plenty on show here to enjoy. The young Clark Kent coming to terms with his enhanced abilities is a nice touch, the cast are pretty solid and I like the treatment of General Zod as a misguided zealot rather than a purely evil dictator (and Michael Shannon’s performance is a glimmer of hope, a chink of carefree light in the darkness of deadly seriousness). I like the production design, breathing new (and somewhat more credible) life into the oh so familiar Superman suit, and some of the action set pieces are pretty spectacular as Kal-El and Zod battle it out to determine the fate of Earth.

Michael Shannon is one of the best things about the film and I love the treatment of Zod as a character. Now, tell me again how a yellow Sun let's him shoot lasers out of his eyes?

Michael Shannon is one of the best things about the film and I love the treatment of Zod as a character. Now, tell me again how a yellow Sun let’s him shoot lasers out of his eyes?

But it has its problems. Serious problems. I’m actually quite shocked about the reliance of CGI for pretty much every single special effect in the film, given Nolan’s influence and his history of using computers sparingly and then only to enhance mechanical and in-camera effects. Snyder has gone to town with the digital jiggery-pokery which has left huge swathes of the action set pieces rendered almost unwatchable, or at least an indistinct mess as one blur of pixels knocks lumps out of another blur of pixels until a building falls down and things get going again. I realise we are talking about mortal combat between two god-like beings here, and that things would happen quickly, but there must be a better way to represent that on screen than sequence after sequence of blurry action. And the lens flares, please don’t get me started on the lens flares. I think they must have hired J.J. Abrams as lens flare consultant given their sheer quantity and intrusiveness.

So many lens flares. Cos you know, he gets his powers from the Sun. The Sun. See? Geddit? The Sun.

So many lens flares. Cos you know, he gets his powers from the Sun. The Sun. See? Geddit? The Sun.

I could definitely have done without the endless attempts to explain just why exactly Earth’s yellow Sun imbues Superman with his super powers. With each passing expositional speech about radiation, gravity, different atmospheric conditions, etc, etc, etc. you get the feeling the hole being dug can’t get any deeper. Let’s be honest, the premise that a different Sun could result in superhuman abilities is pretty preposterous, but as a concept you can pretty much accept it with some careful suspension of disbelief. Look at Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie and they get away with it by just mentioning it in passing and then forgetting about it, getting on with the story instead (and might I add with humour and fun). In Man Of Steel, the desperation for this concept to be taken seriously is just embarrassing for all involved. By constantly referring back to it, and worse – trying to support it with pseudo science – just reminds you of how silly it is and seriously impedes your ability to simply accept it.

You know what? There's a bunch of messianic imagery and allusions to Jesus in there too that I just can't be arsed with. As much as I love The Last Temptation Of Christ it's not a huge amount of fun...

You know what? There’s a bunch of messianic imagery and allusions to Jesus in there too that I just can’t be arsed with. As much as I love The Last Temptation Of Christ it’s not a huge amount of fun…

There are endless internal logic problems in the film as well, too many to mention here. I think in different circumstances I’d be willing to let them slide but the constant insistence that the film be taken seriously, that its some kind of realistic interpretation of the comic amplifies the inconsistencies and almost acts as a challenge to spot flaws in their theories and anything that could undermine the project. And so we come full circle, back to that awful over-earnestness that Man Of Steel wears round its neck like a chunk of cinematic Kryptonite. Like I said, there are quite a lot of things to like about the film, but all of these things are beaten into submission by sheer humourlessness.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. othaday permalink
    05/01/2014 22:09

    THANKS again! However I respectfully disagree – the major problem, for ME, with past SM movies have been the attempts at lightness and humor – there is just enough in this one to satisfy me. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this MofS and hope that they keep exactly this tone in the next one…

    • 05/01/2014 23:41

      Feel free to disagree, you don’t even have to be that respectful if you don’t want, I don’t mind! Maybe DC will find their feet in a few movies time, but I’ve always found their characters and universes a bit po-faced for my tastes. They definitely have their fans though, so who am I to argue?

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