Anyone familiar with his preferred method of shooting won’t be surprised Zack Snyder gives Superman a real good ‘shake-up’ with Warner’s risky big-budget ”Dark Knight”-inspired reboot.
Shit, a ‘shake-up’ isn’t a bad thing, especially when you’re talking about a movie franchise that’s cape has been torn a new one by all sorts of competition in recent times. But also, as the James Bond and Batman series will attest, the approach usually means a refreshing, welcome change from what we’ve seen before.
But, you see, Snyder’s ”Man of Steel” doesn’t just give DC’s famous Boy Scout a simple ‘shake’, it also makes fucking sure the ground moves, cracks and splits in opposite directions as a result of the gesture.
Seems the filmmaker got the memo Warner left on his car windshield – the one that read “We want something that doesn’t resemble any other Superman movie that has come before; heck, we don’t want it to resemble anything that’s worn the Superman name before.”
Kryptonians Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) send their baby son Kal-El off of their planet to safety – in this case, to escape the clutches of loon military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon), rather than the looming end to their world.
The child ends up on Earth, where he’s taken in by Kansas farmer Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and wife Martha (Diane Lane).
Kal-El, now going by Clark (Henry Cavill), knows he’s equipped with super abilities and that he’s from another planet so sets off on a journey of self-discovery – one that leads him to a fortress of solitude, a nosy reporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and a government that initially suspects him as a threat.
Then, General Zod and his cronies turn up.
Considering Warner were at a loss when it came to the film series, the ‘Superman’ cocktail may have needed to have its ice rattled, sure, but in giving it a heavier, harder shake than it perhaps needed, “Man of Steel” loses some of the tasty, welcome flavour that’s so familiar and so desired by fans of the flying Kryptonian.
The studio was ostensibly in a shitty position when it came to their “Superman” movie series – their last attempt at a Superman movie, 2006′s “Superman Returns” wasn’t as well-received or as profitable as they’d hoped, so a sequel to it was off the cards, but furthermore, if Warner didn’t get moving on a new ‘Superman’ movie before a certain date, it’d lose the rights to the film series to its biological parents.
With Christopher Nolan’s ”Dark Knight” trilogy (”Batman Begins”/”The Dark Knight”/”The Dark Knight Rises”) earning Warner Bros a nice profit, and also it’s darker, riskier approach to the material being well received by fans and critics, it’s no surprise that the studio looked to the abovesaid filmmaker and the trilogy’s writer David S.Goyer to apply their magic to Superman.
With Nolan producing, Goyer on writing duties, and Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”, “300″) on directing duties, Warner have what they asked for – a movie unlike any of the previous ‘Superman’ movies.
“Man of Steel” is especially unlike Bryan Singer’s widely criticized “Superman Returns” – which most claim is more a soppy romantic drama than an adventure movie and just a bookend to those original “Superman” movies starring Christopher Reeve. Was it? Yeah. And I didn’t mind that. But what worked for me, didn’t work for others – others who hit the IMDB forums to voice their criticisms on the picture. Mostly, fans were up in arms that Singer concentrated less on the action and more on the characters themselves, in particular fixing on the complicated romantic relationship of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Less Romance, more Rumble was what they wanted.
Well, to those who filled up pages and pages of comment boxes on the “Superman Returns” page at IMDB with posts of that type? Warner has heard your call!
Here is your biffo-filled Superman movie… with extra biffo!!
While it’s been somewhat influenced by his ”Batman” films (especially in the sense that it plays Clark out as some psychologically-scarred loner that’s lost in a big, dark world), you might be surprised to learn Goyer’s script actually takes more of a cue from … a bunch of other Summer movie tentpole hits.
I imagine the conversation he had with Warner’s Jeff Robinov would’ve went a little something like this :
Robinov : “No, no, less of that… give us Transformers. The kids love that stuff. Blow up lots of things. And if there’s a way to get a robot in there at the end, do it.
Also, make Clark Kent like Jason Bourne. A mysterious globe-trotting superman.
Maybe even write the script like the Bourne movie? Have us piece together his back-story like a jigsaw puzzle!
And I know you likely have your own ideas when it comes to set design, but here’s the number of the guys that did Prometheus – we like that. Make that your basis for Krypton. Lots of Giger.
Smallville is popular too – throw the fans a couple of bones! We need those kids!
Oh, and if you have time, watch some Game of Thrones. People love that. Inject some of that into it.
Did I mention Giger?”
Goyer : Do we maybe consult Nolan, first?
Robinov : If he wants me to bankroll this time-travel movie of his with Matthew McConaughey, he’ll apply the notes. Now someone get me Academy Award Winner Amy Adams on line 2!
The result is a film that, though as entertaining as any other Summer tentpole (I definitely didn’t get bored), plays like a compilation of ‘Greatest Hits from the multiplex” … featuring Superman on .a track somewhere in the middle.
Here’s the track listing on the CD:
1. Game of Thrones (Oooh, is that a Dragon he’s riding!?)
2. The Chronicles of Riddick (Karl Urban’s about to walk out… )
3. Prometheus (… nope. I was wrong. Where in the home of the Space Jockey)
4. The Bourne Identity (He may be scarred, but this globetrotter has skills!)
5. Batman Begins (Bearded dude on an expedition)
6. Smallville (hey! was that a ‘Sullivan’ reference – as in ‘Chloe Sullivan’!?)
7. Superman II (Here we go! Zod and co. versus Clark in the street!)
8. Transformers (Boom! Bash! Boom!)
9. Transformers : Dark of the Moon (More Boom! Bash! Boom! Bash!)
10. Smallville (How many more episodes until we see Jimmy?)
Don’t get me wrong, Snyder has made a very entertaining film here, but it’s cape flaps in a totally different direction than it perhaps should. Not only does it neglect it’s need to course correct back with the source material, it’s also not as half as emotional, admirable or anywhere near as smart as the Batman trilogy; in fact, it comes across somewhat lazy when compared to those terrifically structured films.
While the two-and-a-half hours (anyone that’s seen his Director’s Cut of “Watchmen” knows Snyder likes length – that sounds wrong, I’ll rephrase that in an edit) is largely spent blowing up things (it’s last half suffering from “Transformers” syndrome – clash-after-clash upon a demolished city backdrop), it could’ve used some of the heart, humour and lightness that made the character so popular in the first place. By including more of those it doesn’t have to turn into Richard Donner or Bryan Singer’s “Superman” films, it just gives an audience a chance to breath, relax, and largely have – something DC would consider important to the Superman brand, I imagine – fun.
For all the shitty mistakes it’s script makes though, the cast and crew make up for in other areas.
As Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El, Henry Cavill is a revelation. He’s quite the find. His Clark is especially good – grounded, relatable, and really engaging. Physically, the guy has the most impressive abs you’ll see on screen all year, too. (Be interesting to see if those that complained Brandon Routh seemed as if he was merely imitating predecessor Christopher Reeve in ”Superman Returns” say the same about Cavill, only in this case, that he reminds them of Tom Welling of ”Smallville”).
Even though Goyer’s script seems to have Lois Lane mixed up with April O’Neil from ”Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (you’ll see what I mean), Amy Adams is typically excellent. Her scenes with Cavill are great; good chemistry there. One of the strengths of the movie.
Michael Shannon gives a powerful, fierce and imposing performance as General Zod. He comes across as a credible threat. He’s definitely one of the highlights of the film. And though he doesn’t get to say Zod’s most famous line (sorry fans!), he has just as many memorable things to say and do.
Russell Crowe’s the big surprise of the movie, putting in a profoundly touching but also likeable performance as both Jor-El, Clark’s daddy, and also Jor-El’s conscience – who of course sticks around to guide his son later on. Crowe brings in the action scenes early on in the movie, but does much more with his dialogue scenes – adding a nice blast of class and gravitas to the production.
In fact, the whole cast are terrific – it also includes Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, newcomer Antje Traue as Zod’s offsider Faora-Ul, Laurence Fishburne as a new-age Perry White, Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff and Harry Lennix as military-government types, and half the cast of the defunct SyFy series “Battlestar Galactica” in featured extra roles(Drinking Game! Play Spot the “Galactica” castmember!) – and they’re largely responsible for helping the lazy, confused script play better than it should.
Those familiar with ”300”, ”Watchmen” or even ”Sucker Punch”, know Zack Snyder’s a very visual director, and he’s gone out of his way to make ”Man of Steel” look as unique and as impressive, pictorially, as possible. The man mightn’t be much chop when it comes to slow, dialogue-driven scenes but when it comes to action sequences, he really brings it.
Despite it’s odd influences (Krypton looking like the world of ”Prometheus,” for one), the production design is also exceptional. The designers have constructed some amazing, very imaginative set pieces with a couple of them – - bordering on breathtaking.
This may seem like a mixed review, but it’s not. I actually enjoyed the film, I was just disappointed by quite a few aspects of it. It wasn’t the film it’s well-edited trailer perceived it to be, nor the uplifting, source-friendly “Superman” movie our world needs now. And I guess that’s why it’s called “Man of Steel”, because it isn’t so much “Superman” as “Entertaining adventure movie #434… featuring Superman!’”.
Is “Man of Steel” worthy of a sequel? Indeed. If Goyer and Snyder can restrain themselves from veering too far off the original Superman source material, and instead gives us what we want to see (no, it’s not 70 minutes of fighting on a city street) – Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Kryptonite, some light humour, more of a sense of ‘fun’ – as well as some of those new touches they brought to this film, the next one could be truly something special.
…I need to get warm in my Superman PJ’s and watch Donner’s film though now.