I really wanted Man of Steel to be fun movie. And at times, it was. It was worth the matinee price.
The superhero battle sequences are fun, if a bit silly, and the no-red-undies-on-the-outside, hex-mesh-fabric Superman outfit is an improvement over past iterations. Henry Cavill, I am assured by multiple female sources, is more than a little bit hot, so Superman is also super-good-looking. Michael Shannon as the bad guy is believable and fun. The opening sequence on a dying Krypton is just long enough and has just enough science fiction elements to be interesting, and it ends before it gets to be too much.
The controversial end of the climactic battle posed no issues for me. It didn’t seem like there was any real alternative for the character; the question is why the writers set it up that way. But there were some real problems.
Normally, I like it when an action movie is loud and ‘splodey. When I think a movie has become too loud and too ‘splodey, well, it’s too loud and too ‘splodey. Man of Steel is too loud and too ‘splodey.
At 143 minutes, the movie could have been a good thirty minutes shorter without cutting out anything of importance whatsoever. Maybe as much as 45 minutes shorter. A movie should be the length it needs to be to tell its story. This movie didn’t have that much story to tell, so it didn’t need to be as long as it was. The story and film editors needed to be given a stronger hand and instructions to pull out the character story in less than two hours while leaving in sufficient spectacle to keep the audience thrilled. I’ve got to think they could have done this in less than two and a half hours.
The movie went over the top with A-list celebrities in small-to-middling roles, to the point that seeing so many of them in so many different roles became distracting. I never quite was able to set aside Russell Crowe or Diane Lane or Laurence Fishburne or Christopher Meloni, and see the characters they were playing instead of the actors playing them. The only A-lister I was able to set aside off-screen persona for was Amy Adams, delivering a flinty Lois Lane.
Could the writers and the FX crew have beat up on Metropolis just a little bit less? If they had, it might have been more effective. One or two large buildings in a big city being destroyed is terrifying and horrible. But dozens of them going down because of what amounts to a super-fistfight stopped being awful and started being silly. About a quarter of the way through the climactic fight, I found myself so jaded by the fact that building after building was being brought down by the superhero battle that I was wondering about the effects all of this was going to have on the reinsurance market.
Superman is portrayed in comic books as being super-smart on top of being super-studley. We’re shown this in the movie because as a child Clark Kent is shown reading Plato for recreation. But as an adult he seems to demonstrate only above average intelligence and has surprisingly little dialogue to deliver in which he might say something smart. A movie can convey intelligence superficially (by illustrating a character reading a book without pictures, or wearing glasses) or it can convey intelligence by illustrating the intelligent character putting clues together faster than the characters he’s interacting with. Superman goes superficial. And for a guy who’s also supposed to be super-moral and super-empathetic, he says some pretty thoughtless things to his adoptive parents (granted, one was during his late teens, and adolescents do behave that way — apparently even if they have super powers).
But most of all, Superman was dull. The writers tried to make him conflicted, struggling with inner demons and a search for personal identity. But I was more interested in Jonathan Kent than his young son, and even less interested in that son as he grew up. The adult Clark Kent is supposed to make a transition from being a secretive loner, trying to conceal his differences from an outside world he feared to instead step out of the shadows and assuming responsibility appropriate to his abilities. Mr. Cavill might have been trying to convey that sort of inner struggle, but I didn’t get much of it from his facial expressions or body language. There was one scene set in a church where he showed some emotional depth but that was swamped by a very heavy-handed bit of set staging.
Mainly Mr. Cavill stood around looking hot, which is perfectly okay for (most of) the ladies and some of the gents, but I had a hard time doing much caring about the character. That’s probably not Mr. Cavill’s fault and maybe it isn’t even the writer’s fault. Superman is a god amongst men. If regular people are rated on a steep bell curved scale ranging from three to eighteen in various categories, he’s in the twenties across the board and invulnerable to boot. What do you do with that? Vulnerability drives conflict and it’s conflict that makes a story interesting.
If I seem to be harshing all over the movie, that’s because I wanted it to be so good so badly. Superman is the top superhero out there, and I don’t know that there’s a boy out there, and probably a lot of girls, who hasn’t dreamed of being Superman or having his powers. Maybe there’s just no story that can possibly live up to that.