Friday, June 14, 2013

SUPERMAN: The New Nolan-ized Reboot

Now playing at mulitplexes from here to the Phantom Zone:

MAN OF STEEL (Dir. Zack Snyder, 2013)

The time is as good as any for a new take on the most powerful comic book superhero ever, but Zack Snyder’s (300, WATCHMEN, SUCKER PUNCH) reconstruction of the Superman movie mythos is a big bombastic bore.

A great cast has been assembled, including Henry Cavill as the caped crusader, Russell Crowe as Superman’s Kryptonian father, Kevin Costner as his Earth dad, Amy Adams as Daily Planet reporter/love-interest Lois Lane, Lawrence Fishburne as her editor/boss Perry White, Richarh Schiff (The West Wing) as some sort of all-knowing scientist, and, best of all, Michael Shannon as the evil bent-on-revenge General Zod, but Snyder working from a screenplay by DARK KNIGHT co-writer David S. Goyer, overcrowds the storyline with spectacle, repetitive dialogue, and needless convolutions making it difficult to connect with anything on screen.

You know the drill – before Krypton explodes, Papa Crowe (probably the actor who brings the most gravitas to the film) puts his new born baby (touted this time as the planet’s first natural birth in centuries) in a spaceship to Earth, where he’s found by a kindly middle-aged couple (Costner and Diane Lane) living on a farm in Kansas, who name him Clark Kent.

As the boy grows up he recognizes that he has great powers, learns of his origin, and heeding the advice of his step-dad Costner to conceal what he can do, he goes on the road anonymously going from town to town working different jobs until his powers get in the way and he has to move on just like David Banner (Bill Bixby) did on the old Incredible Hulk show.

Huh? Wait a second, that’s not really part of the classic Superman story is it? Sure doesn’t feel like it should be here, but whatever. In this version, Lois Lane figures out that Clark Kent has powers before he even puts on the suit; she never knows Clark and Superman as 2 different people. I’m fine with that – it would be too much to ask for an ace investigative reporter (one that’s won the Pulitzer Prize, mind you) to be fooled by a pair of glasses, so they don’t introduce the element of our hero working at the newspaper until the end. Makes me miss the comically over-sized glasses that Christopher Reeve wore as Clark back in the original ‘70s-‘80s SUPERMAN movies, but, oh well.

Also unlike that run of movies, that got progressively worse (the first two were great, the third and fourth ones, not so much), there’s no Fortress of Solitude made out of new age crystals, no Lex Luthor, and barely any humor.

Shannon is perfectly cast as General Zod (stepping into the mighty shoes worn by Terrence Stamp in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN II), but it’s an exposition-heavy role, with the actor looking like he’s in a permanent bad mood (resembling grumpy cat at times), but it’s still one of the more successful elements on display in MAN OF STEEL, because of how invested Shannon is in it.

Zod and his minions attack Metropolis, with tons of buildings getting destroyed (we don’t seeing many people dying but from what we see it’s impossible that there wasn’t a large death toll) and start taking over Earth so that they can make it New Krypton or something. The cityscape alien attack sequence was much better done in THE AVENGERS (not to mention SUPERMAN II), and the climatic one-on-one battle between Superman and Zod just has them pummeling each other from one set-piece to another with no excitement (they punch each other through buildings over and over).

Meanwhile Fishburne and a few other Daily Planet folks are running through the rubble, for some reason they’re some of the only survivors of the attack, but the film never took anytime to establish them as characters to care about.

The British-born Cavill makes for a fine Superman aesthetically, and he’s got the American accent down, but his is also a blank slate of a character that I had trouble forming any connection to. The charisma that Reeve had in the iconic role, and that Bryan Singer tried to capture with Reeve clone Brandon Routh in 2006’s SUPERMAN RETURNS is sorely missing, but that fault lies more with the writers/filmmakers than with the man in the cape.

One thread that really didn’t work for me had to do with the scrambled narrative that jumps around, and way too often to flashbacks of Earth dad Costner saying that the world isn’t ready for a man of incredible powers yet. They draw this out too long, when you know that the world is as ready as it’s ever going to be, and Costner’s death in a tornado, which his son could’ve saved him from, doesn’t make any sense.

In SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, Glenn Ford as our hero’s adoptive father died much more poignantly from a heart attack – something Superman could never have saved him from (well, unless he spun the world back in time), and it had a richer meaning to his maturation; here the man’s death doesn’t teach any lesson except that he’s wrong and his son should’ve revealed himself much earlier. I really don’t get what they’re waiting for. The movie doesn’t give any discernible reason except to stretch out Superman’s angsty development and Costner’s part.

The dark gritty approach to the material, which undoubtedly came from Executive Producer Christopher Nolan, who shares a “story by” credit with Goyer, isn’t right for this area of the D.C. Comics universe. I’m not saying Superman should be nothing but sunny warmth, but there’s no triumphant thrill to seeing our hero save the day here – he doesn’t even show concern for the many who undoubtedly died in the huge devastation on Metropolis.

MAN OF STEEL is a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster wannabe that forgot to have any fun with its source material. Ultimately, it's a ginormously fussy film pulled in so many directions that it's un-engaging and dull. 

Technically, with its well chosen cast and vast array of nonstop visual effects, Snyder and crew have made a serviceable popcorn picture, but next time out (and with all the money that it has already made, there certainly will be a next time) I’m hoping they’ll remember to add more heart, humor, and actual heroism to this not quite re-booted franchise.

More later...


Tom Gooderson-A'Court said...

I'm glad I read this. I was beginning to feel isolated in the negative review camp. I feel much the same as you with regards to the city destroying. It's been done so many times now that it's lost its excitement. And yeah, what about the thousands of people?

I was bored by the movie.

Pyro Greene said...

I have read a lot of negative reviews and this is by far the most objective. Nice. I agree that there are a lot of things they could have omitted or improve on. I am still pleased with the film nonetheless, probably because it's the closest thing we can have in reviving the Superman franchise, which Superman Returns tried to do but failed. I do hope the next one will be better though and offer us a story we haven't seen before. These origin stories are getting old.

Wes said...

Great review. Sad to hear that it didn't turn out well but you've definitely convinced me. Might end up seeing it anyway since I believe my girlfriend wants to go.

Kino Pravda said...

Excellent review, I agree with most of your points, was really hoping Man of Steel would be better.