I’ve been on holidays, therefore I’ve been watching holiday films. Some have been bad and some have been laughably bad. One film that I expected to be good was Man of Steel. I am a fan of the Christopher Reeve films, the first two anyway. Superman 3 & 4 are hysterically funny in an Ed Wood so bad they’re good kind of way. Despite their problems they’re still fun. My personal favourite has been Superman Returns. The character moments in that film were beautiful. I also loved that there was a timelessness to Superman Returns. Some have accused Singer of being too close to Richard Donner’s film but it also paid homage to the old Fleischer cartoons. The film had its problems but for a comic book film it delivered solid characters and adult themes about unrequited love and Supermans very human need to form a connection to the world. Now we have Man of Steel.
When I heard this was from the guy who made Watchmen, another solid character driven comic book movie, I was excited. Unfortunately, Man of Steel was a largely empty filmic experience. The first half is quite good. Russell Crowe as Jor-el in the prologue was excellent. This was perhaps my favourite part of the film. The second act reveals Clark’s personal history via flashback. This was kind of like the character back stories in Lost. As far as I’m concerned, this was a good move as they told the story in a different way to how it had been told before. I found this to be refreshing.
So where was the problem?
There were several problems which got progressively worse as the film went on. For the purposes of this review I will focus on the key areas that I thought held this film back.
Surprisingly, the problem is in the relationship dynamics of Lois and Clark. They keep throwing them together but the writers did not spend any time building the relationship between these characters. This appeared to be deliberate on the writers part to make Superman more of a loner like Batman or Iron Man but this relationship is at the very core of Superman and it’s when you remove Lois Lane from the equation as they did in Superman 3 & 4, and again here, the character of Superman suffers. They may be planning to flesh this out in future movies, but I don’t care for franchises. I still think its important that a film stands on its own. This is a movie not a tv pilot. Therefore, it should not be structured like a tv pilot.
The other major issue was that they took an amazing actor in Michael Shannon and they did create a formidable enemy in Zod who played this version as more of a Brutus type character whose only intention was the saviour of Krypton at any cost. This was fascinating. However, they did not develop this character beyond this point. In fact, most of the characters got pushed aside for the destruction of Metropolis. This must have taken up close to thirty minutes of the film, at least it felt that way. These are the kinds of events I’d expect to see in a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film. Because the relationships built had not been substantially enough, I was quite nonchalant to the events and destruction. I even found myself yawning and considered ducking out for a toilet break. Whereas on a recent re watch of the 1978 film during the earth quake sequence where Lois is trapped in the car, I could feel the jeopardy and understood the choice Superman had to make. In Man of Steel there was no such character investment. I may have looked better with modern effects but it had no impact on my involvement with the film.
It also seemed apparent that they wanted to take this film in the complete opposite direction of Superman Returns. The major complaints of that film were that Superman lifts too much stuff, Superman doesn’t punch anyone, Lex Luthor has been used too many times, the kid, too much focus on relationships. Those who hated Superman Returns got their wish. Superman doesn’t lift anything except a couple of cars. He punches a lot. There is no Lex Luthor and Lois Lane was basically just there to feed expository dialogue.
The problem with Man of Steel as I see it is this: They tried to make a film that counters Superman Returns because they thought this is what fans wanted. What they should have done was find the balance between the classic battle of the sexes scenario and over the top action. Unfortunately they pushed heavily on he action and jettisoned what made these films truly memorable in the past.