Friday, 14 June 2013

Film Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: David S. Goyer
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe

The first two thirds, approximately 90 minutes, of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel falls into two categories; idea and execution. The film is full of interesting ideas and stories but executed with varying degrees of success. The final third, approximately 45 minutes, is a crushingly disappointing, mindless, and boring piece of film making which rears the ugly head of the ‘more is better’ mentality which is suffocating big budget films of the post-Transformers era.

The end result is, sadly, one of 2013’s biggest disappointments for anyone who hoped Man of Steel would be better and rise above the dross with Christopher Nolan’s name attached and that it wouldn’t fall into the stupid and down-right boring category at any given moment.

There’s little point in comparing Man of Steel to previous cinematic outings of Superman in the 70s and 80s because this film is so far removed in its scope and technical ability that the films no longer even resemble one another. In a budget and technical ability match-up, Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns is more comparable but his film was deliberately set out to be a companion to Richard Donner’s pictures. This review won’t compare directing style and storytelling ability between Snyder, Singer and Donner because Snyder isn’t in the same league as these men, it wouldn’t be a fair fight.

There are two standout scenes in Man of Steel, and thankfully one of them opens the film. The opening sequence takes place on planet Krypton but is a totally different planet in its design, costumes, technology and inhabitants than we’ve ever seen before; it is simply stunning and gets the film off to an immediate, urgent start and offers fantastically unique vision of the Superman mythology. The film looks and feels enormous, and this alien planet, with its red and orange palate mixed with the dull grey costumes is truly a planet we can believe exists, and the spectacle is nicely balanced with the narrative which will unfold later in the film. It is the best extended sequence Zack Snyder has committed to film and a hell of a way to open his film.

Cut to the next scene, and the issues with the film’s story, screenplay, and director’s limited abilities rudely come into force. The scene is on a fishing boat and Clark Kent is one of the men on board but the film foregoes any time to catch its breath and allow the audience to get adjusted to the new setting and instead charges head-on into another CGI-filled incident. Then the film moves on to a flashback where a bus crashes, then it moves on to a scene where a spaceship takes off, then and then and then and then... Synder doesn’t allow time for scenes to unfold at a pace which allows for organic, natural intrigue and rather he favours things to ‘just happen’ and move on to the next scene.

The film’s narrative structure includes several flashbacks to when Clark was growing up in Smallville. This technique works well as it doesn’t copy the Superman: The Movie structure and allows actor Henry Cavill as the lead character to enter the film early on and make the role his own because it is a while before he puts on the familiar red and blue costume. Moreover, it is during one of these sequences (which we won’t spoil here) where the film’s second standout scene is found. This in particular is the only emotionally impactful scene in the film and, again, is important for the characters involved; it means something.

The cast is pretty much faultless throughout; Cavill fits the non-clutzy Clark Kent role perfectly and he has a world-weary look on his face which suggests nothing is new to him; he has faced the conflict of isolation and not fitting in wherever he goes; Michael Shannon as General Zod suffers from the Benedict Cumberpatch effect from Star Trek Into Darkness as he gives it his all as the charismatic bad guy but the character is ultimately all talk and little action once the frustrating final third begins; Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner shine as the two fathers and Costner in particular is underused for an actor of his pedigree.

Let’s now face the problem that is Zack Synder. There are flashes of genuinely well-shot and framed scenes during the flashbacks although quite why he shoots in a faux-perfume advert style isn’t clear, but it is much preferred to his love of crash-zoom, whip-pans and handheld camera. These already outdated ‘styles’ will age Man of Steel quicker than anything else and it’s a small wonder there wasn’t any slow-mo in the film. Take one scene in particular, a small character building scene where Clark and his dad are talking about Clark’s powers and the necessity to keep them hidden from the world; the camera is bobbing up and down like its floating on water and is so annoyingly distracting that a scene which could have had some impact is desolated by a director who can’t even shoot what should have been a simple two-shot. Moreover, just as the film is getting interesting when General Zod, Faora-Ul, and Tor-An have landed on Earth with their fantastically designed spaceships, and are looking for Superman and we, the audience, are hoping to see our hero in action for the first time with 90 minutes already gone....

...Synder shows what he is made of. And he shows us for the next 45 minutes.

What happens next is a mix of the following, in any order:
•Superman punches villain through (insert object here)
•Villain punches Superman through (insert object here)
•Innocent people die without any recognition from the film makers
•Skyscraper collapse on characters we never met in a city we’ve never seen
•Character who has had zero minutes devoted to them is suddenly put in peril and audience is supposed to care
•Innocent people die without any recognition from the film makers
•Spaceship hovers over Earth as people look up like it’s the summer of 1996 again
•A blue light is beamed down on Earth from a spaceship
•A scientist tries to explain what is happening because without this the audience might think they’re just watching mindless noise and destruction
•Innocent people die without any recognition from the film makers
•(insert vehicle here) explodes
•Superman gets chased by a metallic snake-like thing because a metallic snake-like thing was in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Avengers and they were really successful so it obviously has a place here.
•Innocent people die without any recognition from the film makers
•Superman saves a human by flying into the villain really fast
•Innocent people die without any recognition from the film makers
•Character falls, Superman catches them
•A few innocent people are saved so all is OK despite a small town and huge city have been flattened

Needless to say, when the action finally happens on screen the film turns into a total and utter disaster faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Aside from the costumes there is nothing distinguishing the latest Superman film from the Transformers trilogy, The Avengers, ID4, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and even Skyline. This is an unforgivable fault and everyone involved in the decisions of the final act are all to blame for nothing good come of it.

The need to reboot the Superman franchise with this material and this director is a symptom of the success of Marvel’s recent ‘Avenger’ outings, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and the phenomenal Transformers series, rather than an actual need for it. Superman should have a heroic feel, he shouldn’t be in the mould of anyone else and his actions should be unique.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: The film undeniably has some good scenes and the first two thirds are competent but they ultimately lead to nothing which sadly decreases their value to the picture as a whole. In Synder’s hands the man in the red cape is the same as all the rest; Man of Steel is no better than Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, or Hulk; change the costume and what’s the difference?

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