Review: Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel

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You’ll believe a man can sigh.

That’s what the godlike alien in Man Of Steel frequently does as he looks around, before he glowers and scowls and, perhaps most importantly, poses. There is very little of the winning, geeky smile we associate with Clark Kent — indeed, the eager yet shy journalist we know and love appears for one scene in the new film — and for a character named Superman who’s just turned 75, this feller doesn’t even have the spit-curl. Nope, this is the story of The Fresh Prince Of Krypton.

Zack Snyder, a man the early trailers for his own film dubbed a ‘visionary,’ starts things off on a Krypton that looks like David Lynch’s Dune and features some Giger gadgets leftover from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies. His vision might just lie in jewellery design: the headgear worn by creepy Kryptonian councilmen is most ornate, just like the exquisitely carved trinkets we’d seen adorning almost-slaughtered heads in his 300.

His approach to the Superman origin story is hamhanded and operatic, aided well by strong actors all around. Russell Crowe, mercifully not warbling his lines this time, makes for a particularly formidable presence as the Dad Of Steel, and his committed performance makes Snyder’s unsubtle theatricality appear compelling if never evocative: bland Guignol must do when the Grand isn’t at hand.

A young boy tossed Moses-like across the galaxy in a spaceship basket, Kal-El lands in Kansas, but we never see that. Instead we see him fully grown and alarmingly muscular, a gentle hulk going around helping folks and smashing the occasional truck. His earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, are played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, and both are excellent in the way they guide him toward the truth of his origins, and to focussing his power. “Imagine my voice as an island,” Lane says, in one of the film’s most beautiful moments.

And this is where it must be stressed that Man Of Steel does have beautiful moments. Some are, as mentioned, conjured up by very fine actors, while others are visually pretty — even if somewhat Terrence Malick inspired. And, in terms of storytelling, while a lot of it might not truly make sense at all, it all happens commendably fast: the movie dishes out huge narrative chunks as if in a rush, hurtling past the Superman timeline in order to get to an endlessly long and considerably boring 45-minute fight — but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Well before all the climactic cacophony we meet Lois Lane, self-praising Pulitzer-winner and one of comicdom’s most fearless women. Amy Adams is enjoyably credible as the pesky, relentless journalist, but after a bit of fun, the film — bereft of all the Lois/Clark romance — asks only that she look at Superman dreamily, and this she does. (The other big ask from her is a full-throated Wilhelm Scream, which too she delivers magnificently.) The musclebound wetsuit-wearing object of her affections, Henry Cavill, is but a dimple under a baseball cap — he has the look right and is adequately earnest, but the film affords him not the luxury to charm us. Instead, he gets to throw a million punches.

When Krypton was destroyed, prisoners exiled to a phantom zone escaped destruction along with young Kal-El. These disgruntled folk are led by Michael Shannon’s General Zod, who overacts rather delightfully. His fury is most entertaining, his eyes like apoplectic ping-pong balls, but purists will be heartbroken at the realisation that he never asks the hero to kneel before him. He reaches the Earth to hunt out Kal-El, who is, in turn, being guided rather conveniently by his dead father. Unlike Marlon Brando who was merely an interactive telegram (by way of floating hologram head) in the first, masterful Superman film, Russel Crowe’s Jor-El seems to have turned into a Siri-like helper who guides not just Clark, but Lois. And all for some MacGuffin that sounds like a cough syrup.

As you can probably tell, there is little room for simplicity and stark, shadowy moodiness now as the film juggernauts forward, crammed with much malarkey. General Zod tackles fighter planes like a livid quarterback, and Clark smashes into him, hard. They keep ramming at each other and creating giant sonic booms under them, again, and again, and again. This mindnumbing, increasingly frustrating sequence of city-tearing explosions — which feel just like waiting for friends to stop playing Mortal Kombat or at least hand you a controller — lasts for at least 45 minutes. This? This is why Snyder wolfed down huge bites of narrative? This is what we had to get to? It’s unforgivably bad (unforgivably Bay, even) and things aren’t helped by the fact that unlike in the Marvel movies where New York is New York, the fictionalised DC capital of Metropolis is stripped of all its character. So we have a skyline with lots of mirror-covered buildings, but no soul. Kinda like Gurgaon.

Oh, and while I want to rant on and on about the film’s last scene, I promise not to spoil it for you here. So when you get to the final moment, just remember there’s no possible way it can make sense after the rest of the film you just saw. No way.

man-of-steel-croweThere are, as said, small joys to be found in Snyder’s film: the early bits with Crowe, or with a young Clark who is literally too sensitive to function. There is Lois, drinking scotch and finding a way around her contract, and there’s Toby Zeigler, always a joy. The art direction is impressively detailed, as is the visionary bling, and the 3D never seems too dark. Plus, there’s a pretty good sight gag about toner cartridges.

But Man Of Steel (which invariably sounds, to me, like a rejected title for a gay-themed Remington Steele episode) never quite musters up the charm or the levity any story of Superman requires — and deserves. It looks good and is populated by fine actors (and we get a peek at trucks belonging to a bald man this movie could have used but doesn’t have), but the clunky Superman-as-Jesus imagery running through it all symptomises the problem with this narrative: too much steel, not enough man.

Rating: 2.5 stars

~

First published Rediff, June 14, 2013

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Review: Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel

  1. It’s good, but I still look more forward to the sequels than ever before. Good review.

  2. Siraj Syed

    sen city witty.
    >I think the Moses came from Batman Return’s Penguin, but the Jesus? For Christ’s sake, the Man of Steel cannot preside over decimation of cities and planets, no less, and be seen as Jesus!
    To those of us who grew up reading Dell comics, Snyder does a favour. He makes sure that there are only two occasions when the Krytptonian is referred to as Superman, and both come well into the second half. How I wish he had extended the favour and dropped the title altogether.
    Will someone please spin the earth–and Krypton–from the CHRISTopher Nolan era, back to the CHRISTopher Reeve days!

  3. sen city witty.
    >I believe the baby Moses bit came from batman Return’s Penguin. But Jesus? For Christ’s sake, the Man of Steel cannot preside over decimation of entire cities and even planets, and hope to be in the same league as the Messiah.
    Mercifully, for a generation that grew up reading Dell Comics, Zack Snyder’s version has only two occasions when the character is referred to as Superman. He could have extended the mercy and dropped it altogether. Man of Steel has little in common with the persona of either the Super Hero or Clark Kent.
    Will someone please spin the earth–and Krypton–back to days of CHRISTopher Reeve, and spare us the mayhem of ChristOPHER Nolan?

  4. I’ll try to keep a few things very simple…

    1. I liked Man of Steel

    2. Zack Snyder is a fine film director, at-least finer than Bay, and if we are considering Superman Returns, then Bryan Singer as well… (I dig singer for Usual Suspects, and Valkyrie, and I don’t like his X Men movies… For the record, Only X Men movie I liked was X Men First Class….)

    3. Action sequences are far from Bad… and Not remotely Bay-ish… Sorry, your judgement is wrong….

    4. I mostly disagree with this review….

    5. Though I agree that metropolis *is* stripped off of its character, and that’s a pity… Absolutely…. But then father of the film is, perhaps, Nolan, not Snyder, and even Gotham didn’t feel like Gotham in, even, The Dark Knight…

    6. All Superman movies, comics, (and from people like me who haven’t grown up on comics but) cartoons have always had very, very strong female characters…. and all you were missing was Lois lane’s romance… well, Even Singer developed her character better, if you are criticizing the film, I’d expect more criticism on that front, on this film…. Similarly, I remember the scene from superman cartoons when lara tells Jor, also Jor told lara that he could send lara along with Kal with some risk, she says she’d stay with Jor…. Lara comes only once? Pity…. Even, Martha deserved more…. A bit chauvinistic script, this… Where is that criticism? I liked it when you dissed Ishaqzaade… (Ok, that movie was misogynistic….)

    7. “There is very little of the winning, geeky smile we associate with Clark Kent”… I can’t understand what’s wrong with “very little of the winning, geeky smile”? Can we have a bit more generic approach towards the movie? rather than being so particular? I think in its sequel we are going to get it, because the Clark Kent we know, who tears his jacket to expose his tights, comes towards the end of the film… In Iron Man we easily accepted Robert Stark Jr… Why are we so specific here? Do I sense a bias…? Is it right as a movie critic?

    All I can say is… Its a very well written review, but what I was expecting, you’d be critical of, is missing…. And for the rest, mostly, I disagree :)

    Cheers….

    • Zoeb

      A Perfect Evaluation, Salil….Even I think that Man Of Steel has to be one of the most under-rated superhero films in recent times. And no, Zack Snyder, Nolan and David Goyer are not really posing Superman as God…They are posing him as human. They are trying to create a character on whom greatness has been thrust…who is divided between his fathers and what they said to him. Jor-El wants his son to enter into greatness and that is what Jonathan Kent does too, but he also insists that the world is not yet ready. Well said and that is the central conflict for Superman- he is still a raw soldier in the war and we can see that he is yet to learn how to use his powers….
      I loved the film in many ways- Snyder’s style was a bit ham-handed in places but that was required to make the story monumental and you cannot forget the subtle parts of the story- like the tornado scene or those wonderful flashbacks, well -edited to the rest of the film.
      The action and destruction scenes were actually great and the whole spectacle actually dwarfs ‘the similar climax of ‘The Avengers’ fully. I cannot get it Raja that you are obsessed more with the Marvel’s happy ventures rather than DC’s sombre and sensational outings. I agree that the last fist fight with Zod was a bit over-the-top but yeah it ended pretty well and the final scene was a masterstroke…
      And Henry Cavill was great. Grow up, Mr Sen and move beyond your comic book attitude and accept that Cavill is the man who is cut for the job in today’s times. Christopher Reeve was great but he was too happy and it is high time since we got a serious and better Superman.
      And yes, Amy Adams looks so beautiful….

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