I’ve been stuck on this review for a long time and I think all the reviews are all over the place. It’s one of those ones that you love it or you don’t. But sadly I have to say that on Man of Steel, I’m definitely in the latter group. So far this has been one of my least favorite movies of the year.
Let me begin honestly with a disclaimer. I don’t like Zack Snyder movies, at least the ones that I’ve seen. I’ve always found him to be all flare and no substance. So when it was announced that Zack Snyder was going to be directing the new Superman film, I was a little hesitant, but figured WB might know what it was doing after The Dark Knight trilogy. (though again in honesty, I didn’t like the last film all that much.) But I did try to keep an open mind, especially because I am a big fan of Superman and this is supposed to be how they start going into the Justice League franchise, let alone restart Superman.
Be that as it may, what actually arrived on screen was more of a disappointment then I actually thought possible. Not only was the movie flat, it actually made me angry because what I was watching was not Superman. I felt like I was watching Nolan-man part 2. (The argument that the Batman in the Christopher Nolan movies were more of what he wanted vs actual Batman)
What the trailer above says and what we really get is quite different, though there are hints here. The biggest problem that I have with this movie is that Superman shouldn’t even be Superman with all the people is around. The Superman I love is a big Boy Scout, always trying to do the right thing and protect everyone that he can. He does the right thing regardless of consequences and thinks of himself more as human than as alien. He’s more of an adopted human that tries to live up to the human ideal. But what we got in Man of Steel was not this Superman.
The Superman we got is told that is special at every turn by both Kryptonians and Human alike. He will guide everyone to a better way and change the world. But at the same time, he’s told that he needs to stay a secret and hide. Keep his powers in check even if people get killed. The Kents are supposed to be what makes Superman Clark Kent. To make him human. Not in Man of Steel. They tell him he’ll be special but at the same time want him to be a farmer, right before Pa Kent gets killed in a surprise tornado (proving that no Superman film knows how to get a tornado right at all). It’s more surprising to me that Clark doesn’t have some suffer from sort of God complex or at least isn’t super narcissistic. It doesn’t help that they try to make Superman like Jesus repeatedly in the film, from him being 33 like Jesus was at his death, to him in a crucifix position on a few occasions.
In this version, it seems like everyone knows that Clark Kent is special and doesn’t have much of a secret identity. He is really Superman for about a day before Zod shows up. He finds out that he’s from Krypton, thanks to his hologram dad that knows more than anyone in the entire film, and he takes to it immediately. Clark almost pretends like he knew about his past the entire time, instead of him being raised human.
Then once Zod comes, things seem to go from bad to worse. They show that Superman’s greatest weakness isn’t Kryptonite, or even lack of Sun. It’s air. The big weakness in the movie is air. Which is stupid. They don’t even bring up Clark getting his powers from the Sun. They say it’s because Krypton has more gravity, Earth air is lighter and a different combination of gases that helps them be stronger. All things which don’t make sense WITH FLYING OR OTHER POWERS WHEN POWER FROM THE SUN WOULD.
There are several big problems with the movie, including pacing (so many flashbacks out of place when they could have just gone chronological.), and shoehorning the rest of the Daily Planet crew into the movie when they don’t make any sense. We don’t know anything about them other then “Wow those guys are supposed to be the guys from the Daily Planet” and yet we end up spending a significant amount of time with them, especially once the disasters start happening but we really have no attachment to them.
There is a massive amount of damage that happens in this film and it’s implied that thousands of people have died, and it seems like Clark does nothing to really help them. In fact, instead of trying to turn off the machine and help people where the majority of the destruction is happening, he flies off to India where there is a lone man in a fishing boat. He goes to the opposite area from the problem. Yes they try to explain it but it’s flimsy. By the time he returns, Metropolis is practically destroyed and the fight between him and Zod finishes off most of the rest.
And yes I disliked this film enough to ruin what is supposed to be a pivotal moment in the film. After Clark commits genocide on the remainder of his people, because of a threat from Zod, Superman snaps his neck to stop Zod from frying a family with his laser vision. He had the man in a headlock and probably could have done a million other things but they tried to make it a bad moral conflict and had him purposefully kill. Yes, there is an emotional reaction afterwards, but he sure recovers fast. Nor did he seem to care when his actions probably killed lots of other people. There are lots of people trying to defend this, saying that this is Clark Kent becoming Superman and that he’s now never going to kill again. I call bunk. Lazy writing done in the name of being “gritty.” It changes the kind of moral compass that Superman can be to the rest of the world in my opinion. What’s worse is that soon after this seen they show him finally starting at The Daily Planet with no real skills or anything, but there is NO DAMAGE TO THE BUILDING OR THINGS JUST ACROSS THE STREET THAT WAS DESTROYED. It even looked like the entire building had been destroyed during the invasion.
The cast does fine in what they are given, but they all feel hollow; caricatures of the people they are supposed to portray. While I liked Henry Cavill as Superman, he seems to be one of the weakest versions of it. Everyone else is hollow. The other fleshed out characters are those from Krypton, General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe). Earthlings feel boring. The one guy I thought had a real character arch from Earth was probably the guy that teased Clark as a teen and then grew up to manage the IHOP in Smallville. He didn’t even say a word as an adult, but showed him several times and he had more growth than almost anyone in the film.
The worst part of the movie is that this is supposed to help launch not only the Superman franchise again, but also lead into a Justice League movie a la Avengers. There is almost no way that this is possible and have it be a good movie. All indications of news we’ve heard since seem to prove that it might happen but it will be as terrible as Man of Steel. While it will have some fans and probably do well just because it’s the Justice League, it will never do nearly as well as The Avengers. Already the core of the franchise lacks heart and even good storytelling. They traded that heart of the character in exchange for “gritty realism” because they think that is the in thing. But I can tell you right now that the weakest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (whatever you think that may be) has more heart and is a better launching off point than Man of Steel. Warner Brothers has shown on many occasions that they have no idea what they are doing or how to handle the characters they have. They have owned DC for almost a decade longer than Disney has owned Marvel yet Disney has the sense to let Marvel shine at what it does best. Warner Brothers just wants money but doesn’t know how to get there, so it wastes every opportunity to use it’s DC characters. Even in the middle of this huge Comic Book boom.
This has been the biggest disappoint of the year so far, and while it looks good (though a little grey) the content of the movie is letdown to say the least. I’m stuck on what review to give it, but from how angry it made me (hence the incredibly long and spoilery review) I give Man of Steel two and a half stars out of five. The half star is generous.