‘Man of Steel’
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe
Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Runtime: 2 hours, 23 minutes
Bottom line: Not terrible, but definitely not super
One thing I can virtually guarantee is “Man of Steel” will not receive a fair chance to succeed, either critically or commercially. And so much is riding on this movie.
Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s financial futures are so invested in the movie even publications such as Bloomberg and Business Insider are running articles about its prospects.
Warner Bros. recently lost its most successful franchises, the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Harry Potter,” and the studio desperately needs a replacement. While DC Entertainment is getting soundly whipped by its rival, Marvel Entertainment, when it comes to movie adaptations of their properties.
Therefore, if Warner Bros. and DC Comics are going to compete against Marvel and its parent company, Disney, they need to develop multiple franchises around individual heroes as well as a Justice League movie. And that plan depends entirely on “Man of Steel.”
The “Dark Knight” trilogy brought the Batman franchise to an ending point. Then “The Green Lantern” bombed horribly. So if “Man of Steel” doesn’t do well enough to serve as the foundation for DC’s movie universe, the storied comic book publisher will be virtually shut out of the superhero movie boom.
Oh, and none of this mentions the pressure of trying to resurrect the most iconic superhero in American culture.
Why does all this matter in a review of the movie itself? Because “Man of Steel” is constantly aware of all that it must accomplish and all it must mean, and the movie buckles under this weight.
Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, who directed and wrote, respectively, the “Dark Knight” trilogy, conceived the story and wrote the screenplay for “Man of Steel.” And it shows in the solemn tone.
Clark/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is just as full of doubt and existential anxiety as Bruce Wayne. Plus, there is even less comedy in “Man of Steel” than in the “Dark Knight” movies.
Filmmakers mine Clark’s identity crisis and ethical dilemmas to create several great moments. The scenes between Clark and his adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and birth father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) are especially moving. We also get an introductory sequence set on Krypton, and Crowe and Ayelet Zurer are outstanding as Kal-El’s birth parents.
Filmmakers also invent a device to let Jor-El play an important role much later in the story, too. As well as Crowe plays the role, the logic of this device is hard to buy into.
Michael Shannon is just as menacing and tyrannical as Gen. Zod as everyone hoped he would be, but the romance between Clark and Lois (Amy Adams) doesn’t have much impact, despite even more fine acting. The love story seems compulsory rather than necessary and might have been better saved for the sequel.
On the level of story and acting, “Man of Steel” is executed very well, except for a handful of completely unnecessary scenes. The question is whether fans want to see such a gloomy depiction of the character. The tone is oppressive and the pace ponderous as filmmakers try to create an entire history of the character in one outing.
The visual effects, however, are often a mess.
The fight scenes are meant to impress us with the characters’ supernatural strength and quickness. When one Kryptonian throws another, the character flies all the way through buildings — several buildings, that is — and lands miles away. The fight scenes become an extended, computer-generated blur, enhanced by extremely loud sound effects.
What filmmakers intended to be astonishing instead becomes incomprehensible. Everything moves so quickly and chaotically that sometimes you simply cannot tell what’s going on.
The world seems right when Superman is at the top of the superhero movie universe. And the entire cast and crew are clearly working with the right intentions, seeking to pay reverence while reinventing the character. In some ways they succeed.
However, the movie rarely provides the kind of inspiration and triumphant attitude we expect from Superman. It’s too somber and just as the movie should hit its crescendo, the poorly animated fight scenes drain what little energy it has left.
Not even Superman can overcome so many weaknesses.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.