Man of Steel: written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan; based on characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and others; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Ayelet Zurer (Lara), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Hardy), Antje Traue (Faora), and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) (2013):
The sequel to Man of Steel is more interesting to think about than Man of Steel. The North American opening weekend and the international take will guarantee that sequel; the massive North American second-weekend box-office drop and the often-terrible reviews may mean some sort of shake-up in the trio (Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, and Zack Snyder) primarily responsible for Man of Steel. Let the betting begin. I’d put money on Nolan’s brother Jonathan being brought on in some writing capacity while Goyer and Snyder may be pushed into executive producer credits.
Man of Steel manages to be both heavy-handed, especially in its Superman-as-Christ imagery, and remarkably slapdash in its execution. The plot and mythology are complicated in that off-putting Green Lantern way, with ideas from 75 years of Superman stories shovelled into what should be a relatively simple origin story, along with some truly wonky additions by the film-makers.
One of these additions is worth mentioning because it’s a great example of how bad writers create problems for themselves and then try to solve them with more bad writing. Here, for the first time in Superman’s history, he’s depowered by exposure to Krypton’s atmosphere. As the movie had earlier established, quasi-canonically*, that his powers derive from Earth’s lower-than-Krypton gravity and its yellow sun, this seems like gilding the lily.
But Snyder and company have put Lois Lane on the Kryptonian ship, a decision that apparently made it difficult for them to figure out how NOT to have Lois crushed by artificial Kryptonian gravity. But adding ‘atmosphere’ to Superman’s list of weaknesses and putting a breathing mask on her — that’s easy. If you’re stupid that day, anyway. Would Superman have gotten his powers back if he’d held his breath?
They’ve also given us a Pa Kent who’s apparently a sociopath, another new twist, and such a great idea. Kevin Costner is mostly wasted as Pa Kent, and when he’s not wasted, he’s morally odious. Diane Lane has one good scene and then plays a spokesmodel for Sears. International House of Pancakes also plays a supporting role, as does Budweiser and, in a nod to Superman’s Canadian origins, Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale.
Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe might have been better switching roles — Crowe, as Superman’s father Jor-El, can act big even in this vacuum, while Shannon seems too reserved and weirdly shrill for a world-threatening villain. He’s not going to make anyone forget Terence Stamp as Zod in Superman 2, anyway. Crowe, meanwhile, occasionally seems to be playing Jor-El as he’s been written: as Obi-Wan Kenobi, young and old. Mostly he’s dead and giving advice, but he even gets a Kenobi-esque swimming sequence that quotes directly from Revenge of the Sith. What is up with that?
As a director, Snyder has exactly one stylistic touch that seems to be his — a love of visual effects in which people and objects are floated into the air and then smashed into the ground. He did it in Watchmen and he does it here in the Metropolis-smashing finale. I can only see this as symbolic of what he does to an audience.
The rest of the time, we get a lot of Superman-as-Christ poses, along with visual quotes from Avatar, Alien, The Matrix trilogy, and even Apocalypse Now. The destruction of Smallville and Metropolis during the interminably action-packed final hour make me think Snyder would probably make a good Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla director. But he really shouldn’t be allowed near movies with people in them. Nor should (credited) lead writer Goyer, though on a project this big, there may have been many, many script doctors. Recommended if you’re a masochist.
* Quasi-canonically in the sense that Siegel and Shuster originally posited that all Kryptonians had superpowers wherever they were, including Krypton, because they were ‘more evolved’ than humans.