Friday, 28 June 2013

Man Of Steel

(M) ★★

Director: Zack Snyder.

Cast: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne.

"What a beautiful day. Be a shame if someone were to destroy it in a blizzard of CGI."

FOR DC Comics, there is a lot on the line with this reboot of the Superman saga.

If Man Of Steel flies like a bird or a plane, it will open the door for DC's own shared universe, which they hope will rival Marvel's ongoing Avengers' adventures.

Bad luck, DC. Man Of Steel sinks like a massive chunk of kryptonite.

It's ambitious, yes, grandiose, yes, and sure to be a hit at the box office, but in almost all other aspects, it is a $225 million turkey.

This rebirth of Superman, which literally begins with the birth of Superman, retells the story many of us know and love - the alien child, sent to Earth just before the destruction of his homeworld Krypton, raised by the kindly Kents of Kansas, and growing into a near-invulnerable superhero.

The twist in this version, as compared to Richard Donner's 1978 groundbreaker, is an attempt to imbue with the story of Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent with deeper themes and a more realistic look at the implications his arrival would have. It also ramps up the Christ allegory and picks at the relationship Superman has with humanity.

It's all part of the "Nolanisation" of Krypton's favourite son. Having turned DC's other heavy-hitter - Batman - into a real world concern with a dark edge, Christopher Nolan was attached to this project in the hopes he would help do the same with Superman.

It doesn't work. Man Of Steel comes off as utterly humourless, pompous, melodramatic, dumbed-down, repetitive, and even sporadically boring.

The film makes similar mistakes to that other DC bomb Green Lantern - it tells us everything we need to know in the first act, only to tell us everything again when the main character needs to find out. More editing is badly needed.

And while they were undertaking some more judicious editing of the first half, the filmmakers could have done away with the frustrating non-linear storytelling. Not only is it annoying to have the story jump back and forth between Clark's childhood, his teenage years and his nomadic adulthood, but it continually breaks the emotional flow of the film. Much of that heart comes from a nice turn by Costner as Clark's dad Jonathan, but the fractured storyline gets in the way of the audience connection with him.

Worse than this is the dialogue, which almost entirely falls into one of three categories - "Now I must explain my actions", "This is what just happened" or "This is what's about to happen". There is no subtlety, nobody talks like a real person, and the characters don't develop naturally, if at all.

This dumbing-down goes for the grandiose themes of the film as well, which are boiled down to infuriating obviousness, giving the audience no credit what-so-ever.

And I never thought I'd get sick of explosions and destruction in a movie, but I finally found my limit. It came with about 20 minutes left to go in the film - I actually sighed with relief when the final confrontation was over. And I've seen Roland Emmerich's 2012.

It's all a shame because the cast is great. Cavill makes for a great Superman/Kal-El/Clark, capturing that mix of nobility and humility that Christopher Reeve nailed. Shannon is menacing as Zod, Crowe brings gravitas as Jor-El, and Costner and Lane work well. Only Adams, as Lois Lane, feels out of place, but poor writing hampers her more than anyone.

Are there highlights aside from the cast? Some of the fight sequences are quite good before they become numbing, and the flashbacks, despite being jarringly scattered throughout the film, are nicely done. Snyder makes the film look good, particularly in the flashbacks.

These are slight redemptions. And maybe with really low expectations this will have a brainless charm to it. Maybe this is exactly the Superman movie some of the comic book fans have been waiting for.

But for all its ambition, this Man Of Steel fails to soar, instead crashlanding in a humourless, melodramatic mess of explosions.

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