Movie Review: Man of Steel- Zack Snyder’s Indulgent Direction Combined with David S. Goyer’s Disconnected Script Gives Us a Charmless and Hopeless Superman

manofsteelSuperman might be the iconic comic book hero that initiated the entire superhero wave after his initial arrival back in the 1930s, a time desperate for hope, justice, and truth, but a truly reflective take on the character’s origin, pathos, and extraterrestrial challenges in the cinema has never been fully ventured quite possibly due to the potentially dated material but more likely having to do with a lack of understanding to what he means to us in our modern world. Even the lighthearted Richard Donner version in 1978 with all of its good intentions doesn’t live up to the magnetism of the comic and it’s usually wise not to even mention the cringe worthy Superman Returns from Bryan Singer who figuratively dropped a load of kryptonite on the poor unsuspecting hero. The latest addition in the canon Man of Steel comes from an odd combination of creative minds, including writer/producer Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins/The Dark Knight), screenwriter David S. Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins), and director Zack Snyder (300, Watchman) all of whom attempt to ignite a newer, darker version of the Superman origin but inevitably become the film’s own weakening kryptonite. Man of Steel is practically indistinguishable from your typical blockbuster variety where relentless action sequences have the destruction upped to the nth degree and narrative takes a back seat to the monstrous visuals, a quality to which director Zack Snyder is all too familiar. In all of Snyder’s films from the light on story 300 to the unfortunate ruination of a graphic novel in Watchman plot substance and subtle characterization all get overshadowed by his visual palate, which is arguably his best quality and it continues in Man of Steel. However, despite the technically impressive sequences that also seem soulless there is also an apparent weakness that directly lies in Goyer’s disjointed and arguably weak script that is devoid of the known charm, wit, and most importantly hope that is associated with the famed and beloved superhero. Overall Man of Steel becomes a heaping disappointment not only in its blatant disregard of the Superman canon, where the familiar seems bland and the unfamiliar becomes unwelcome, but also because the film’s spectacle pummels its own substance into the ground with an outcome that feels disconnected, frenzied, and hopeless, which are qualities that shouldn’t exist in a Superman film.

This interpretation of Superman definitely goes out of its way to be different by attempting to complicate the pathos of the hero with a darker yet weirdly comical atmosphere and instead gives an odd Dark Knight-lite approach that just seems to far alien from the Superman we’ve known. David S. Goyer’s script opens with a prologue on the planet of Kryptonite that is excessively drawn out yet also incredibly frantic in its need to setup the reason for the planet’s imminent destruction, the mutinous utilitarian intentions of high commander General Zod (Michael Shannon), and Jar-El’s (Russell Crowe) sacrificial actions in sending his son Kal-El off the doomed planet. Generally the introduction of characters and the outline of events are the same and yet the script’s shallowness in developing any character beyond a cartoonish exaggeration or standard template is staggering making all of the actions in the film drastically tedious. Disjointing the script with following an adult Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) with periodic flashbacks to his childhood experiences doesn’t exactly enhance the emotionality or connection to the character or the events that fashioned his thinking because all of the relationships, including his adoptive father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and his out of left field undeveloped love interest in Louis Lane (Amy Adams), are completely inert. Attempting to introduce a darker nature for Superman isn’t necessarily a bad idea despite it being slightly contrary to the canon and meaning behind his character but how David S. Goyer and fellow story writer Christopher Nolan go about constructing it is obviously sloppy but inevitably feels desperate in its flimsy bridge to tonally link it to Nolan’s Batman series. Beyond Man of Steel’s adoption of proto-fascist iconography and Christ-like parallels, of which there are many to the point of being overly unsubtle, there is not much to admire in basic plot because all of the familiar Superman story elements are introduced with an ambivalent attitude instead of a respectful one and each new addition to this reconstruction strain their welcome by reeking of desperation. Though the stakes are infinitely higher than any other Superman film with the threat of genocide and transforming a planet the process of saving the world has never felt so impersonal, tedious, and lacking in personality and that goes for the visual construction by director Zack Snyder as well.

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If you ever watch a Zack Snyder film muted there is no doubt that you’ll be impressed with his intriguing visual style that is often times indulgent but also has enough grace and engaging technicality to be rather impressive. Snyder did his arguable best with Watchman, a comic book film that had visual mastery but not enough breathing room for the needed development and drama, and even his personal film Suckerpunch had plenty of style but was a narrative cluster bomb of epic proportions. Unfortunately a film’s aesthetic can’t be the sole admirable quality especially in regards to Man of Steel which is visually impressive up to a point until it becomes overbearing, ridiculously frenzied, and inevitably soulless. The constant barrage of whip pans, crash-zooms, and CGI destruction can’t appropriately distract us from the shallow plot but it does pound our senses, mostly our hearing and often times through headache inducing visual barrages, into keeping our gaze on the screen in an attempt to figure out what exactly is occurring during the unrelenting chaos on the screen. In a way Snyder’s style pummels the substance into submission where the excuse for action becomes the whole reason certain parts of the plot were constructed in the first place. What’s strikingly odd is the lack of moral consequence in this world where buildings collapse like a typical house of cards with no regard to whether or not people are surviving this complete destruction of a city during the final battle. If it’s argued that an entire city successfully evacuated before Superman and General Zod inflict a series of 9/11’s on the unsuspecting citizens of Metropolis then these people don’t need Superman because they’re the most efficient running city in the Universe. The action throughout Man of Steel isn’t admirably executed because the violence is delivered through sheer force of will instead of tactful build up and thoughtful delivery creating an irritating ride that lacks thrill and care. There is no sense of appropriate rhythm in Man of Steel as it jumps from insipidly constructed, platitude filled dramatic exchanges to perplexingly overstated destruction highlighting both the unbalanced script and the self-indulgent visuals that are counteracting each other every step of the way. One saving grace in the film is Hans Zimmer’s equally pounding score but delivered for enhanced effect keeping the seemingly unending action sequences stimulating despite their monotonous longevity. There is no distinct visual flare here for Snyder to create because it seems he was hired as a Christopher Nolan surrogate to carry on the DC Universe franchise torch unfortunately making Man of Steel fairly typical of the blockbuster variety with no distinct personality or charm, from either the visuals, the direction, or the acting, to make it memorable.

A deadly combination of a script that doesn’t have proper character development, or characters beyond cardboard construction, and a director who isn’t interested in anything beyond his self-indulgent technicality doesn’t really give the actors ample room to flourish in their roles. Our newest Superman played by Immortals star Henry Cavill certainly looks the part with his beefy exterior and clean cut features but unfortunately is given a scripted version of Superman that comes off bland and definitely lacks a great deal of personality. It’s not necessarily Cavill’s fault that the script utilizes a quick story point construction to generate plot and character leaving behind the appropriate development needed for us to care about his struggles, his loses, and the creation of his moral perception. Superman has always been known as a character with great charm and wit but Cavill exudes none of these qualities most likely due to the script’s ignorance of wanting to portray those qualities. Most of the characters aren’t exactly three dimensional and are merely there for namesake instead of purpose, such as Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) or even Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). A few actors get some minor quality usage out of their screen time such as Russell Crowe as Jar-El, Superman’s real father on Krypton, and Kevin Costner as Superman’s adoptive father on Earth, both of whom have an equally reflective nature to their presentation. Unfortunately Amy Adams is given the daunting task of playing the rather boring character of Louis Lane balancing a script version of the character that’s drastically uninteresting and plays a love interest that is oddly indolent. The majority of the flavor acting wise is put on the shoulders of Michael Shannon as the callous villain General Zod where the actor’s unique flavor for the dramatic does give the film some needed villainy and personality despite the fact that it’s excessively over the top in comparison to the other dull performances. The unevenness of the script’s dramatic touches and the unbalanced transitions from chaotic destruction to bland moral posturing doesn’t give a proper foundation for any actor to seek out complexities in their characters which makes Man of Steel possess more qualities that are mundane and ordinary instead of the needed qualities of appearing super and extraordinary.

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Man of Steel doesn’t exactly revive a successful template for continuing the Superman story because it’s based in superficiality both in David S. Goyer’s disconnected script and Zack Snyder’s indulgent filmmaking style making the film blend in with typical blockbusters instead of standing above the crowd. The complete disregard for proper character development creates a gaping hole in our connection to the struggles, risks, beliefs, and hopes of this particular interpretation of Superman leaving us only with a technical style that wears off its initially impressive welcome and becomes overwhelming with its relentless pounding action that becomes monotonously repetitive. In an attempt to make Superman have a darker origin and give him a more complex pathos Man of Steel actually does the opposite of its intentions making Superman seem simpler, less charismatic, and pretty standard in comparison to other superhero movies in the competitive market. This is an example of where Hollywood tries to fix a clock that wasn’t broken in the first place attempting to expound on an already well-established story that doesn’t need any changing and so Goyer, Nolan, and Snyder’s admirable, but misguided, creative choices end up becoming the kryptonite that’s missing in the film itself. For those looking for another typical escapist superhero fantasy than Man of Steel will undoubtedly fill your temporary entertainment void for the time being, but those looking for the charming, witty, hope filled Superman that has plenty of fascinating stories that can be told will be found wanting.

Grade: C-

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