Zack Snyder must have been the ultimate school kid when it came to show and tell. This is because when it comes to show and tell it’s always more about the show.
Following on from Sucker Punch, Snyder has once again crafted a film which looks incredible. He has a visual eye like no other filmmaker and some of the action in Man of Steel is literally like nothing you’ve ever seen before. However as I’m sure you are aware there is a ‘but’ coming. The script and story are nowhere close to the visuals. In fact it feels like dialogue exists in this film purely to provide ridiculously bland exposition in momentary segments that punctuate the grandiose action spectacle.
The story itself is a fairly close re-enactment of every other Superman origin story only much longer. We spend a long time on Krypton, seeing the planet’s final days ravaged by war and natural disaster and it is here that the problems begin. In this 25 minute segment we are told literally everything about Krypton’s problems and why Kal-el must be sent to earth, only to later be retold the entire story by Jor-el when he first meets his son. Whilst this makes sense in the narrative, it means that as an audience we are just left waiting whilst the opening act’s events are described again in full detail only without the sci-fi visuals to make it interesting.
“I was bred for this! I was trained all my life to be a warrior! Where did you train, A FARM?”
After Krypton we arrive on Earth and follow the now older Kal-el (AKA Clark Kent) as he struggles with his identity in a very Wolverine kind of way. He works on tug boats and in diners and doesn’t shave; hiding from the world that his adopted father has convinced him will not be “ready” to see his powers and will fear him. But after propping up a collapsing oil rig and impaling a tanker truck using two trees it becomes obvious that there’s more to this guy than just a middle distance stare and all american good looks.
As we follow these uncertain times we are also shown flashbacks to Clark’s childhood. For me, these are the scenes that work best in the entire film. Kevin Costner plays Jonathan Kent and is a return to form for Costner as the definitive version of the Clark/Jonathan relationship. His words carry a real weight and the love he has for his adopted son is conveyed brilliantly, thus providing us with a genuine motive for Clark to always be restrained when it comes to using his powers.
Then comes General Zod! Michael Shannon plays the film’s villain with scene chewing brilliance. Shannon must have been practicing his scary eyes technique for a lot of years because they are the widest, angriest and most piercing villain eyes I have seen for a long time. When Zod and his henchmen arrive on earth the action pretty much never lets up. It is here that Snyder really comes to life. The superhero fights are on an enormous scale. The punches are so hard that they send a man crashing through multiple skyscrapers, the flying rugby tackles create such an impact that the resulting shock-wave can level a city block and the speed at which it all happens is insane! But it also becomes quite tiring to watch. There are so many fights, each one escalating to a new level of violence/destruction that I found myself wanting just a couple of pauses; some nuanced dialogue with genuine character development would have better punctuated the onslaught and would also have given it more impact.
What really does standout in the action sequences is the sound design. You will feel every hit and explosion, and the noise of Zod’s gravity laser….wow…like the War of the Worlds tripod alien ships given a dubstep overhaul! Of course this is also heightened by Hans Zimmers baritone and percussion heavy score which strikes all the same stylistic notes as his Dark Knight score only with less memorable cues (save for his actual Man of Steel theme which is incredible but is only alluded to in the film and then saved in full for the end credits!!!????!!).
The main problem is time. Given that the film is almost 160 minutes long there is just not enough time given to character development, and this makes the screen relationships suffer. The relationship between Clark and Lois feels devoid of any real chemistry, the relationship between Clark and his mother is reduced to fleeting moments of lines like “you’re father saw what you would become” and the other major players such as Perry White and Jimmy Olson may as well just be background extras. Given the ending of the film (which I’m not going to spoil) it would appear that any sequels will most likely explore character elements in greater depth, they certainly have the opportunity to and should definitely take it.
Whilst the action and effects are some of the greatest and most innovative you will see anywhere, there really needs to be more substance to give the huge scale destruction greater impact and clout. Despite these flaws I would definitely recommend a cinema trip as the spectacle alone is worth it, and is what gives this film its 3 stars.