The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Film Reviews

Is It A Turd? Man Of Steel Reviewed
****Contains spoilers**** Mat Colegate , June 14th, 2013 08:34

C'mon, there was no way that headline was going unused. Mat Colegate reviews the latest attempt to bring Superman to the big screen

Superman is the greatest superhero of them all. Batman is everybody's favourite, Spider-Man is perhaps the most perfectly realised, but Superman is the greatest, the most iconic. When you think of the word 'superhero' you see the cape, the boots, the underpants outside the trousers and the logo on the chest, all the elements that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dreamed up in order to differentiate their character from the hordes of pulp heroes dominating the news stands of 1938. Superman, you see, is the original. Thousands of costumed heroes have followed in his wake, each with their own powers and weaknesses, charms and foibles, but Superman, as befits his status as the clay from which all other costumed crime fighters were moulded, is the only superhero that is perfect. Invulnerable, infinite in strength and equally as infinite in compassion, Superman exists as a character to reflect our best qualities back at us and, more than anything, to provide us with hope.

Of course it's this very perfection that makes the Man of Steel such a difficult character to portray convincingly. The dude is pretty much omnipotent. How do you introduce tension into stories starring a hero who can't be hurt? There have been numerous enumerations on the old dangle-Lois-Lane-out-of-a-window-on-a-kryptonite-rope idea, to greater or lesser effect, but the best Superman stories are the ones that treat him as an inspiration. A character who always does the right thing, irrespective of personal risk or cost and always, always finds a way to make sure that in the end, when the dust has settled, good has triumphed over evil.

So, bearing in mind this difficulty of execution, you can see why the alarm bells started ringing when it was announced that the director chosen to helm Man Of Steel, the latest attempt to bring Superman to the big screen following Bryan Singer's failed attempt with 2006's Superman Returns, was to be "visionary director" Zack Snyder. The chief reason for this cynicism being that "visionary director" Zack Snyder has never made a good film. Ever. Indeed, throughout his career "visionary director" Zack Snyder has shown all the "visionary" qualities of a punctured fire bucket. His witless mauling of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's game changing comic series Watchmen demonstrated all the understanding and charm of a dog pushing its penis into a chicken carcass, while his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300, while concentrating on a flimsy "fuck yeah!" factor, only served to propagate all the problems with the original text, those mainly being its homophobia and bellowed imperialistic tendencies. Not that I think "visionary director" Zack Snyder knowingly propagates said prejudices, more that were you to point out these textural difficulties to him, say at a cocktail party, his expression would resemble that of a cow being shown a maths problem.

Put simply, Zack Snyder is a 'stoopid' director. Not necessarily a stupid one. I don't know him. He may well be sidelining his cancer cure in order to push shitty movies into the eyes of the public for all I know. But a 'stoopid' one. A director who prioritises overworked spectacle in the hope of eliciting a collective "fuck yeah, bro!" from his audience at the expense of everything else. Look at it this way, either Zack Snyder is stupid or he thinks you are. And neither of those are particularly good qualities in a popular entertainer.

But, as always with Superman, there was hope. Script and production duties were being handled by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan respectively, who had shown excellent, if flawed, form resurrecting Batman with the Dark Knight trilogy. And the casting of the likeable Henry Cavill as the Blue Boy Scout, as well as a solid supporting cast, including Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne, seemed to point to the fact that someone, somewhere had the right idea. So how does it all stack up, now all the pieces are in play? The answer, sadly, is frustratingly.

Early signs are excellent. Our hero's origin on the planet Krypton is thrillingly delivered. The production design works wonders, with Krypton reimagined as a decadent, Giger-esque planet in decline, all twisted architecture and sheets of flame. And the conflict between Jor-El (Crowe) and the scent-of-scenery belching General Zod (Michael Shannon) is a proper comic book-big bang delight. On reaching earth our hero's discovery of his true nature and origin is deftly and pacily shown through flashback, similar to the way Bruce Wayne's revelation of his destiny was revealed in the Batman films. Scenes of a young Clark Kent rescuing workers from a blazing oil rig and saving his school mates from a bus crash serve to highlight one of the most important aspects of the character, that Superman, at the end of the day, is someone who helps people. The introduction of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her quest to discover her saviour's identity also threatens to add a pleasing and unexpected All The Presidents Men-esque quality to proceedings, and Henry Cavill, in the rare instances that he gets to interact with other characters for more than a few lines, demonstrates a real understanding of his character, showing humility, strength and wry humour. I could have done without quite so many scenes of Kevin Costner's Pa Kent lecturing Clark on His World Changing Destiny, but, overall, things look good.

Unfortunately, all this good work goes to merry hell with the reintroduction of aforementioned Kryptonian bad ass, General Zod (and if I may be allowed a really geeky moan at this point: what is it with everyone's obsession with General Zod? Would someone please just make a Superman movie with Brainiac in it already? Brainiac is a faaar cooler villain). It's at this point, after all the good work done by the cast and, yes, even "visionary director" Zack Snyder (who seems to have been forced to shelve that supremely irritating slow-motion effect that he usually slathers everything in. You can almost imagine him looking up at Nolan during the showing of the original slo-mo-suffused rushes and making the aforementioned face of bovine confusion as Nolan slowly shook his head) unravels in a blaze of tawdry explosions and pointlessly escalating fight scenes.

Hands up who doesn't like fight scenes? Y'see? Only commies and weirdos don't like fight scenes. There's nothing better than a massive, planet-shaking, Twilight-Of-The-Idols-esque thumparoo between good and evil. But, as with the latest Star Trek movie, the last third of Man Of Steel consists of nothing but an escalating series of punch-ups with no seeming purpose other than to lead us to the next escalated punch-up which leads us inexorably into the next escalated punch-up. Comics writer Joe Casey recently wrote an entire Superman run in which the hero didn't land a single blow. I'm not arguing that Man Of Steel should have been a Thin Red Line-esque reflection on the nature of violence, but it could do with exercising similar restraint. The result of all the explosions and yelling and punching and punching and punching is simply boredom, and a growing sense of disquiet. Whole cities are levelled, people run screaming as buildings crash around them and some vague half-assed points are made about our humanity and sticking together in the face of insurmountable odds - which, dammit, is what a Superman film should be about - but all nuance is lost in a gale-force wind of super-powered beings hammering each other through buildings with no thought of the consequences. People are running for their lives! All hope seems to have abandoned the world! Where is Superman?! Oh, he's over there, yelling a lot and causing massive property damage with his heat vision.

Superman, in his original, untouchable incarnation, is an alien being brought to earth, who realises that his purpose is to show humanity the best that it can be. To represent justice and truth and strength and to reflect those qualities back at us so that we recognise ourselves in them. The first half of Man Of Steel does a fantastic job of showing us that alien being and the wonder he inspires. However, by the exhausted end of the film he's done nothing to earn humanity's trust, shown no wisdom or guidance, offered no hope. Merely participated in a predictable orgy of mass destruction. I didn't come out of Man Of Steel believing in Superman. And that's no Superman at all. That's just stoopid.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.