Man of Steel is big fat summer movie spectacle masquerading as a serious, thoughtful superhero origin story. The action is loud and in your face, clearly an effort to up the ante when compared to dullness of Superman Returns. However, that’s all the movie is: action, action, action. Substantially it’s almost defunct.
The script, which turns Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) into a hero that talks as little as Rambo, has a notable rhythm to it. For every 20 minutes of non-stop CGI-fuelled action, there must be about 5 minutes of soulless, emotionless exposition. As a matter of fact the movie is filled with familiar characters, like Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), Superman’s birth father Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and the villainous General Zod (Michael Shannon), yet all these characters are, more or less, given to empty speechifying. Rarely does the movie ever hit on any sort of emotion, feeling, or mood that lies deeper than the skin. Most of the dialogue is focused on explaining to the audience what is going on in simple, dumbed down terms.
So, what is going on? We all know the story; well, a version of it anyway, depending on how many Superman movies we’ve watched or how many comic books we’ve read.
The planet of Krypton is about to implode. The Kryptonians have exhausted their natural resources in a race to expand their growing empire. Now they’re faced with extinction. Jor-El foresees the coming apocalypse and quickly readies a spacecraft for his newborn son Kal-El. Zod is furious with Jor-El and his plans to blast Krypton’s first naturally born child in centuries into space, while Krypton dies a quick and painful death. Zod plans to overthrow the Krypton leadership. It doesn’t work. He and his crew are imprisoned in a black hole. But, as we all can surmise, he won’t be there for long.
Superman’s origin story is told in the same disjointed way as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, (Nolan helped produce this film and his fingerprints are all over it). We’re treated to flashback scenes of Clark’s early life. Each of these scenes feels half-finished and they fly by at a dizzying pace. Like “The Dark Knight Rises,” almost every scene is accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s constantly swelling hero music. The music always feels like it’s on the precipice of some great cymbal-crashing conclusion that never comes. The music tries desperately to act as the emotional center of the movie, because the characters are unable to provide it.
Then there’s the action, the wonton destruction of countless skyscrapers, apartment buildings, spaceships, airplanes, and an unlucky main street in the middle of a small town. What’s so disturbing about the action is that Superman seems unwilling, most of the time, to try to stop the inevitable great loss of human life that his actions are not doubt resulting in. He and Zod fight endlessly in a battle of nearly immortal souls – which is a tiresome sort of fight to begin with. Zod throws Superman through a building, Superman responds by tackling Zod through a perfectly product-placed IHOP. This is certainly the most reckless Superman to date. He purports to be the savior of mankind, but doesn’t go out of his way to try to do the least damage possible.
The intent is to play the movie as serious as possible. Except for moments of obviously placed humor that are jarringly stupid. A female soldier can’t stop staring at Superman as he flies away. Her commanding officer gives her a stern look. That scene could’ve been left right there. No explanation needed. But, following the movie’s lead of explaining the obvious, the female soldier grins and says, “What? I think he’s hot.”
Man of Steel isn’t really the gritty reboot to the “Superman” franchise people were hoping it would be. It’s got a lot more money behind it and a director who’s obsessed with thin scripting supplemented by distracting, overlong action sequences. Who knew it would be a Superman movie that would out explode Michael Bay’s most explode-y films? Who knew it would be just as empty?