Film Review – Man of Steel

MOS

As Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel begins, there is no blast of John Williams’ legendary, iconic theme to precede events on Krypton. Even in a reboot that’s obviously different to the 1978 Richard Donner version, this just feels wrong. Almost like a James Bond film without the James Bond theme. I appreciate Snyder is trying to make a complete break from the past, but I am sure you could make a scientific case that it is impossible to come up with a better Superman fanfare than the one composed the great Mr Williams.

Music score quibbles aside, let’s focus on the positives for a moment. Man of Steel is, if nothing else, the most action packed Superman film to date (even if the characters seem oddly reluctant to use the word Superman). The sheer volume of trashed buildings, cities and vehicles ensuing from Superman’s fights with the supervillains is nothing less than astonishing, not to mention exhausting. There is no question that in this respect, and in the visual effects department, this is far superior to everything else in Superman’s cinematic canon.

And yet – great special effects do not necessarily make a great film. Somehow the fact that the CGI revolution allows filmmakers to tell absolutely any story they want means the audience is all too familiar with such spectacle. Without a great plot it becomes numbing, exhausting and tedious. A cursory glance at the films of Michael Bay confirms that truth. To be fair, Synder’s work is much better than that, but David S Goyer’s screenplay lacks a certain something. It lacks wit, charm, warmth and a sense of wonder. The Donner/Reeve Superman films may look dated now from a visual effects perspective, but they are light years ahead on heart. Is it really too much to ask for a bit more humour? I actually think I laughed more times in Schindler’s List than the whole of Man of Steel.

The sombre, serious tone is established immediately during the Krypton scenes, wherein the usual business of Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sending his son Kal-El to Earth to escape destruction is given some fresh spin that I won’t spoil here. In these scenes, we’re also introduced to the villainous General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his followers, who are set to crop up later to give Superman big problems. As before, on Earth Kal-El becomes Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), who we’re first introduced to as a man drifting from job to job trying to find his place in the world, whilst keeping his powers a big secret. Flashbacks reveal his childhood, growing up with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Coster and Diane Lane).

Frankly this is the best part of the film. Incidents where Clark is traumatised by his powers and finds it difficult to get used to them add a dash of much needed emotional resonance. Both Martha and Jonathan play a key part in this, and I wish there had been a bit more with them. Upon discovering he is from another world, Clark says to Jonathan “Can’t I just go on pretending to be your son?”, to which Jonathan replies to the effect of “You are my son, but you owe it to yourself to find what your other father intended for you in this world.”

From a spiritual perspective, this is a very key line. All of us have a father on Earth, who sooner or later will be taken from us, but we also have a Father in heaven, and need to discover our purpose. It is also interesting to note that the Christ allegories which have always been present in Superman are dialled up to 11 here. There’s even a scene in a church where Superman stands next to a stained glass window depicting Jesus. Superman’s black and white morality is present and correct, although there is a critical choice he makes in the climax that will have fans debating whether or not it is out of character.

As far as casting is concerned, the film is mostly spot-on. Cavill makes a great Superman. Lane, Crowe and particularly Costner are excellent in their roles. Shannon is OK, but not as fun as Terence Stamp’s take on the character. In fact, he is somewhat upstaged by his assistant Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), a character from the comics upon whom Superman II’s Ursa was based. Elsewhere Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane fail to make much of an impression, through no fault of their own. They are great choices for their respective roles, but the film doesn’t given them enough to do. As for Lois’s relationship with Superman, compared with the chemistry between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve, any candle of romance here is almost entirely snuffed by endless gusts of action.

In summary, if all you want from a film is spectacular visual effects and industrial quantities of action then Man of Steel certainly doesn’t disappoint. My eight-year-old absolutely loved it and immediately declared it the best Superman film, so clearly Snyder has done something right. I on the other hand had mixed feelings. Character and plot takes too much of a back seat, in spite of some fine casting. And they really, really should have used John Williams’ theme, even if it was just at the start.

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5 Responses to Film Review – Man of Steel

  1. andrew dillon says:

    Hello, Simon, Uncle Andrew here. I agree with your comments on the Superman film and on The Placed Beyond the Pines Like Greek theatre,both films are about the human condition and , like their earlier counterpart, tell us what is wrong with human kind , namely that it lives according to the will of its individual members who sometimes act together with other individuals to control and exploit their weaker brethren. In the superman film, we have in externalized form , a fear buried in the darkest recesses of the minds of American citizens that their multicultural and highly decentralized state is under attack from enemies, internal and external. The American Civil War and its aftermath, a nation divided between north and south, the rise of America and the Soviet Union as opposing world superpowers with very different ideas about how to solve mankind’s problems created the sort of conditions in which the characters depicted in the Comic books , both good and evil locked forever in mortal combat , can thrive and make money for their originators. the film producers, just another form of exploitation by individuals of their weaker citizens. An evocation politique , the films may be, but their producers are not pointing the way to any eternal solution . In the many sectored battlegrounds where the dead and wounded lie, there are no signposts pointing the way ahead. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible do. Christ , our Redeemer, the anniversary of whiose death and resurrection we celebrate next weekend. pointed the way and showed us that through dying to our individual will and self-interest and embracing the will of our eternal Father and creator, mankind can find within itself, the Divine Being., unlike the many gods of Greco-Roman paganism who only used their powers to exploit and destroy whoever stood in their way and, in their lofty abode on Mount Olympus, looked down with derision and contempt on the subjects they were exploiting for fun regardless of the consequences. In other words those Gods were merely externalized versions of the dark forces lodging in the subconscious minds of mankind’s oppressors who, without realising it, were themselves puppets in human form but lacking the divine will that JWH breathed into them before the Fall. Here I am, on my favourite hobby horse. How about the weekend of the late May holiday which replaced Whitsun. Whitsun Love to you all, Andrew

    • simondillon says:

      Hi Andrew – Always great to hear from you. What you say about the gods of Ancient Greece is of course completely true – they are the true villains of those myths, playing games with the lives of the human protagonists. As for Superman (and comic books in general), they often provide an intriguing insight into the American mindset. Rather interestingly there was a parallel universe set Superman story called Red Son in the comics, where he ends up in Soviet Russia rather than the US and becomes a Communist superhero.

  2. simondillon says:

    Also – Andrew were you asking if the late May bank holiday weekend was a good time to visit?

    • andrew dillon says:

      Yes, I would like to know if it is convenient to visit you all from Friday afternoon ’til Saturday evening at Whitsun which is the anniversary of the Holy Spiriit’s descent related in Acts, aka the late May bank holiday weekend. I would like to see my grand-nephews, Daniel and Thomas and have a chat with you all and, perhaps take a walk on Dartmoor,Love Andrew

      • simondillon says:

        Hi Andrew – I’ll email you on this subject rather than continue via the blog, but obviously feel free to leave any other comments/opinions.

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