Man of Steel

The latest Superman is already showing metal fatigue.
As the umpteenth skyscraper tilts over, loses its windows and collapses during a climax that appears to last for about a third of the running time of this latest Superman reboot, it was enough already some time back. After a relatively mature and interesting mid-section, Man of Steel cannot resist slipping into the exact same formula as every other big ticket picture of recent years. We’d already seen a trailer for two other films that looked exactly the same- lots of buildings exploding, collapsing and people fleeing in panic. You’d think by now people would be used to this. Unlike Iron Man 3 or Avengers Assemble, Zach Snyder’s film does not even seem to have any sense of its own absurdity. 

He only went out to buy some sprouts from Sainsburys.

How best to present a story already seen many times before is always going to be a difficult issue and Man of Steel gets off to a shaky start with an extended sequence set on the dying planet of Krypton. While visually less ridiculous than similar worlds seen in the likes of Thor and Green Lantern, opening any movie with this sort of urgent expositional scenario is risky because it is uninvolving and threatens to be overwhelmed by CGI. Later on however this part will seem positively restrained and arty.

The central section is the best and here Snyder’s direction and use of light seems to emphasise the religious parallels the story possesses; it is even stated that Clark is 33 when he first ascends. Thanks to subtle turns from both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents and a focus on Clark’s attempts to hide his powers, this is almost a film within a film. Yet there are still moments when you can see Snyder chomping at the bit, waiting to unleash the CGI and sure enough once villain General Zod arrives the film’s narrative collapses as easily as the many felled tower blocks.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to blame this particular film because we’ve seen all this so many, many times before but the destruction of inner cities is now such a cinematic clich√©, you expect it would be shoved into a remake of Breakfast at Tiffany’s if they could think of a reason to do so. So, Superman and Zod hurl each other around the cityscape while a spaceship causes shockwaves and it looks just like Transformers, Avengers Assemble, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Star Trek- Into Darkness,  Pacific Rim and a zillion other films. It is noisy, repetitive and it goes on far too long. Then it ends so abruptly and the relief is not so much because Superman has won but because we know the film must be nearly over!

In the main role Henry Cavill gets little chance to articulate his character’s dilemma and is mostly left with a series of moody distant glances to represent his worries. It’s a shame because when he does get some dialogue he has a casual air that undercuts the solemnity the film is bound by. Amy Adams fares ok despite this Lois Lane being barely believable as a reporter, a trait she shares with Perry White and successive military types, none of whom convince in their roles. In the end that’s all they are- a journalist, an editor, a General and so on. Had some of the film’s lengthy running time been devoted a little more to them, we might care about a climax that includes Perry trying to rescue an intern with some other bloke. Michael Shannon unsurprisingly gets the best deal as villainous Zod though his zealous aggression can’t reach the disturbing depths of his other work notably on Boardwalk Empire.

If you like this sort of film, then you’ll no doubt be satisfied by the myriad of spaceships, explosions, metal tentacles, superhero slugfests and more explosions. Yet what Man of Steel only hints at is the charm at the centre of the myth; the country kid who can save the world, his sense of right and wrong, how someone does fit into their place in the world and the responsibility of power. In its mid- section, the movie tries to address some of this but cannot resist being drawn back to pyrotechnics and bluster. As for the next film- is there anything left to do?!

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