Superman is easily one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history. Yet there hasn’t been a film that has lived up to his super status yet. You can like the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films all you want, but most of the love that those films receive is due to nostalgia rather than any sort of cinematic achievement. Other than the first thirty minutes of Superman (which does a fantastic job of world building while turning Krypton into a 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque dreamscape), Superman films have been filled with highly outdated effects, idiotic plot twists and boring storylines. Despite the release of Man of Steel we will still be waiting for that great Superman film. While showing promise early on, Man of Steel turns out to be an overblown action-fest with a dark core that director Zack Snyder seems to be oblivious to.
Man of Steel follows Kal-El/Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill in this film) as he discovers that he has amazing powers as he grows up. When a fellow Kryptonian by the name of General Zod (Michael Shannon) comes to Earth revealing his plan to turn Earth into another planet for Kryptonians after Krypton has been destroyed by eliminating all the humans, Kal-El decides it is time to reveal himself to the world as Superman in order to save it. The film is directed by Zack Snyder and is written by David Goyer.
With a blank check for effects work and a cast that looked really strong on paper, this film only needed a solid story and some sturdy direction for a good film. This film got neither. Instead of telling a complete story, this film decides to deliver us a greatest hits version of Clark Kent’s life instead of a true origin story. While that might have worked like it did in Batman Begins if Christopher Nolan (who helped out with writing the story but not the screenplay) was directing the film, it doesn’t with Zack Snyder behind the helm. Zack Snyder puts so much emphasis on action that the relentless action and the odd back-and-forth flow of the story doesn’t allow any room for the film to breathe. The oddest part about this film though is that the film has a dark core, which Snyder seems to decide doesn’t exist. Not only do the two fathers in Clark’s life have dark qualities but both of his fathers’ teachings lead directly to Clark doing something that anyone who wasn’t rooting for the guy would call evil. Yet Snyder directs all of this like your typical happy-go-lucky summer blockbuster.
The cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Henry Cavill is just fine as the lead. Superman just doesn’t allow much range for an actor, but Cavill isn’t any better or worse than his predecessors. Amy Adams is quite unimpressive for an actress of her status. She doesn’t have much to do but she doesn’t strike up much chemistry with Cavill either (which was her main purpose). The big letdown though is Michael Shannon as Zod. Shannon isn’t bad in this film (actually he delivers one of the better performances), but for such a perfect bit of casting, Shannon doesn’t get as much material as he deserved. Meanwhile the most impressive part of the cast is the supporting roles. Russell Crowe and (especially) Kevin Costner knock it out of the park as Clark’s two fathers (despite being the two most poorly written roles in the cast). Christopher Meloni delivers one of his best performances yet as an army general, and Ayelet Zurer somehow finds something out of nothing as Clark’s real mother, Lara Lor-Van. With a cast filled with name actors you would think that there would be no room for a newcomer to leave an impression, but Antje Traue is very good and gets to be in the best scenes as Zod’s henchwoman.
If your still waiting for that defining Superman film look elsewhere than Man of Steel.