By Troi Watts
When it comes to DC superheroes, there is one important question that must be answered by every fan: Batman or Superman? I am definitely Team Batman, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some of Superman’s stories. My issue and the thing that gives Hollywood a hard time is the fact that Superman is too perfect. He’s invulnerable to everything except Kryponite, which is pretty rare, so creating a convincing, interesting conflict for his character is difficult. Man of Steel almost overcomes this issue, but not quite.
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead!
Man of Steel tells the origin story of Superman a.k.a. Kal-El a.k.a. Clark Kent (but I’m just going to refer to him as Superman to keep things simple). After his parents save him from his dying home world, Superman crash lands in Smallville, Kansas. There he is raised by the Kents, who help him through the challenges caused by being a super-powered alien. In order to keep his secret hidden, adult Superman takes odd jobs around the world under fake identities until one day he gains access to a Kryptonian ship. Using a computer program that his parents gave him, Superman learns who he is and what he can do (and gets his iconic blue-and-red suit). These newly honed abilities are put to the test when General Zod, an out of control military man from Krypton, is revealed to be alive and well. Zod comes to Earth to rebuild Krypton using a terraforming machine and the genetic codes hidden inside of Superman’s body. Now Superman has a choice: save Earth and turn on his only connection to his home world, or save Krypton’s legacy and doom the people of Earth.
Despite my loyalty to Batman, I found myself hooked in the beginning of this film. The special effects used to create the alien world of Krypton are impressive and the overall design of the world is refreshing. Instead of drawing on the pristine, white-silver design used in previous Superman films, Man of Steel captures the rugged, darker tones of a dying Krypton. This is more convincing, as the planet will supposedly implode in weeks, if not days. These impressive effects continue throughout the film and into the design of the alien spaceships, costumes, and weaponry. In other Superman films, I never felt fully grounded in the idea that Superman is actually from a whole other planet with completely different details and looks. Man of Steel picks up that slack.
Good performances accompany the good special effects in the beginning, but the acting quickly goes downhill. I was hooked when I was watching the remarkable performances of Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Michael Shannon as Zod, and Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van. Crowe and Zurer seem deeply connected to their roles and are highly convincing. I appreciate the fact that they portray Superman’s parents as strong and determined people rather than pushovers when faced with Zod’s attack. Shannon is intimating, but also provides a character with understandable motivations. You may want to think that Zod is a bad guy simply because he’s a bad person, but you can’t because Shannon brings Zod’s thoughts and feelings to the surface where they are easily – unavoidably – seen.
However, the impressive acting takes a dive when our main characters, Superman and Lois Lane, are introduced. While Henry Cavill (The Tudors, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) is the best Superman I have seen so far, his acting is flat. This could be because of poor writing, but it is actually in line with some of Cavill’s other works. He seems to be simply doing what he is told (by the script) and doesn’t seem to be comfortable with his character. Amy Adams (Enchanted, Arrival) absolutely falls victim to the script, but her acting does not help the situation. Lois Lane is portrayed as the stereotypical journalist: she does dangerous stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense because she is a journalist. Adams’ sassy, almost annoyingly full-of-herself performance just makes this unoriginal role harder to watch.
It’s no surprise that Man of Steel is an action film, right? Because it most certainly is. I mean, there is an hour-long (or maybe longer) fight scene at the end! It is one of the most boring action scenes I’ve ever had to sit through. The key to a good action scene is diversity, meaning that the fights and struggles need to be well-choreographed and productive. Man of Steel’s action is not diverse… Superman is basically thrown around or throws people around for that hour or so of action. Considering that he has a ton of different super powers at his disposal, this action could have been better. And at the same time that Superman is fighting the alien bad guys, Lois is in a military plane trying to destroy one of the alien ships. Of course, the aliens start to attack her and the usual things happen: Lois almost falls out of the plane several times because the ramp is down, Lois actually does fall out, but that’s turns out to be good because the plane is Kamikaze crashed into the alien ship… It is a long hour, folks.
Probably the main reason for all of its flaws is also one huge habit of Superman films: poor writing. While the look and the action may have held my interest, the dialogue and overall storyline did not. In all honesty, if this film didn’t involve Superman and his powers, it would have been boring. And two-and-a-half-hour-long films cannot afford to be boring.
Overall, Man of Steel is one of the best Superman films out there, but is still two and a half hours that you will not get back. If you choose to give this film a shot (which I encourage if you are going to see Justice League this November), my advice is to hold onto the excitement you may feel at the beginning of the film as you sit through the remaining two hours and fifteen minutes.