Man of Steel: A Critical Review

Man of Steel received the royal treatment at my hometown theater last weekend, opening the same night that it opened everywhere else in the world as opposed to two weeks later. The thought that it might be postponed had crossed my mind, perhaps to accommodate the fourth week of Fast 6 or the two versions of Epic taking up our meager four screens. My worries, however, were all for naught. It was even granted seniority on the largest of our  screens, which is still only slightly bigger than a Queen-size bed sheet and accentuated by a sound system acquired on clearance from Best Buy. I exaggerate, but it is hard to take the standard Dolby® “All Around You” surround sound advertisement seriously when your theater only has one speaker situated in the top lefthand corner of the screen. The “All around you” might be more accurate if it instead echoed “Up here, idiot, in the corner…” Anyway, Man of Steel.

Man of Steel has everybody talking these days, mostly about how incredible it is and how it revolutionized the way superhero movies are made, or something. My review will not be so optimistic, unfortunately, which would have saddened me to know when I first saw the promising teaser trailer (the only bit of promotional material I gave any attention to, mind you).

Before I proceed, I will point out that this article is assuming that you’ve viewed Man of Steel in its entirety, and as such, spoilers abound in plenteousness.

As far as DC Comics are concerned, Superman is one of the major properties I’m the least versed in. Aside from the odd comic, several of the older films, and sporadic Smallville episodes, I know little about his mythos save for the obvious bits (Lex Luthor, Kryptonite, Lois Lane, blue spandex, etc.). This gave me the unique advantage of being able to enter the world of a comic book film and not scrutinize it for source material loyalty as I would for say, a Batman film, because I honestly couldn’t care less how loyal a Superman film is to the comics, just so long as it’s a good film.

Sadly, despite promising early material, Man of Steel failed to live up to its tantalizing hype, foundering so completely in its basic duty as an entertainment production that I can only describe it as a soulless explosion-fest suffering so badly from delusions of grandeur that it doesn’t notice how it spends the entirety of its runtime passing gas.

The "S" is for 'suck.'

                                                              The “S” is for ‘suck.’

First, the buildup did show promise. The opening scenes on Krypton were interesting and visually striking, but I did begin to grow weary when they seemed to drag on far longer than necessary. Can’t we just see Jor-El look out over a dying Krypton and send his baby to safety without occupying twenty-plus minutes of precious screen time? Otherwise, I liked the tone and subtlety of Clark Kent’s time spent working odd jobs and saving lives in anonymity, particularly the offshore oil rig segment. It was right around the time that Clark and Lois both discover the alien ship encased in the Arctic that Man of Steel began to lose me.

From what I can piece together, Lois Lane is a journalist for the Daily Planet doing a piece on a secret Arctic military base. First, at what military level did someone deem it necessary for a journalist to be on site, especially if they were just going to publicly discredit everything said journalist wrote? Second, what insatiable sense of curiosity compelled Lois to follow Clark through a blizzard and into a cave to the crashed Kryptonian ship? For all she knew he was going to take a pee, which isn’t really outside the realm of possibility when you’re on a mobile military base with no indoor plumbing. From there, Lois remained remarkably calm and photo-happy for a woman who just discovered an alien ship with onboard A.I. robots, but I suppose nothing really daunts you when you don’t have a personality, does it?

From here, the film lost more and more plausibility and reason until it had me literally guffawing in the theatre. And let me remind you that this is a film about a man who dresses up in blue spandex out of his own free will — I’m only asking for so much realism, here.

Let’s begin with a general assessment of the acting — there wasn’t any. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams had no chemistry whatsoever and their relationship felt incredibly forced. In fact, their characters barely had time to get to know one another before falling in love (although, as love requires depth I might call this falling in ‘like’). There was no personal development, and I felt as if these characters were just handed to us under the pretense that we already knew who they were, which freed the film from its obligation to introduce us to them properly. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was the sole highlight of the casting picks in the same manner that Liam Neeson as Zeus was the sole highlight of Clash of the Titans. Although I think very highly of Kevin Costner (he seems to me like the kind of man you could just have coffee and a pleasant conversation with), it appears that director Zach Snyder threw him under a bus for no reason. I realize that Pa Kent only refused to let Clark save him for fear that revealing his powers would endanger him, but his death-by-tornado scene nonetheless seemed unnecessary and easily avoidable. Ultimately, it felt more pointless than poignant. Also, if you’re going to depict a fight between Clark and Pa Kent mere moments before the latter’s demise, don’t skimp out on the subsequent guilt and eventual emotional resolution on the part of our hero — it’s like Peter Parker watching Uncle Ben die and then immediately forgetting about him and moving on.

The characters also seem to possess this unexplained talent for being able to teleport across long distances on a whim. Lois Lane manages to get from one end of Metropolis to the other to be Superman’s emotional support as he’s about to finish off Zod. First, wasn’t she halfway across the completely devastated city like fifteen minutes ago? Second, how in the blue spandex did she even know where to find Superman and Zod? Man of Steel is evidently one of those films where the heroes share a telepathic link and transfer information silently and instantly, leading to conspicuous leaps in logic.

Next, I come to the enigmatic Superman jump drive. This “S”-branded memory device apparently powers Superman’s escape pod, revives Jor-El’s memory fragment, hacks Kryptonian technology, and basically does whatever else the plot requires of it (the Sonic Screwdriver, anybody?). Superman gives this mystery device to Lois Lane just before they’re taken prisoner aboard General Zod’s ship, but later in the film Zod inexplicably has it in his possession. He couldn’t have taken it from her, because we see her plug it into a computer terminal to unleash Jor-El’s cyber ghost. Did Zod just find it off-screen and deduce everything that it could do? How Superman even knew to give the jump drive to Lois is another mystery for the ages. On this note, there was absolutely no reason for Zod’s men to bring Lois aboard as a hostage, save for sheer plot convenience. Once onboard and safely placed completely unrestrained in an unmonitored room with computers devoid of any security measures and then completely forgotten about, she’s free to upload Jor-El’s memory into their systems and wreak some havoc. They even gave her a breathing apparatus so that her respiratory functions could function at optimal capacity while running around their ship unsupervised.

“...and here’s your passkey to get to the bridge. Would you like a gun?”

       “…and here’s your passkey to get to the bridge. Would you like a gun?”

From this moment on, any remaining semblance of a coherent plot is forsaken in favor of a mindless smash-fest. First, Superman battles two henchmen (wearing Cobra Commander’s armor, by the looks of it) in downtown Smallville, racking up millions of dollars in property damage in the process. Can one claim “Superman related damages” to an insurance agency? I sure hope so, otherwise there’s a multitude of small businesses that won’t be opening Monday morning. By the time this lengthy scuffle concluded, I had actually forgotten that Zod and his evil scheme were still out there and thought that perhaps the credits would be rolling soon. False — we’re treated to another boss battle with Zod’s world engine, apparently equipped with Dr. Octopus’ tentacles as a defense mechanism. After this finally wraps up, Superman flies to a Metropolis under siege (at incredibly high speeds, even for a guy who can fly faster than a speeding bullet) for the final showdown with Zod. This is like the multiple endings of The Return of the King beating you into submission until you agree to be their friend.

Let me be perfectly clear: Metropolis gets absolutely totaled in Man of Steel — these final scenes blend the chaos and mayhem of any given disaster movie with the Incredible Hulk’s brazen disregard for other people’s possessions. It’s true, Superman doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if he has to dismantle a skyscraper in order to uppercut Zod, which I find highly uncharacteristic of the hero. Isn’t he supposed to be the world’s greatest boy scout? Shouldn’t he be trying to preserve Metropolis, not ravage it further? These final scenes were filled to the brim with mindless mayhem and wanton destruction and could have easily been a round of Mortal Kombat (or rather, the DC Comics equivalent, Injustice: God’s Among Us).

In the end, Superman heroically saves the day by snapping Zod’s neck and then instantly screaming in anguish over it. Erm, Superman, why are you so upset over this? It’s not like you guys had a long-standing rivalry like Batman and The Joker — this dude literally just showed up and began destroying the planet you love with the sole aim of killing you personally. So, why does killing him upset you so much? Also, doesn’t Superman have a stand against killing people?? Still, I suppose ending the villain is more than Lois Lane can claim to have done during the third act — apparently screwing the final piece of the Phantom Zone portal device in correctly is a tad too complicated for her character to handle. Good thing Toby Ziegler from The West Wing was there to save the day by turning the necessary component slightly to the left to ignite the machine, able to take absolutely zero credit for his heroism because he died mere seconds later.

These are just a few of the numerous plot holes and writing loopholes that bugged me about Man of Steel — I have neither the time nor the space to delve into how Zod figured out his Earth powers almost instantly, or how Superman’s trademark suit was somehow waiting for him on the ship that crash landed in the Arctic thousands of years ago and was miraculously a perfect fit. In the end though, all is well and perfectly set up for future sequels with Superman donning the guise of meek and mild mannered Clark Kent and going to work at the Daily Planetwait a damned minute, wasn’t the Daily Planet building completely obliterated along with the rest of Metropolis?? What, did everybody upstairs just forget about that?! You’ve made a powerful enemy, Man of Steel.

In conclusion, Man of Steel had no soul, which is especially troubling for a production involving Christopher Nolan (is he beginning to slip a bit, perchance?). To put my sentiments for this film in perspective, I’d rather watch Superman Returns again than Man of Steel. The icing on the cake is that I had to pay an additional three dollars to don a pair of glasses and watch it suck three-dimensionally. As Jubal Early of Firefly would aptly pontificate, “Does that seem right to you?”


May you all tread your paths in peace