Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Two directors I have more than a couple problems with, coming together on a single film, one Directing, the other Producing and co-writing. And not just any ole movie, a Superman movie. Could work, I guess. Maybe the things that work for one director could work for another. Maybe as a unit they could overcome their respective flaws and become something better than the sum of their parts and finally, FINALLY make the Superman movie we’ve always wanted.
Wouldn’t THAT have been nice.
Man of Steel hit the screens last week, opening with a stellar weekend and mostly good press. Mostly good, because that’s really what it is. Mostly good. And that’s being generous. As good as Man of Steel is, it’s also weighed down by enough problems that it’s constantly threatening to crash to the ground, much like Superman himself after being exposed to that kryptonite we’re apparently not allowed to have anymore.
The first thing viewers will probably notice is that the movie is paced terribly. We start with this overly long prologue on Krypton to set up the villain and this weird, vestigial feeling genetics subplot. On this new version of Krypton, babies are born in pods (all stored in an unguarded pool that you can just swim around in if the mood strikes you), except for Kal-El, who was born the old fashioned way because Jor-El is now the Kryptonian equivalent of a hippie. He also flies around on a four winged dragon thingy, which I guess is like driving a VW Bus or something. In the span of twenty odd minutes we get Superman’s birth, Jor-El pleading to the council of people in extravagant head wear to evacuate Krypton and being told to chill out, Zod trying and failing to overthrow the council and replace it with a council of sensible head wear, Jor-El stealing the all-important plot macguffin, having a fight with Zod in which he gets stabbed and killed, and the would-be usurpers getting exiled to the Phantom Zone and the whole planet blowing up after Superman’s spaceship gets away. And if it sounds like a lot to fit into twenty minutes or so, then congrats on being perceptive.
While things calm down a bit in the second act, the whole movie still has this very, VERY Christopher Nolan vibe of trying to accomplish too much in too little time. Entire bucketfuls of exposition get dumped in our faces and what should be important, quiet moments seem glazed over and rushed, especially when it comes to characterization.
With the exceptions of Superman himself, and the main baddie General Zod, almost no one in this movie has any real character to speak of. Amy Adams, who really seemed like she would be a damn good Lois Lane, sleepwalks through the movie, stepping between the female lead tropes of tough action chick, damsel in distress, and love interest with all the grace and connectivity of Rayman doing ballet. It gets to the point that when her relationship with Superman suddenly becomes romantic at the 11th hour, it just feels weird and forced. Doesn’t help that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams have all the romantic chemistry of a pair of drugged otters.
From an aesthetics point of view, the movie is also fucking ugly at times. Krypton is officially the brownest alien planet I’ve ever seen, with characters waltzing around in over-designed, Geiger-esque power armor through hallways that look suspiciously like an alien’s fallopian tubes. When things finally get to Earth, it’s mostly a cavalcade of dull grays and blues and no really memorable visuals, with everything very faded and washed out looking.
Now. This is the part where I take off my film critic hat and put on my comic geek hat, because as much as I’d like to wear them both, they are each six feed wide and covered in gemstones, so I have to pick one or the other.
As a Superman fan, there are things in the movie that just bug me. For example, and I admit I didn’t even notice this until a friend pointed it out, you never really see him just being Superman. After he puts the costume on for the first time and flies around, he doesn’t do anything else with it until Zod pulls up next to the planet and starts making threats through white noise broadcasts. Couldn’t we have seen him like, save a crashing plane or foil a robbery, or any of that classic Superman stuff we’ve all come to expect? The only time he really saves someone is early in the film after he joins the cast of Deadliest Catch and saves some guys on a burning oil rig while shirtless and rocking a beard.
Which brings me to another thing. As you may have heard, the levels of collateral damage in this movie are fucking INSANE. During the last fight scene, Metropolis gets subjected to more widespread destruction that Neo-Tokyo at the end of Akira. Hundreds of thousands of people doubtlessly die and enough property damage is done that any real world city probably wouldn’t come back from it. And Superman almost doesn’t seem to care. He never makes any attempt to move the battle away from the city or limit collateral damage, and I mean he’s Superman for crap’s sake! His whole deal is that he puts others above him, and does literally everything within his power to ensure the safety of those around him. Whenever he gets in a fight like this, he spends half his time making sure the people caught in the crossfire are safe, and seeing him basically ignore them just feels unsettling.
There’s more I could say about Man of Steel, both from a film geek point of view and a comic geek point of view. Little things that don’t make sense, the slightly overblown ending, the fact that the only time someone says “Superman” in the movie is in this really awkward scene that I’m pretty sure was shoehorned in at the last minute when someone called bullshit on the very real concern that no one otherwise actually says the word “Superman” in the whole damn movie.
But what it all boils down to is that the film has a fair share of problems, enough to bog down the things that are legit good about it, like the action scenes, some of the characterization, and a few new twists on old relationships. If there was one less thing that bugged me about, even just one, I probably would have liked this movie WAY more than I did. But in the end, there’s enough to complain about that I can’t see the good stuff any more. It’s like how they say you can’t see the forest through the trees, but in this case it’s more like can’t see the decent film through the superfluous four-winged dragon thing. Seriously, what was the deal with that?