General: What are you smiling about, Captain?
Captain: I just think he’s kinda hot.
Henry Cavill certainly looks like Superman. He’s handsome, almost distractingly so, sports a ripped physique that adheres closer to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine than any previous incarnation of the role. The Brit even speaks the part affecting a perfect American accent with the necessary gravitas to make everything he says sound meaningful. But that’s where compliments end for Man of Steel.
Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic superhero is given the bigger is better treatment in this updated version for moviegoers raised on Transformers films. Zack “I directed 300” Snyder has taken courses at the Michael Bay school for directors where spectacle is key and damn any coherence or dialogue that gets in the way. Loud noise is more important than the story. Millions of dollars gloriously spent to envision beautifully designed worlds of breathtaking 3D graphics only to be obliterated in some fantastic assault of bombs, explosions and mayhem. A bombastic excess where even Superman’s cape is digitally animated. Snyder’s aesthetic is money and spend lots of it
Man of Steel is an overinflated packed to the rafters display of computer generated imagery (CGI) that makes Transformers seem like Forbidden Planet by comparison. The CGI is ridiculously wild and unchecked. A full third of this film is fight scenes. Not exciting ones, but blurry, relentless onslaughts that are hard to follow. I think I counted three epic battles but honestly one conflict blurs indistinguishably into the next. Their sole purpose exists so Snyder can blow stuff up. The wanton annihilation of buildings in the climax doesn’t even appear to be Planet Earth anymore. At one point Superman wrestles with tentacles in the center of the globe as some rocket machine deconstructs the earth’s atmosphere to that of an alien planet. The whole spectacle is so removed from anything organic, it doesn’t even exist as a live action movie with human actors. More like a virtual 3D universe populated by automatons rendered by a computer program.
The obscene amount of CGI-enhanced activity might’ve been tolerable if it served a coherent story. Unfortunately following the haphazard chronology is a task in itself. Good luck figuring out what time period we‘re in. The films was apparently edited in a blender. First we’re on Krypton, then we’re on an oil rig with an adult Clark Kent, now Clark is a kid in school overwhelmed by his powers, suddenly he‘s older rescuing his classmates from a bus. Now he’s Superman in the Arctic. Now back as a child again with his parents near a tornado. The script flash forwards, then back, then forward and back again, back and forth, back and forth over and over to the point of complete incoherence. The movie is an attention punishing 143 minutes and you feel every single one of them.
Part of the reason the story is so mind numbingly long is because the plot spends an inordinate amount of time delving into Kryptonian society, and explaining the sociopolitical and ecological situation before the planet’s destruction. Just what I want to see in a Superhero film. How about some scenes inside the Kryptonian Senate while they vote on various bills and legislation? Last time I checked this was called Man of Steel but it’s a full hour before he even dons the suit and near the very end before someone clearly calls him Superman. Even then it’s used as more of a throwaway joke.
There are moments where the script attempts to convey Superman’s inner conflict. The narrative tries to present Superman’s undying love for the people of his adoptive planet earth. But his devotion never makes sense. He experiences overwhelming rejection from the faceless masses his whole life. We’re given infrequent glimpses of his interactions with the human population. School bullies tease him as a child, a bar patron humiliates him (shades of Superman II), the military wants to give him up to uber villain General Zod. This is predicted in early scenes by his father (Kevin Costner) who warns him: “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” We comprehend why Superman isn’t accepted, but not why he still cares for the citizens of this foreign world called Earth. The population disregards him so thoroughly. We have no reason to sympathize, to care, or even to watch.
The movie is the creation of sterile perfectionism. The actors are pretty, everyone hits their marks, says their lines and does exactly what is asked of them. It exhibits slick professionalism but not art. The picture has no essence. There is no warmth, no wit, no humor, no joy. The only thing more offensive than the vulgar reliance on special effects in this flick, are the product placement deals. Word has it that it earned $160 million even before it ever played in a single theater due to all the advertising negotiations made. It doesn’t come without a cost. Superman literally has a fight that starts at 7-Eleven, heads over to IHOP afterwards, then wraps at Sears. All the while the aforementioned businesses conspicuously pop up in scenes where the action is a muddy blur but their beaming signs are clear as day. There is no spark of life to be found in Man of Steel. It is a soulless product bought and paid for by the Hollywood machine.