Film Review: Man of Steel

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Wednesday 3rd July 2013.

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a mixed blessing. At times it soars, just like the breathtaking depiction of Superman’s first flight. However, at times, and particularly in the final hour, it drags and is reminiscent of the director’s poorly received Sucker Punch.

Snyder retells Kal-El’s origin story, giving Krypton a much grittier and organic feel when compared to Richard Donner’s glowing crystalline depiction in Superman The Movie from 1978. Through a series of flashbacks, he recalls important moments in Clark’s early years on Earth and then thrusts us into what is essentially an alien invasion, as Kryptonian criminals General Zod and company arrive in search of Kal-El and some alien maguffin thingy.

The problem with man of Steel is that it takes Superman’s perspective rather than ours. It’s very easy to imagine that Clark / Kal-El is apprehensive about revealing himself to the world. Unfortunately, he waits until Zod demands that he be turned over to don his tights and cape. Snyder never shows us how the non-US military world reacts to his existence. Instead, we cut straight to brain numbing Transformers-lite fighting. You and I dealing with a superman amongst us is far more interesting than an alien’s angst about dealing with us mortals.

And that brings us to stakes. In Man of Steel, there are none. From the outset, it is established that Superman and General Zod are practically invincible on our planet, so when the film heads down the slippery slope that is two guys fighting in the air and crashing through buildings ad nauseum, it is pretty hard to care. We’ve already seen the battle sequences in Man of Steel before, in the Transformers franchise and again last year in The Avengers.

It’s not all bad though. The actor most maligned on the internet for his casting, Kevin Costner, is really solid and brings a gravitas to Jonathan Kent, Kal-El’s human father figure. Also charismatic is Russell Crowe who has clearly stayed off the pies to fit into his Kryptonian super suit as Jor-El, Superman’s real father. The talented Amy Adams is a determined and ambitious Lois Lane who has great chemistry with her boss at the Daily Planet, Perry White, played by Laurence Fishburne. It’s a bit of a shame that this chemistry is not present with the guy in the tights.

Henry Cavill certainly looks right for the part of Superman, but as the storyline takes place before he dons his glasses and becomes a mild mannered reporter, there is not really any duality. Without the Clark Kent persona, Cavill has little to do but look concerned. He might be the perfect Superman, but I think that may well be a matter for any subsequent instalments.

I was most looking forward to seeing how Michael Shannon, one of my favourite actors, would fare in his first major blockbuster role as General Zod. For his first couple of scenes, I had a great time with Shannon’s intense, bug eyed performance, however, it soon became clear that this was a one note performance and I grew tired of it. I hope that this isn’t his only foray into mainstream film.

The final act of the film consists of two very long and tiresome CGI laden fights that will leave you walking out of the cinema exhausted. Only when the dust had settled and we got just a few moments of Clark joining Lois on the staff of the Daily Planet before the end credits rolled did I catch a glimpse of the Superman movie I really wanted to see.

Published in: on July 4, 2013 at 00:05  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Undies on the Outside: Thoughts on Superman

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th June 2013.

As long as I can recall, the Man of Steel has been a part of my life. For most of my childhood, I had a cardboard Superman stuck on my bedroom wall with pins in his arms and legs so his joints would articulate. Each night I’d doze off with a smiling and waving Kal-El looking over me.

My parents were early adopters of the VHS format in the early eighties and one of my perennial favourites was Superman II, taped off the television. Every couple of week I’d pop the tape in the top of the machine (yep, the VHS player was old school) and enjoy Supes battling Terrence Stamp’s evil General Zod.

Mum had also recorded the original Superman movie but I was less keen on it. I found the scene at the beginning of the film depicting the destruction of Krypton too traumatic for my sensitive little mind and would often fast forward through it and start with Kal-El landing in the cornfield in Smallville.

It was only recently that I discovered that both Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously. Original director Richard Donner clashed with the producers and was sacked after finishing the first film and three quarters of the sequel. Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman 2 and drastically changed the storyline. In 2006, after much lobbying from fans, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released and it is magnificent.

Although a little patchy now, the flying effects in the first two films were groundbreaking at the time. I often could be found as a kid trying to replicate the effects by lying on top of a kitchen stool in a flying pose and making whooshing sounds. Maybe I invented planking?

I went to see Superman III with my mother at the now defunct Roxy Cinema at Parramatta. Even at the tender age of eight, I could tell that the film was terrible. A vehicle for coked up comedian Richard Pryor, this turkey saw Christopher Reeve split into two personas when exposed to synthesised kryptonite that was infused with cigarette tar, and then fight a supercomputer, as you do.

In 1987, I received the Lucky Book Club tie-in adaption of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and wisely steered away from seeing this movie bomb until recently. By this stage, Reeve was not keen to repeat the campy trash of the third instalment and was only swayed by the lure of story input. What resulted was a truly atrocious low budget film which involves Supes disarming the world of its nuclear arsenal and then fighting Nuclear Man, who is created when said bombs are thrown into the sun for disposal by the Man of Steel.

During the late eighties, Superboy started screening on TV in the late afternoon timeslot. Also a low budget affair, I remember it being rather low key, with a young Superman fighting drug dealers and crime lords, rather than super villains (or supercomputers). The romantic adventure series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman followed in prime time in the early nineties. I didn’t watch this one because it was more drama than heroics, plus I was too enamoured with The X-Files at the time. And I still have to catch up on the final eight seasons of Smallville which was a little choppy in terms of quality and certainly very slow moving (just put on the suit and fly already).

In 2006, Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns hit the big screen. I must admit that as soon as John Williams’ iconic score began, the cinema got just a little dusty. Unfairly labelled as a failure, there is plenty to enjoy about this movie, which was largely filmed in Sydney.

On Thursday, Man of Steel will arrive and I cannot wait. Despite hit and miss director, Zack Snyder, being at the helm, I will buy my ticket and hopefully love it. After all of these years together, Superman surely won’t let me down.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:19  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,