I should take a moment to address the tragedy that befell Zack Snyder and his family recently. I am deeply saddened that he lost his daughter, and his departure from the DCEU should not have happened like that. Please consider that in this review, I do not mean to personally attack Mr. Snyder. I am only critiquing his film.
Man of Steel is the first installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and introduces the world to a new Superman as he discovers who he is and protects the world from the malicious General Zod.
Before I pick apart this movie, let’s talk about what it gets right. All of the visual effects are great, especially when Superman flies for the first time. That’s what such effects should look like in a modern film. As stupid as the style in which Superman fights Zod’s soldiers is, it’s some decent action with spectacular effects.
The best performance in the film is Russell Crowe as Jor-El. He stands above everyone else as a man who would do anything to protect his son, and Crowe sells it. He works well with Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon’s Zod, especially the latter. Having Jor-El and Zod be enemies is fascinating, and watching them fight is more interesting than most scenes in this movie.
Well, that’s done. Strap yourself in.
Everything about Henry Cavill’s Superman is wrong-headed. He has no significant character arc; in the beginning, we see him saving people and he does the same thing in the end. Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman does not grow in any way a great character should. A major problem with Cavill’s Superman is that too many things just happen to him. The plot drives the story instead of him. The main character needs to make the major story beats occur, not the other way around. The plot took Clark to the arctic where he found the abandoned Kryptonian ship. The plot made him become Superman. The plot forced him to surrender to Zod.
Additionally, Superman is not supposed to be dark and brooding. Everyone may have heard this criticism of the film, but it is entirely valid. Clark rarely smiles throughout the movie. Instead, he frowns or scowls most of the time. Audiences should be able to react positively to Superman, and when he isn’t optimistic, that essential aspect of his character fails. As for all the dark and pale colors, when your hero is meant to shine in a bright suit in the daylight, you need to embrace that. When Superman wears a dark blue suit against an apocalyptic, gray, bleak background like in the end before he has his final battle with Zod, it is wrong. There is no reason to not make Superman smile or be filled with brighter colors because doing the opposite hinders the movie.
Furthermore, Clark has no personality. The only things we see him do for the majority of the movie are save people, fight Zod and his soldiers, and flashback to his childhood. Sure, it’s all well and good that he is rescuing people, but what more is there to him? The script gives him nothing else to do, failing to give his character dimensions. If you can’t get the audience to care about your protagonist before his first two scenes are up, you have failed. By the time he turns himself in to the military, which is about an hour in, you are not invested enough in his story nor his character to care about where he goes from there.
The first 30 minutes are nothing but loud noises. It does not give the audience a breather. Even after Krypton blows up 15 minutes in, Clark saves people from a burning oil rig. Two minutes later, he saves his classmates from a bus that goes into a river. You have to slow down and build the characters because by the time the movie tries to, the writers should have already started making the audience care about Clark. When you get half an hour in and you have no information as to who the protagonist is, you begin to lose interest and the writers fail to follow one of the most basic rules of screenwriting.
Kevin Costner is easily the worst actor in this movie because of his dialogue and how he reacts as he speaks. He does not talk like real people would when they speak of how important Clark is. Granted, we don’t know what that would sound like, but Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) never talks to Clark like a father. Every line he has in a scene of Clark’s childhood is about his significance to the human race. “When the world finds out what you can do, it’s gonna change everything.” “You’re the answer to are we alone in the universe.” “One day, you’re gonna have to make a choice to stand proudly in front of the human race or not.” It doesn’t take this many lines and more to make the audience understand that Clark is going to change everything we believe in. The aspect of Jonathan’s character that he has a realistic perspective on how the world will react to Clark’s existence one day is fine, but when almost every word he says is about just that, it gets old and worn out. Throughout this scene, Costner has a blank face and his concerns are never visible in his expression. Even when he hugs Clark and says, “You are my son,” Costner’s face is empty and devoid of emotion.
Clark and Lois’ love story is so thin and forced. Just like with Superman himself, the plot keeps bringing them together instead of their own actions. The plot put them in the arctic at the same time so Clark could save Lois. The plot reunited them as Zod was threatening the planet, and their romance grows from there. Nothing about their love feels real or developed. When you think about it, Superman has very little reason, if at all, to have affections for Lois. If anything, he should be at least kind of upset with her because she leaked her story about him to that blogger, something we are never shown people’s reaction to after Perry White yells at Lois about it. Clark and Lois’ romance is one of the most hollow relationships in a superhero movie in recent years, and it, much like the rest of this movie, deserved to be executed better.
It doesn’t matter if Kryptonians are like gods when they’re on Earth; the absurd amount of destruction when he fights Zod and his soldiers is completely unnecessary. All it is is over-the-top action in the worst of summer blockbusters like Transformers. When you get to that level, you are blowing shit up for the sake of blowing shit up. The level of obliteration in the climax is ludicrous. A big chunk of Metropolis has already been destroyed, and Superman doesn’t even bother to lead Zod away from what’s left of the city. He shows no care for all the death his battle with Zod causes. You’d think the ultimate protector of the planet would be mindful of how much destruction he can cause no matter how he is portrayed. But nope, Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer, and the rest of the creative team had to take that from Superman, too.
Sometimes, the hero has to kill the villain to save the world, so in the instance of Superman killing Zod, I’ll give it a pass. However, before Batman v Superman came out, some justified this with the argument that Superman had to “take a life to learn the value of it.” Well, that argument is bullshit now that we have that movie. Superman shouldn’t kill his enemies, nor should any good hero, but when a foe will never stop killing people, that sacrifice has to be made. Even Batman killed Two-Face in The Dark Knight, but at least there, it made a huge impact on the story by letting the Joker win.
Warner Bros. and DC had a great opportunity to reboot Superman successfully and give him his first good movie since 1980. Instead, they went with a stupid, wrong, ugly, and bleak direction that proved we will not see a great Superman film for a long time.
Man of Steel gets a D-
“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbably, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”-Christopher Reeve
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