There is a drive to make superhero movies with meaning rather than just being empty special effects filled Hollywood blockbusters. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is the best example of the superhero genre done with integrity and substance. It has set the mould for a lot of ‘dark and gritty’ superhero films to follow. Now Superman is given the dark and gritty treatment with director Zack Snyder veteran of 300 and Watchmen.
The film certainly has style as the effects are beautifully realised. I appreciated the design consistency in the Kryptonian technology and the clear thought that has been put into how this advanced civilization will interact with their devices. Attention has been paid to make sections of the film based around the Kryptonian characters visually distinctive, appearing to be both alien and familiar.
The entire opening section of the film takes place on the planet Krypton and is the film’s most exciting sequence. The visuals, plot and acting are firing on all cylinders. Russell Crow is excellent as Jor-El, the lone voice of reason amongst a dying planet. The special effects continue to be impressive in the section of the film based on Earth. With modern effects technology Snyder can show how powerful Superman is which this film does well. The problem with doing this well is that it we struggle to empathise with a character who is nearly invulnerable.
As Snyder can show how powerful Superman is, he needs a villain who is equally powerful. Lex Luther can be an anti-climatic villain as he relies on a tricking Superman. What Superman needs is General Zod, someone his equal in power who Superman can have a physical confrontation with, this makes for a stronger climax to the film. This film borrows from the Superman II model that Superman works best when he has someone to punch. Michael Shannon is very good as the exiled Kryptonian military commander, clearly enjoying the role of a pantomime villain. The other supporting cast are also very good, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Richard Schiff all turn in strong performances. This has the potential to be a complex and interesting superhero movie.
It just fails to deliver on the promises it makes. The film is too long and losses pace in the second half, descending into an endless stream of action spectacles. By the end of the movie I was suffering from blockbuster fatigue, an over exposure to epic fights scenes leading to a desire for a different variety of drama. Henry Cavill is too wooden to make either Superman or Clark Kent a relatable character and becomes more wooden when he dons the red cape. The film needs more development of Clark Kent as a character and less time spent focusing on him as Superman. This could have easily been achieved by cuts from the unnecessarily long action scenes.
The plot of the film is almost inconsequential and serves only as a vehicle for explosive action sequences. The same can be said for a lot of enjoyable Hollywood blockbusters but having a strong emotional relationship wit the protagonist is essential to making these films a success. Man of Steel lacks an engaging plot or an empathetic protagonist to fill the essentially dead time between action scenes.
Man of Steel is an action spectacle with too much action and a lack of substance. There is little development of the Clark Kent/Superman character, no emotional core to the film and no real sense of a plot. The effects and design, as well as the supporting cast, work their hardest but they cannot fill the gapping void at the centre of this film. This is a solid effort to make a more meaningful Superman movie but fails to be anything more than another identikit Hollywood blockbuster by being a film that lacks meaning.