The Man Of Steel. Superman. Kal-El. The Last Son of Krypton. The Big Blue Boy Scout. Sent as a baby by his parents to seek refuge from his dying home world, young Kal-El is raised by humans Martha and Jonathan Kent as their own son, Clark. Gifted great power by Earth's yellow sun, the young Kryptonian becomes Superman, a hero and an incorruptible symbol; fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. You know this already. This is well-trodden ground. Any film trying to re-tell Superman's origin story desperately needs to add something new to surmount the overwhelming sense of familiarity. Man Of Steel fails miserably.
Man of Steel copies Batman Begins' structure of front-loading its opening hour with prologue mixed with flashbacks, but whilst in Batman Begins Bruce Wayne's flashbacks were prompted by his conversations with Ducard, and used Bruce's relationship with his father to explore Bruce Wayne's own psyche, in Man Of Steel Clark Kent just wanders around by himself, remembering his childhood. He doesn't actually have a conversation with anyone until 25 minutes after his first appearance. This bizarre decision robs the flashbacks of any context, because the adult Clark has no-one to discuss his memories with.
Therefore we learn about the young man and his father, but nothing about the man he has grown up to be. It's a fatal problem, as we're left with a blank page where our lead character should be.
Furthermore, whilst Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as Jonathan Kent, Clark's adoptive father, there's way too much of him. The very fact that he's played by Kevin Costner tells us everything we need to know about this character, and his character is given no space to develop beyond this despite his significant screen time.
This first hour kills the film. It's overlong and almost entirely redundant, and the rest of the film, when the plot actually starts, feels rushed by comparison. Scenes lurch drunkenly from one to another without impact or suspense, and it feels like whole chunks have been cut out of the film to make it fit an already hefty 243 minute running time. Key plot points are introduced and then discarded (much is made early on of the potential impact the discovery of alien life could have on society, but once Superman is revealed to the world the reaction of society is never once shown or discussed), and some of the plot holes boggle the mind.
With so much time devoted to the prologue there's no time to get to know any of the characters we are then expected to care about once the actual plot kicks in. This problem is compounded by several poor casting choices. Russell Crowe delivers an enjoyably tough, if ultimately unconvincing take on Jor-El, but Amy Adams singularly fails to muster the required bolshiness to convince as Lois Lane and Laurence Fishburne is a painfully timid and bland Perry White. These are all fine actors, but they each get so little to do except run and shout that their performances have to be judged against the original comic book characters. On that basis, they fail.
Michael Shannon, as the villainous General Zod, fares little better. Shannon normally has a commanding presence, but the the film's attempts to give him credible motivations founder under director Zack Snyder's weirdly selective ADD disorder. An early opportunity to explore Kryptonian society and give his motivation a proper underpinning is abandoned in favour of an extended chase ripped straight off of Avatar. Zod's actions therefore make little sense and he ends up seeming even more ludicrous than Terrence's Stamp's portrayal (and not in a good way).
The one thing that isn't rushed are the action sequences. With the exception of one stand out, four-way Kryptonian smackdown that consciously echoes Superman II, all succumb to the Transformers CG overkill syndrome. Most blockbusters now end with 25 minute CGI cartoons and Man Of Steel is no exception. There are so many explosions and buildings blowing up that I estimate the civilian death toll must have been in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands (this, of course, is not commented on) and yet it's devoid of tension because the main character's invincible and the other characters are all just cyphers. Superman gets thrown through something and then someone else gets thrown through something and something blows up...
At the time of writing I finished watching it 111 minutes ago, and I already can't remember what happened. It's that boring.
Reviewed by Andy Croucher.