Reynold’s Review: ‘Man of Steel’
Let me begin by saying that you may get something completely different from Man of Steel than I did. I am a lifelong comic book reader and fan and also, a lifelong Superman fan. I expect things from a Superman movie that the general moviegoer or fan of superhero movies may not. Please keep that in mind when you read my review.
Casting: Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Lawrence Fishburne. These are actors who have proven their talent time and again. Joining them are younger and not as well known actors like Michael Shannon as General Zod and, of course, Henry Cavill as Superman. The multitalented Amy Adams is Lois Lane. Every actor does a great job in their roles. There are other actors in the film, of course, and they do great work in supporting the main players.
Story: There’s a great, never-before-seen on the big screen Superman story in Man of Steel. It’s intelligent and multi-layered. It’s heavy on science fiction, but again, Superman has always been a science fiction character. He was the first superhero, but his roots were in the science fiction literature of the 1920s and 30s.
Action/Special Effects: The original Christopher Reeve Superman movie had the tagline “You’ll believe a man can fly.” In Man of Steel, you’ll believe a man can fly and perform feats of epic action the likes of which had not been seen before in a superhero movie. Even “The Avengers” doesn’t compare to the pure spectacle on display in this film. The fights, the rescues, the devastation, it’s all on a scale that is truly awe-inspiring.
Weak performances: I know I said the casting is great, but an actor can only do as much as the script or the director allows him or her to do. I don’t know which is at fault, but some of the performances, especially Kevin Costner’s, feels lifeless. The same is true of a few other performances in the film, and the weakness of these roles (for example, Superman’s birth mother, Lara) is enough to pull you out of the movie.
Too Much Action: As a huge comic book and action movie fan, I can’t believe I’m saying there’s too much action, but it’s the case in Man of Steel. You can overdo the action and spectacle to the point that the story and tone of the movie suffers, and I feel that’s what happens here. There’s no time for Superman or his supporting characters to slow down and process the epic, world-changing events they’re a part of because they have to move from action scene to action scene. I don’t need to see Superman talking to a psychiatrist or writing in his diary, but it would have been nice to have a few quieter moments.
Out of character moments: I’m going to touch on this again in a big way when I get to “the ugly,” but I’ll mention a few of these moments here. Some characters don’t act like they should in this film. Granted, the creators of Man of Steel were going for a “reinvention” of Superman and his world, but if it ain’t broke, etc. A few examples include Superman’s adopted father instilling more fear in his son with regard to his powers than hope and encouragement, and Superman giving in to revenge and pettiness in the course of the film. Superman isn’t perfect and he’s been raised as a human, but there are things he just doesn’t do. Which brings me to…
Why so serious?: I borrow this line from the Joker in The Dark Knight because it applies to Man of Steel. This is a movie without any joy or sense of wonder. There is a brief moment that sees Superman enjoy flying, and that’s it. The rest of the time, his powers are a burden to him. There’s also never any sense of amazement and joy in this movie. The creators wanted to show a “realistic” reaction of people today to aliens like Superman existing. Do they really have such a dour, bleak view of humanity?
Super-who?: Through what seems to be countless interviews, the creators behind Man of Steel have repeated the mantra that “we’re reinventing Superman.” The problem with this is that you can go too far and end up deconstructing a character to the point that what makes them and their world interesting is no longer intact. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but there are classic elements of the Superman story that are completely undone in this movie. After letting the viewing sink in, I asked myself, “What’s left to do?” There’s not much of the classic Superman story left to explore. Not only that, but there was even a hesitance in the film to use the name “Superman.” It’s only said once in the whole movie. Once.
Super-dark: There are certain things certain characters just never do. It’s completely against who and what they are. I will tell you that Superman does certain things in this film that Superman doesn’t do. Ever. I can give you one example without spoiling the film: when the action really kicks up with the invasion of Earth by the other Kryptonians, there is damage and destruction on a scale that’s never been seen in a superhero movie before. Superman has always been the character who goes out of his way to protect innocent people during fights with his super-villains. But not in this movie. I have to think thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people die in this film and Superman doesn’t do much to try and save them by taking the super-battles away from them.
The last two offenses in this category are the deal-breakers for me. I can’t say what they are, but I will say they ruined the film for me. Superman behaving in this way is so out of character and so unnecessary that I really don’t know why the creators of the movie bothered to make this a Superman movie.
Overall: I think fans of superhero movies and spectacular special effects will enjoy Man of Steel. If you’re looking for awe-inducing action and spectacle, this is your movie. If you believe there should be more to a superhero movie than that, you will be disappointed. And if you share even one notion of who Superman is and should be that I do, you will leave this movie feeling cheated and even a little sad.