After the decidedly average Superman Returns from 2006, the man of steel has returned to our screens once again in the fittingly titled Man of Steel. This time round it’s Zack Snyder at the helm, teaming up with Christopher Nolan after the ridiculous success of his Batman trilogy. Snyder is known for many things but subtlety certainly isn’t one of them, and just in case there was any doubt about that Man of Steel is here to put our minds at ease with a shower of rubble and collapsing skyscrapers.
The first trailer gave us a sense of melancholy, soul-searching and a crisis of identity. Finally, we all thought. A film that will get right to the heart of what Superman is all about: a man without a home struggling to find acceptance in a world that may not be ready for him. The opening of the film gifts us with some wonderfully sensitive moments. The scenes with Henry Cavill‘s Clark (or Kal-El, going by his Kryptonian name) trying not to fight back when picked on as a kid as well as a grown man are just wonderful. He is trying to be the better man, following the lessons his adopted human father taught him.
But at the end of the day Superman is an invincible superhero, and there is only one way you can demonstrate that with a $225 million budget.
Man of Steel takes us back to the beginning of the Superman story we are all so familiar with, opening with the death of his home planet Krypton. We follow Kal-El through his early life after being adopted by human parents Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Kostner), getting to know his troubles and tribulations of growing up with extraordinary powers.
Soon he discovers he must rise to the challenge to defend Earth from General Zod (a brilliant Michael Shannon) and his Kryptonian soldiers, the last surviving Kryptonians intent on taking Earth for themselves. It’s time for Kal-El to done the famous blue spandex and red cape and take the fight to Zod.
It is at this point that any hint of character, emotion or the message at the heart of the story is totally abandoned in favour of absolute carnage on an enormous scale. The military forces in Man of Steel do not immediately trust the eponymous hero, and it’s not hard to see why considering his method of “saving the world” seems to involve thousands of civilian deaths and billions of taxpayers’ dollars worth of damage
Entire towns, streets and skyscrapers are demolished when Superman and the other Kryptonians clash, with lorries and buildings tossed aside like sand in a kids’ playground. As an audience we are incessantly bombarded with a hailstorm of glass, rubble and iron, and the sheer noise of it is enough to daze you for a week.
That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining though: there’s something about the gratuitous destruction and the godlike powers of the characters leaping across cities that plastered a big stupid grin over my face the entire time. Any slight annoyance that the emotional side of things had been abandoned was soon dashed out of me, as if Snyder himself was leaping into the cinema yelling in my face and repeatedly bashing me round the head with a brick.
For a two and a half hour film, I can see why this would be a problem for some. The thoughtful first half is roughly brushed aside in favour of carnage, and no sooner has the film stopped to take a breath it’s off again, hammering along at such a pace you don’t have a chance to stop and question any of the gaping plot holes. Even the Lois Lane / Superman relationship felt hastily drawn and crowbarred into the film for the sake of it, as if the writers couldn’t wait to get it out the way and back into the action.
It is definitely a film of two parts. The truly super moments are the ones without fight or flight, but the internal conflict and Kal-El’s daily struggle with identity. As soon as the gloves are off, the film turns into an (admittedly spectacular) hour and a half long senseless brawl, with some cool spaceships and fanboy references thrown in for good measure.
Man of Steel has the potential to be a great film, but it by no means meets the bar set by Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But that doesn’t stop it from being a solidly entertaining piece of cinema, and one that audiences are guaranteed to walk away from with a huge grin time and time again.