Man of Steel

Review by Jonathan Crocker @JonathanCrocker

Directed by

Zack Snyder

Starring

Amy Adams Henry Cavill Michael Shannon

Anticipation.

Can’t… stop… watching… that… trailer…

Enjoyment.

Packed with action, great cast, but where’s the subtlety?

In Retrospect.

Hyperbolic blockbuster that misses its emotion marks.

Zack Snyder aspires to something greater with this maxed-out comic book epic, but lays it on a little too thick.

“What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?” quipped Alfred Hitchcock to François Truffaut. Decades later, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan appear to have taken him all too literally.

Crashing Kal-El back into our atmosphere seven years after Superman Returns, Man of Steel is a curious polar opposite to Bryan Singer’s big-screen fable. For better or worse depending on who you listen to, that film was romantic, nostalgic, witty, sensitive, short on action and big on character. But right from its apocalyptic sci-fi opening, Man of Steel maxes itself out on relentless hyperbole.

Minutes after home-birthing his screaming baby boy – Kal-El is Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries, as we’re told on more than one occasion by Goyer’s slightly repetitive script – Jor-El (Russell Crowe) leaps atop a monstrous dragonfly that might have escaped from Pandora, suppresses a violent coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon), steals a mystical skull and blasts his son into space just before Krypton is consumed by fire.

Pause for breath? Not a chance. We leap forward: adult Kal is now a fisherman on Earth, bearded, bare-chested and on fire, launching into action to rescue the crew of a blazing oil rig. Just as suddenly, we leap backwards: child Kal is freaking out in class as his supersenses kick in. And again: there’s teenage Kal rescuing a schoolbus full of his classmates from drowning in a river…

As Hans Zimmer’s magnificent but overused score insists on high drama, Snyder’s urgent stylistics – all lens flares and tight close-ups – just can’t sustain this bold elliptical storytelling. Never fully settling, Man of Steel just keeps bouncing from big scene to big scene. What’s missing is the strong connective tissue in-between them – the film doesn’t earn its big moments and this highlight-reel cinema leaves little room for character development.

Straining in the opposite direction are a powerful cast, doing their best to level out Man of Steel’s forced gravitas. In the midst of a tornado set-piece, Kevin Costner shows how a quiet beat can carry 10 times more power than the biggest explosion. Looking like he put Jason Statham in a blender and drank him, the physically epic Henry Cavill also underplays his role nicely, shading Supes with a loneliness and naïvety that adds further force to the vengeful pomp of Michael Shannon’s charismatic villain.

Shame, then, that many of Man of Steel’s great moments – Kal pausing to feel the sun’s warmth on his face, the cute interrogation-room banter – are too short to savour. Singer and Joss Whedon both showed how to disguise a compelling character drama as a superhero actioner. But in a film where dialogue feels written in large print, mostly bookends for the action, there’s no patience here to build true romance between Kal and Lois (Amy Adams).

“You can save her, Kal,” says Crowe. “You can save them all.” And with that, Cavill pulls his best Space Jesus pose and freefalls from the heavens into a spectacular rush of noise and devastation that bulks out the last third of the film.

Planes, trains and automobiles are flung around like toys in explosive close-quarter carnage as Supes dukes it out with Zod’s warriors in a series of cityscape smash-ups that scatter skyscrapers like Jenga towers, with Transformers: Dark of the Moon cinematographer Amir Mokri again favouring chaos over choreography. It’s a rush, but not quite the right kind. Much earlier, a bar brawl that never happens tells us more about Kal-El than any fight scene. That Man of Steel ends on a perfect note – a subtle, shared moment between two reporters at The Daily Planet – just reminds you what bits are missing.

Published 11 Jun 2013

Anticipation.

Can’t… stop… watching… that… trailer…

Enjoyment.

Packed with action, great cast, but where’s the subtlety?

In Retrospect.

Hyperbolic blockbuster that misses its emotion marks.

Read More

How Superman defeated the KKK

By Adam Woodward

The incredible true story of a hero with a secret identity who battled a gang of masked villains.

Midnight Special – first look review

By Adam Woodward

Director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon team up to deliver a modern science fiction classic. Believe.

Watch the brand new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer

By Little White Lies

It’s Bruce Wayne versus Clark Kent in this latest look Zack Snyder’s comic book bonanza.

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design