After his father Jor-el (Russell Crowe) sent him to Earth to escape the destruction of his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) must discover his true identity and assume the role of Superman to protect Earth from ruin at the hands of fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon).
With the massive success of the The Dark Knight Trilogy, the news that Christopher Nolan was brought on board alongside director Zack Snyder for the new Superman film was met with almost unanimous delight. After all, the woeful Superman Returns in 2006 meant that Clark Kent et al really needed a strong outing, and Man of Steel provides just that. For about half a film.
For the first half of Man of Steel, we get much of what the trailers promised: a more grounded origin for Clark (aside from the sections on Krypton) and more of an idea of what life was like growing up as he tries to hide his powers. Even the early scenes with Clark in his blue & red threads work well. However, it’s almost as if Snyder comes along about half way through and chucks a glass of cold water over the film, reminding it that it’s supposed to be a brainless summer blockbuster. Gone is any kind of real storyline or character development and in comes, well, Transformers. The action seems to last an age, and with so much going on, it can be difficult to keep track of everything.
The CGI gets ramped up to dangerously high levels and we see the utter decimation of Metropolis, which, whilst reasonably impressive, seems very out of place in a Superman film. This is a superhero known for saving lives yet his quest to stop Zod presumably causes untold loss of life during the destruction of the city. I say ‘presumably’ because we never actually really see much peril whatsoever. Where are all the people?! There never really feels like much of a threat to humanity because we don’t see them. It all feels a little shallow and like some kind of dick measuring contest with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
We also get possibly the most shoehorned romance in the history of cinema. We all know what’s going to happen; it comes as no surprise, but when it does arrive, it feels so out of the blue with no foundation to it whatsoever. It’s in there because someone felt it needed to be to sell movie tickets and for no other reason.
Now there is still plenty to like in Man of Steel. The first half, maybe even two thirds is perfectly enjoyable and there are some excellent scenes, particularly those showing Clark as a youngster and an excellent fight scene between Supes and some of Zod’s cronies on the streets of (I think) Smallville.
The casting is also generally pretty strong. Cavill is an excellent Superman, looking eerily like Christopher Reeve at times, and could well be the face of Clark and his alter ego for a whole new generation of fans. Russell Crowe does an admiral job as Jor-el, whilst Michael Shannon is a suitably formidable Zod, even though for much of the film he doesn’t seem to carry any threat whatsoever, instead just being a bit mean and doing some shouting. Only in the final 15 minutes or so does he actually get his hands dirty and even then he just punches Superman a bit. Good luck with that. In fact, it felt like most of the threat came from henchwoman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who seemed a much more menacing villain. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is also decent enough, although the obvious attempts to make the character a strong female role ultimately fall a little flat.
So is this the Superman film to finally put Metropolis back on the map? Personally, it didn’t quite hit the mark. It felt like it was caught between being an origin story and part of an already established series. Batman Begins has a similar structure but holds everything together with a much more grounded crucial final act. Man of Steel certainly has its moments but is ultimately let down by a lack of focus, depth and conviction to do something a little different.