If absolutely nothing else, Man of Steel is worth seeing because it looks fantastic. The director is Zack Snyder, someone who has never made a film that is boring visually. He is a stylish director and what he’s done here is truly something that should be watched. The film made with those visuals isn’t quite as impressive, but it’s unlikely to disappoint too many people, unless you’re looking for a cheerful, optimistic movie, because this is definitely not one of those.
Snyder’s film begins with the destruction of the planet Krypton, which is how 1978’s Superman began, too. We get to see more of the planet in this film, and we also learn why it will soon blow up. The Krytonians have used up all of their energy sources and tapped into their planet’s core, which destabilized it and caused the inevitable explosion. I wonder if that’s supposed to function as a warning to us watching the film? Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have had a son and send him to Earth to save his life. This is the origin Superman needs and it’s the one the film delivers.
The son, now given the Earth name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), grows up and eventually learns that because of Earth’s atmosphere, gravity, and the sun, he has superpowers on the planet inhabited by humans. He keeps them a secret at the request of his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively), although the plot will force him to reveal himself. Prior to Krypton’s destruction, a man named General Zod (Michael Shannon) staged an unsuccessful coup and was banished. He’s now back and looking for Clark Kent.
The reason for all of this is convoluted, not very interesting, over-explained, and also quite pointless. There’s some discussion to be had at the idea of genetic engineering which might be interesting if the film did anything with them, but they function here as a MacGuffin so that General Zod — likely the second most well-known villain of the Superman universe — has a reason to track down our hero.
Primarily, the film should be viewed because it looks outstanding. The CGI is fantastic, the production design makes you gasp at how good it looks, the cinematography keeps things interesting, and the editing doesn’t get in the way, even if there are far too many flashbacks which tell us information that we either already know or don’t need. Visually, Man of Steel holds up against any other film out there, and should be heralded as something to strive toward. The DragonBall Z fight scene that closes it out, while too long, is perfectly crafted.
Unfortunately, the story is rather dull and drab, an it’s really doesn’t do much to separate itself from the other Superman films that we’ve already seen. Some moments feel like shot-for-shot remakes of Superman and Superman II. And while the film has more messages and themes than its predecessors, they’re rarely a focal point; they are brought up but aren’t important and could easily be overlooked.
Superman as a character can be boring. He’s immortal and invincible, meaning those around him have to be the ones who are put in danger. In this film, it’s the entirety of planet Earth, and those living on it, who are threatened. I think that works. The character has to choose whether his actual people, the Krytonians, or the people who welcomed him to their planet, the humans, should live. That element works. It’s the subplots and needless explaining of how everything functions and is related to everything else that drags the film out and makes it feel three hours long.
There’s no immediate sense of danger. The entire population could be destroyed but none of the human characters we meet manage to resonate. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is in the movie because making a Superman movie without her would be criticized. She has little reason to be here. Ma and Pa Kent exist to tell Clark how he should behave. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and the other Daily Planet staff have extended cameos and nothing more. Everyone’s so poorly written and paper-thin.
The action scenes, while exceptionally well-made, often drag on for too long. That’s almost acceptable because they look so amazing, but they are a touch repetitive and as a result feel long. How long can you see two dudes punch one another while flying? Ten minutes? That’s how long it feels like they do just that in Man of Steel. They look wonderful but when it’s the same thing over and over again even something incredible can become dull.
Man of Steel isn’t bad. It isn’t terribly good, either, because its plot isn’t good, its characters have no depth to them, and the way it over-explains points that don’t matter makes it drag on and on. It’s also not a whole lot of fun, as the tone is definitely downtrodden. But visually it looks amazing and if you need a reason to see it, its style is just that. In fact, I’d recommend seeing Man of Steel just because of how incredible it looks. And possibly for Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod, because it’s a lot of fun to watch — and the only fun in an otherwise pretty but drab movie.