A review by Daniel Haynes
I had the opportunity to see the new rebooted Superman flick, Man of Steel, at IMAX recently. For all the movie’s faults that I may unleash upon over the coming paragraphs, it should be known the IMAX experience is unparalleled – and made a poor storytelling experience tolerable through spectacular visuals and immersive sound.
Man of Steel follows an all too familiar trend of revisiting old franchises, that of doing a ‘dark and edgy’ reboot on an enormous budget in order to reinvigorate an aging brand and profit off a tired IP. It’s very ‘safe’, very ‘explodey’, and extremely mindless. Even as an origin story it feels contrived, messy and forgettable.
The movie begins on Krypton, with Kal-el’s parents smuggling him (a baby) off their dying planet in the midst of a military coup. They send him to Earth where he lives happily (and more than a little strangely) until Zod and the last surviving Kryptonians find the planet and attempt to terraform it and ‘recreate’ Krypton at the expense of all human life.
The characters in the film are remarkably bland and one-dimensional, none more-so than Superman himself. The ‘Man of Steel’ takes his title a little too literally, and has the personality of a sheet of industrial metal. Always serious, slow and dull, Superman lacks the charisma and personality needed to carry a film. Scenes focused on our protagonist are often boring and poorly paced, and I felt a stronger affinity towards the villain Zod, who was cast well (although the character was still far too one-dimensional).
Dialogue between characters is at best passable, while at worst it sounds as though it was written by a teenager. Lines feel forced and out of place, any attempts at humor are jarring and in-your-face, and only work to compound the issues I have with the characters and narrative.
Many aspects of the worldbuilding don’t make any sense. They establish a futuristic, highly advanced alien race with the tools and technology to colonise worlds all over the galaxy, then next minute they have apparently been so idiotic they have mined their own world dry (supposedly destroying it in the process) due to a lack of natural resources?
Later on in the film, a Krypton ‘Genesis ship’ is found on Earth having been there for at least 20,000 years (along with blatant ‘Adam and Eve’ implications), yet in the present day Kal-el’s parents don’t have the technology or the means to evacuate the planet or go to Earth. There are numerous inconsistencies spread throughout the movie, but you get the idea.
I think my biggest issue was the apparent lack of weakness or vulnerability exhibited by Superman in the film. Yes, I know, he is the ‘Man of Steel’, but come on. Stories and heroes NEED to have weaknesses, otherwise there is never any sense that the ‘good guys’ are in danger of failing. Success being a sure inevitability at all times renders any conflict meaningless. There are two instances in the entire 2+ hour-long movie where Superman shows any weakness at all, and they’re fleeting and far-between. The latter was particularly amusing, as Superman coughs pitifully a couple of times while flying, before completely destroying a gargantuan machine.
It’s a damn shame really. Maybe I’m just too cynical and jaded towards Hollywood but it really does seem as though the executives and producers of big-budget films feel as though they can get away with anything when it comes to story these days when they can rely on impressive CGI and visual effects to carry a film.
While I never expected Man of Steel to be an intellectual or philosophical film with engaging exposition and character development, I at least thought it would have been a reasonable, albeit safe, fun action film with a degree of personality and flair. I was sorely disappointed.