In the ever expanding comic-book universe of superheroes, Superman is easily the most recognisable, respected & widely regarded as the greatest of them all. However, when it comes to bringing his fascinating mythology on the big screen, filmmakers have failed time after time in capturing the legacy of this unique personality in a convincing manner. Also, ever since Batman Begins showed the world how to do a superhero film right, every single comic book film has only gone back to the storyboards for a new beginning & a movie about Superman was only in the queue. The breakthrough happened when screenwriter David S. Goyer came up with an idea of bringing the story of Superman on-screen during the story discussion of The Dark Knight Rises & pitched it to director Christopher Nolan, who right away secured the deal with Warner Bros. to get the movie into production. So, does the entire ordeal of restarting the story of Superman get it right this time? The answer is a simple NO.
Talking about the different approach, here is the plot summary of Man of Steel. The movie opens with a prologue where we get to see a dystopian Krypton falling into complete destruction due to its unstable core while a military rebellion led by General Zod against the ruling council eventually forces Jor-El & his wife to send his newborn son, Kal-El, on a spacecraft headed to Earth. It is after this sequence that writer David S. Goyer employs the same non-linear approach that worked beautifully for the origin story of Batman thinking that the same will work for Superman. We are introduced to the fully grown Kal-El, named Clark Kent by his adoptive parents & as the story progresses, we learn about his past & struggle while growing up through flashbacks. After learning of his extra-terrestrial heritage, Kent journeys to discover his real identity & life’s purpose while keeping himself as anonymous as possible. But when General Zod & his henchmen finally invade Earth looking for him, he is forced to confront his heritage & become the beacon of hope to save entire mankind from annihilation.
I guess the best way to proceed would be to simply go ahead with what worked for the film & what didn’t. Let’s starts with the positives first. First, David S. Goyer’s idea to re-envision the mythology of Superman has more rights than wrongs but that idea only had a superficial presence in the film as it wasn’t executed the way it should’ve been. Second, is Henry Cavill. Fitting the suit perfectly & getting into the mind of this iconic character to quite an extent, Cavill does a fine job & even has a slightly magnetic screen presence but the emotional dimension of his character is poorly written which unfortunately did leave a void in what could’ve been a brilliant rendition of Superman. Third, is its action & visual effects. The action was expected to be larger than life & this film delivers on that front. The carnage, destruction & mayhem displayed in its action sequences is a visual treat for its viewers & is absolutely jaw-dropping to look at. And the final positive, is Hans Zimmer’s heavily electronic but truly magnificent score. Synchronising beautifully with the events of the film & elevating the action scenes to new heights with its loud & grandeur tracks, the soundtrack of Man of Steel is an absolute winner & the only aspect with no complaints.
As far as the negatives are concerned, I’m gonna try to keep it short, if possible. To start with, the entire film had no element of surprise at all & suffers from most clichés of Hollywood superhero films. Zack Snyder (director of 300 & Watchmen) certainly wasn’t the right person for this project & since the film also includes some inputs from Christopher Nolan, the style never resembled to either of them but a combination that simply doesn’t work. The story could’ve been more effectively told in chronological order & although I never had a problem with non-linear narration, the way it is applied in this film makes the flashback sequences work more as interruptions to the main plot. The dialogues are so corny, so pale & so “eff-ing” stupid that it could make your ear bleed. Cinematography adds a shade of grey to the entire film as if Superman is living in Gotham. The slow pacing & the predictable narration made it pretty boring with relief only coming from the action moments in the second half. The characters are poorly developed in the script which didn’t help the performances either. Amy Adams is mediocre as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe is very annoying as Jor-El & Michael Shannon kept hamming as General Zod. Rest are even stupider than the above stated apart from Diane Lane who did good in her role of Martha Kent.
The biggest problem with Man of Steel is that it tries way too hard to resurrect its fallen hero by following the method that worked for Batman in Batman Begins and even travels the same emotional route to get there, which ultimately backfires. In fact, every single thing about this film bears much resemblance to the origin story of Caped Crusader. What Goyer & Nolan didn’t understand is that both Batman & Superman are two extremely contrasting personalities influenced by very dissimilar circumstances in their hugely different worlds. Clark Kent, in this film, is given a traumatic past because Bruce Wayne had one. The non-linear narration telling the past story in flashbacks is also the same. If anyone remembers Superman correctly, the comic was full of bright colours & so were its previous film adaptations. But in Man of Steel, there is a tint of darkness surrounding even the daylight scenes to give it a Gotham like feel, thus another similarity, plus the bright red & blue suit of Superman is replaced by a darker shade as well. Still on an overall scale, in spite of all its flaws, Man of Steel somehow does enough to justify a sequel and although it tries to tell the origin story of Superman with Bruce Wayne as his alter ego instead of Clark Kent, only to fail miserably, it still succeeds in seducing its audience with its eye-popping visual extravaganza and, just like most summer blockbusters, is more style & less substance.