Rating: 2.75 of 5
It’s not often that my reviews are as colored by other opinions and insights as this one is. But that’s what happens when I wait a week to write it, and in this case I think it makes for a better review.
There was a lot to like in Man of Steel. A lot of character drama, some very good performances and a good score. And bonus points for Tahmoh! But there was also a darkness to the film that didn’t really fit with Superman in some ways and some Nolan elements that couldn’t be escaped.
By and large, the performances were very good. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner were great father figures, I thought and each such a good fit. Crowe has the grandeur necessary to the sort of father who believes his son is the savior of their entire race. And Costner has the rough earthiness of a father that is strong enough to be a counterpoint to Jor El. Amy Adams was fine. I liked the strength she brought to the character. But also she was just kind of Amy Adams. She’s a good actress but Kel and I think she didn’t really bring anything unique or newly interesting to the role.
And that’s where the trouble starts. Kel said it best: they Nolanized the romance. I thought Lois and Superman worked great together as a team and fit together well but it was entirely platonic. There was no chemistry there, no attraction or alluring tension between them. It was a typical Nolan, unemotional romance which is always disappointing.
That being said, Henry Cavill was awesome. There’s this earnestness in him that just completely sells the role. That simple goodness in the character wasn’t contrived or cheesy – it was completely believable. That quality, more than anything else, made him the perfect Superman and I loved every minute of it.
I also liked how deliciously sci-fi the film was. Those opening moments on Krypton provided a great anchor and with the spaceships and tech it was like there was a whole world built that Superman made sense in, instead of just this one guy flying around earth. As strange as it sounds, the sci-fi elements grounded the film in that broader and deeper world building for the story to live in. It just felt so right for the story. Plus the Kryton headdresses reminded me of something out of Dune (the miniseries, not the movie). And the alien assistants were totally like the spacing guild navigators. It was all so beautifully sci-fi.
In fact, the whole flashback structure worked for me. It let them embed emotional resonance in the exact right moment. Otherwise we would have had a whole lot of moments from his childhood in the beginning and it would have been harder to get drawn into the story and then we’d have had to remember them when it mattered 45 minutes later. But the flashbacks, I thought, drew connections between the action and the history which I thought gave the action some emotional punch and more depth.
I wasn’t entirely fond of Snyder’s directing, though. He shot a lot of the action in an odd mid-shot. It keeps the audience removed from the action, I think even more so than a wide shot, because you can’t really track the movement as well, especially with a sort of uniformly dark color scheme. It’s just two guys and they’re crashing into each other and buildings are falling down but it’s not like good action where you can actually see the hit or follow the give and take of it. So it loses some of its energy. Also, all those buildings falling lost their impact because it just kept happening again and again and didn’t mean anything. We’ve seen that in Transformers and it doesn’t make the action more intense or the moment more suspenseful or exciting. Especially after like the 10th one. I liked the emotional resonance the action in the first two thirds of the movie had but I didn’t like the technicalities of much of the action.
On that note, Max Landis has a very interesting (and in my opinion insightful) take on Man of Steel (with some language). While I like his take on Superman, and also Batman, I don’t necessarily agree with his perception of Spider-man. But I guess that’s another conversation.
The production value of it, though, was really good. And I liked the score.
In the end, I have to agree with Kel that it felt like it was trying really hard to be epic but didn’t quite deliver epic.
ETA: I wish this is how it actually had ended.