Fresh from his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan produces a serious Superman reboot, Man Of Steel.

This origin story takes us far back to the birth of Superman – Kal-El as he’s known on his home planet. The film’s first twenty minutes take us into the firey-orange world of Krypton on the brink of destruction. Kal-El’s parents (Russell Crowe, Antje Traue) send their newborn into the outer reaches of space with hopes of saving their Krypton people. Meanwhile, rebel General Zod (Michael Shannon) is banished from the planet. With this the film’s main conflict is established.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

From here Man Of Steel descends into a series of quick-fire flash backs to Clark’s childhood, interspersed with his adult wanderings. Convenient plot points litter the script and before the main story is set up, we are treated to a repeated explanation of events we have already seen. This screenplay from David S. Goyer is disappointing (particularly so, given the strength of his Batman Begins reboot), skimming over the most fertile element of this origin story – the young Clark’s struggle to control and understand his powers – in favour of a predictable good versus evil tale.

General Zod’s arrival on Earth is met with noisy, high energy battle sequences that leave Superman (Henry Cavill) with little to do but stand steely-faced and fight. A smattering of cool effects – emphasising the forceful speed of the Kryptonites pitted against their human counterparts – give way to relentless fisticuffs between Superman and Zod whose constant towerblock smashing becomes tiring to watch. We’ve seen tumbling cityscapes countless times before and Man Of Steel’s overlong treatment of these action sequences is bland and dull.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Despite this, director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) pulls off some interesting and well handled scenes – the young Clark’s early experience of x-ray vision is portrayed in grotesque fashion that hammers home his painful predicament. A swaying swing recently vacated, a billowing cape and a clothes line blowing on the breeze are just some of the artistic, detail shots Snyder uses to build atmosphere, accompanied by a transcendental score from Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately these artistic shots are little more in number than those showcased in the film’s beautiful teaser trailer, outweighed in the actual movie by commonplace action that destroys any hope of a refreshing new mood.

In-keeping with the trend for darker, solemn interpretations of comic book heroes, Man Of Steel’s re-imagined Superman takes a serious approach, but its success is hit and miss. As Snyder magnifies Superman’s powers – exaggerating his extreme strength and incredible abilities – playing it straight only makes the action seem more unlikely. As the film draws to a close, Goyer sneaks in a couple of cheesy gags much too late in the day.

“Commonplace action destroys any hope of a refreshing new mood”

Neither is this serious styling complimented by a focus on character. Contrary to expectations of origin stories, Man Of Steel is filled with one dimensional characters who are given little room for emotional development and remain in desperate need of complexity. As General Zod, Michael Shannon is given but a succinct motive and little to work with, while Russell Crowe, as Kal-El’s father, takes on a typical role that provides an uninspiring opener. Goyer’s script also takes the love story between Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) for granted and we gain little insight into the dynamics of the attraction. Instead, the unexpected stars of the cast are the scene stealing Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, as Clark’s hardworking and devoted foster parents, while Clark’s most emotionally intense scenes occur during his younger years, played with warmth and vulnerability by Dylan Sprayberry.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Man Of Steel is a loud and action driven Superman reboot that differs remarkably in atmosphere from the film’s early trailers. An interesting story of Clark’s young development is squeezed in between an unimaginative high-action opener and an overlong final showdown. Energetic action masks unfulfilled potential in this origin story that tries to do too much.


VERDICT:   ✭ ✭   2/5


Images: © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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This review was first published June 2013