Review: Man of Steel: Grittier, Louder, Flashier – But Ultimately Hollow

Where do I start?  I’m not a huge comic book reader, but I love the idea and ideals of Superman in many incarnations – my image of the character an amalgam of the classic Chris Reeve movies, the occasional comic book, and things like TV’s Smallville. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I went to see the big screen premiere of Man of Steel, the reboot/continuation of the series I’d been waiting for since the much-maligned Superman Returns.

A quick note on that.

I may be in the minority, but I actually loved Superman Returns! It took a pounding from critics for serving up Bryan Singer’s love-letter/rehash of the classic Superman I and II movies… but is Man of Steel really any better?

This is where the spoilers start… but then again, not really.

In the opening sequences of MoS we have General Zod as the villain, much like in Richard Donner’s Superman II. However, when Michael Shannon came onscreen and uttered his first lines in a strong American accent, I was instantly disappointed. Call it the purist in me, but it is very difficult to go past Terrence Stamp’s iconic, commanding presence as Zod in the 1980 film, and Shannon does not even come close. His Zod veers closer to intense anger and madness than Stamp’s regal curiousity and disdain at the ant-like beings he finds in humanity.

Russell Crowe’s Jor-El is, surprisingly, a good fit as the birth father of Superman. He plays it close to Brando’s Jor-El – an intense scientist who knows his planet is doomed, and sends his only son flying away from the imminent destruction of their home planet.

Except… wait.

That’s not what happens here.

In Snyder’s MoS, the impetus for sending Kal-El/baby Superman away is Zod’s military coup. Why make that unnecessary change?? It removes so much of the impact of Jor-El and his wife sacrificing themselves, staying on a planet that’s about to explode, just so they can see their son escape the devastation.

After a fairly lengthy Kryptonian opening scene, we flash forward to what can only be assumed is Christopher Nolan’s (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) influence – the bearded journeyman superhero, ala Christian Bale in Batman Begins. Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent is floating around the world, doing good wherever he can, with his only disguise a bushy beard.

Kevin Costner (as Pa Kent, through a series of flashbacks) has him convinced that the human race will fear him if they learn his secrets, and so he embarks on an Eat Pray Love of hobo-esque proportions to find himself, as he meanders aimlessly around the world helping people where he can… until he stumbles on news of a new discovery being hushed up by the government – an alien craft. Could it be the key to finding out who is truly is?

Using his superpower of forging CVs, he inserts himself into the news crew who have grudgingly been allowed on-site to document proceedings, led by none other than Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

Did you think Kate Bosworth’s Lane was forgettable? Amy Adams does’t do any better here – some weak attempts at being spunky in Margot Kidder’s vein are just not believable.

Oh, and I guess “just because”… Perry White is now Laurence Fishburne, with an earring.

Things start to move along once the ancient Kryptonian vessel is found, and through a number of rather “deus ex machina” circumstances, Clark is almost pushed and shoved into his Superman costume, now at the behest of virtual Russell Crowe. Apparently when he was a child on Krypton, his father already knew he would be a superhero, and even custom-tailored a sweet outfit for him that he would fit like a glove 33 years later… which brings me to another little niggle about this movie. It seems as if the whole process of Clark discovering that he needs to help the citizens of Earth incognito, and thus using his own wits to fashion an alter ego, is completely neutered in Snyder’s MoS. Cavill’s Superman is merely playing out a role foretold and envisioned by his father, which is starkly at odds with the “breaking free of predetermined societal roles” that he tries to sell throughout the movie.

Anyway, as you can guess, Zod escapes from the Phantom Zone with his army in tow, and starts laying siege to Earth.

The rest of the movie is a blur of CGI shots, exploding buildings, and whiz-bang special effects.

As a quick aside, I must say that I really liked German actress Antje Traue’s portrayal of badass Kryptonian lieutenant Faora. She brings a great ice-cold intensity to her portrayal that honoured and enhanced the Ursa character in Superman II.

Climatic battle, bla bla bla, Superman and Lois have a zero-chemistry and script-forced kiss, bla bla bla. Everyone loves Superman once they realise the alien badass is on Earth’s side.

I realize I haven’t actually talked much about Henry Cavill’s Superman – well, that’s because there’s not much to say, personally. He certainly looks the part, is probably the most hulked out Superman we’ve seen onscreen to date, but his performance lacks the charisma of Reeve, and even lacks the earnest homage of Routh to earlier movies. The only thing I remember about his Superman is yelling epic “YARGGHHHH”s as he does battle. The rest of the time as Superman, he is calm, self assured, and yet, utterly boring to my mind.

How will the public judge Man of Steel? Will they see through the smokescreen of CGI and special effects to realize that it is just a bigger, louder rehash of Superman II? Or has enough time passed that the new generation of audiences will not pan a cinematic homage/reboot (it’s politer than saying “copy” or “rip-off”) as they did Superman Returns, largely because this new generation never knew that Chris Reeve’s Superman ever existed?

Ed Lim is the chief blogger and founder of – Gear talk for the similarly GAS-afflicted. GAS. No, it’s not something you get if you’ve eaten too many beans for dinner. Gear Acquisition Syndrome – if you’re like me, and can’t help buying cool guitars much like a magpie collects shiny bits of metal, then you’ve got it. Come hang out, and live vicariously through our reviews and soundclips. If you get sucked into the GAS monster even further, it’s not my fault…

Sis Stringg Samari