First off, this isn’t really a full movie review – I don’t do them. This is just an immediate reaction to having seen Zack Snyder’s ‘Man Of Steel’. Second, it may be full of spoilers so if you haven’t seen it, maybe give this a miss until you have.
Zack Snyder’s film is very different to previous screen incarnations of Superman, either on the big screen or on TV. It takes itself very seriously and sets out from the off to be BIG and EPIC and AWESOME with orgasms of CGI – from a civil war on Krypton (complete with George Lucas-style space beasts) to extended sequences of large scale destruction in Metropolis.
One things sticks in my mind more than anything else. The EPIC face-off between Kal-El and Zod should be thrilling – finally the effects exist that can do justice to a true bust-up between two superhuman adversaries. It was the moment I was most looking forward to seeing. But instead of being thrilling, it just became tedious. A little like the fight between Neo and Agent Smith at the end of ‘Matrix Revolutions‘, the fact that the characters are so evenly matched in powers diminishes any sense of involvement or interest. To highlight how and why the scene fails, we should compare it with the other big screen meeting between these characters – in Richard Donner/Lester’s ‘Superman II’.
In ‘Superman II, Christopher Reeve’s Superman is also pitted against a vengeful General Zod in the midst of Metropolis (for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the fact that Ursa and Non are in the on fight too). Both Kryptonians are equipped with equal powers and would appear to be evenly matched. Except that Superman has a huge weakness compared to Zod – compassion for the people of the city. During the fight Superman is constantly distracted by the need to save citizens in peril. Indeed, Zod actually uses this against him. This unbalances the fight and creates tension and continued interest. Superman leads Zod away from the city, originally out over the river and eventually by retreating to the Fortress of Solitude.
Compare that with Cavill’s Superman; the fight is many times more destructive – buildings crash down and collapse all over the place – with a death toll that must number tens of thousands. Some of this destruction is wrought by Superman himself, directly through his own actions. He doesn’t seem to care about levelling buildings and certainly doesn’t remove himself from the fray in order to save a mother and her baby from any falling debris. He is careless and irresponsible, more intent on winning the fight that guarding the citizens of Metropolis.
The resolutions of these fights are also starkly contrasting. Reeve’s Superman, after luring Zod away from the city to protect the people, uses his brain rather than his brawn to defeat Zod. He understands Zod’s character – arrogant and selfish – and uses it against him. The scene is well-written and deftly plays on the motivations of the characters involved. In ‘Man of Steel’, after a brutal and protracted punch-up, Cavill’s Superman gets angry and executes Zod. That’s it. Reeve’s Superman would not approve.
On the whole, I did enjoy the film. It has a great many flaws – it could have easily been streamlined by junking most of the opening Krypton sequence, the unnecessary guff about artificial birthing and Kal-El’s ‘natural’ birth, the convoluted macguffin of the ‘Codex’ and Zod’s intention to terraform Earth. All of this, and more, get in the way of a decent reworking of the Superman story. I’d pay again to see a Director’s Cut/Special Edition where the tedious CGI is pared down and the characters’ developments are given more room to breathe. Perhaps the sequel will give us more of that.