The involvement of Chris Nolan (as screenwriter and producer) ought to guarantee a successful re-imagining of a superhero franchise. After his sterling work on Batman, his wonderful manipulation of narrative in films like Memento and proving his big-budget blockbuster credentials in Inception, who better than to steer director Zak Snyder and his all star cast through another attempt at rebooting Superman.
Since Christopher Reeve’s early incarnation as the Man of Steel, the franchise has suffered by the law of diminishing returns. The sequels grew worse, and a recent attempt to resurrect Clark Kent’s alter-ego was so unmemorable that nobody can even remember who played him.
Small screen success was easier to find, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher enjoying considerable chemistry in the nineties, and the popular Smallville exploring Superman’s early years on TV. It’s here, in fact, where the inspiration for much of Man of Steel’s most successful scenes seems to have been gleaned.
While the film focuses on the relationship between the young Clark and his father on earth (a fabulously weathered Kevin Costner), it really works: a superb combination of youthful angst and worldly wisdom debating the pros and cons of revealing Clark’s true identity. One scene particularly, as a huge tornado rages around them, is beautifully written and played. Sadly, this material is in short supply.
The problems with this film are huge. And there are lots of them.
Although Henry Cavill has the chiselled face and physique required for the role, he doesn’t seem to have the personality. Whether this is lack of acting ability on Cavill’s behalf is uncertain – it seems the part is badly underwritten. Here, Superman is little more than a cipher, a symbol or a plot device. He certainly lacks of the depth of Christian Bale’s Batman or Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Perhaps this is because the end product was intended to be a little lighter fare than those previous movies, but the humour required for this is conspicuous by its absence.
The storyline initially appears adventurous, with interesting twists adding to the back-story of Krypton’s destruction and how Clark comes to be so powerful on Earth, but the plot rapidly runs out of steam and becomes reliant on preposterous exposition and absurd alien invasions. Russell Crowe is Clark’s father on Krypton and dies early – only to constantly reappear throughout, engaging in detailed conversation with his son despite his demise 33 years earlier. It’s a contrivance which makes absolutely no sense – but it’s not the only one.
Following an unsuccessful coup on Krypton, the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his minions are frozen in stasis and set adrift in space. Conveniently, however, the destruction of their home planet results in their release. There’s no explicable reason for this – other than a desire to have them turn up later in the film as the main villains. There are other such examples – insults to an audience’s intelligence.
Perhaps, though, the expectation was that the audience would demand little cerebral stimulation? It certainly seems that way as the film barrels towards its conclusion via a series of ‘epic’ battles which are so spirit crushingly repetitive that I committed the cardinal sin of falling asleep in the cinema. These sequences are extremely and execrably dull, employing so much CGI that you may as well be watching your little brother playing a video game. At least then you could join in.