Man of Steel

October 23, 2014

Henry Cavill in MAN OF STEEL.

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Written by: Max Brooks, J. Michael Straczynski

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, Jadin Gould

Rating: PG-13

Running Time:

Reviewed by James R. Janowsky

Shhh! There’s an alien hiding on our planet, and he has big pectoral muscles.

Zack Snyder (300, WATCHMEN, SUCKER PUNCH) may have directed MAN OF STEEL, but the tone of the film is heavily influenced by producer Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Was this the right decision for the reboot of Superman? Should the tone and feel be similar as the Nolan Batman franchise? I say yes.

Whether it is conscious or not, Warner Bros. has adopted the dark and complicated world that is Batman for its most revered DC property, Superman. And since 9/11, Hollywood has started to make family-friendly films with the complexities of the real world, and not be afraid to show murders and worldly destruction on screen! This approach has been critically and financially successful.

Look no further than Warner Bros. most successful franchise, Harry Potter. Most people will tell you that the films progressively got better as the stories got darker. The same could be said for Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Contrast that with Marvel’s witty banter and self-referential humor in their comic book movies, and Warner Bros. maybe smartly creating their own particular brand thanks to Nolan.

However, here is the rub: the MAN OF STEEL script. You can have all the Dark Knight tone and feel that you want, but the script has to be good. The first two-thirds of the film works—at least for me. I liked the idea of Clark Kent as a John Rambo-like character, aimlessly going from town to town, a man without a country, afraid to reveal himself to the world (because he is an alien). It is an interesting take on well-worn origin story.
Then there’s the third act of the film—all action and no drama. MAN OF STEEL is not the first comic book movie to have this problem. This year’s IRON MAN 3 fell apart at the end because it mistook rock’em sock’em as drama. The 2011 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER also lost its narrative steam at the end as it tried to wrap-up its story too quickly. After seeing these films I’m really starting to think Hollywood screenwriters, because they are writing muscle bound characters with superpowers, think action is better than drama.

There are notable highlights in the film. Henry Cavill turns in a good performance as a smoldering, hunky Superman in this darker DC Universe. Amy Adams is a wonderful Lois Lane. And Michael Shannon (who I think should be cast in every movie) is a very good Zod. The production design I liked, even with its overtly sexual Kyrptonian imagery. On the flipside, I did think the film’s religious correlation between Superman and Jesus Christ was a bit much, and should have been toned down.

It will be interesting to see how Warner Bros. handles its DC superhero Universe going forward. I think MAN OF STEEL is an entertaining film, even with its flawed third act. But how will they lay the groundwork with its other DC characters in preparation for a Justice League film. Will they follow a similar blue print as Marvel, release single character films and then unite them, à la THE AVENGERS?

This sounds like a great plan, unfortunately the damage has already been done with WB’s GREEN LANTERN film—what a mess that was! But the MAN OF STEEL should garner a sequel—much deserved, I think—and lead nicely into other DC superhero films.

I personally would like to see Warner Bros. make a Wonder Woman film next, then unite Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together in a film. There’s no need to go full Justice League when you have the big three! The DC Holy Trinity if you will. It would be a smoother transition to a Justice League film rather than four or five individual character driven films first, don’t you think?

This review originally appeared on the website.

Grade: B+