This summer is going two for two with superhero movies with misleading trailers. First we had Iron Man 3’s trailer, pretending that movie was serious and dark when it was flippant and absurd. Now we have Man of Steel, whose trailer suggests a deep, emotional origin story, but which delivers one of the most heavy-handed, clunky films in recent memory.
The film opens with a scene that already introduces more plot holes in ten minutes than the movie could ever hope to acceptably resolve. The planet Krypton is dying, as a result of the native Kryptonians’ over-use of resources (read into this whatever current ecological parallels you will—this will be this movie’s first and last attempt at any sort of political relevancy). Jor-El (Russel Crow) sends his infant son to earth in a spaceship as his planet crumbles around him. Why the rest of the Kyptonians didn’t also leave in spaceships is anyone’s guess. I guess they all decided to accept their fates?
Baddie General Zod, furious at the way the government of Krypton has stood by and allowed the exploitation of his planet, attempts a coup, but it’s too late—the planet is already doomed. In their infinite wisdom, the leaders of Krypton (knowing Krypton is about to crumble, I might add) sentence Zod to life imprisonment–in a prison that will immediately lose its effectiveness upon the destruction of Krypton, which is about 5 minutes later. With this kind of forward thinking, it’s easy to see how they managed to obliterate the planet. Meanwhile, the infant Kal-El arrives on Earth.
For about ten minutes, the movie dabbles with the sort of soul-searching, identity-seeking origin story that might have made an engaging, psychologically complex Superman film. But it quickly becomes clear the screenwriters lack the chops to pull it off. David S. Goyer obviously lacks confidence in the ability of his dialogue to carry the film, because no conversation is allowed to last longer than a minute before it is interrupted by some sort of CGI-extravaganza—either a bus falling off a bridge, an oil rig explosion, or the tornado from Hell. Because Superman seems to draw trouble like a magnet, and we never really get to see him when he’s not preventing some sort of calamity, we never get the chance to know him as a person—and it is this, more than anything else, that cripples the entire film. What dialogue there is as trite as trite can be, as Superman faces off with the most generic movie bullies ever conceived.
Blowing things up is the only thing Man of Steel does well. As a special-effects reel, or perhaps a silver screen adaptation of the game Sim City—that, is, the part where you gleefully destroy the city—the movie is quite good. As a story, it’s quite simply not.
The last hour of the movie quickly devolves into sequence after sequence of wanton destruction that would make Michael Bay blush and makes a Die Hard flick look as restrained as Masterpiece Theater. And the sad part is that it all could have been avoided. General Zod’s goal is to revive the Kryptonians by colonizing earth—making it uninhabitable for humanity in the process. Seems odd they want to change the atmosphere of Earth to be more like Krypton, when Earth’s atmosphere gives them all superpowers, but there you go. If only Superman had just told him to use Mars instead, all the senseless death could have been avoided. But talking is not how things are resolved in this movie; they’re resolved with punching, and the collapse of skyscrapers. (Maybe I missed a crucial plot point about why it had to be Earth that the Kryptonians were bent on colonizing?)
On the plus side, Man of Steel boasts some of the best visual effects ever, outdoing even such recent hits as the Avengers. It’s a contender for the visual effects Oscar; it won’t be winning any others. It’s score is suitably rousing, though the themes are so bombastic and so frequently recycled that it starts to wear out its welcome rather fast. When compared with the minus side, the plus side seems rather pitiful.
At one point in the film, Jor-El asks “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?” I might ask the movie the same question. Explosion-filled superhero summer blockbusters are dime a dozen these days. I was hoping this movie would, like the Dark Knight, aspire to something greater. If it’s a choice between the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware comedy of the Marvel films or the plodding seriousness of this one, I’ll take another Iron Man 3 any day of the week.