FEATURE FRIDAY: Man of Steel - A Wasted Opportunity

Today's Feature Friday is a guest post from The Wide Eye writer Alex Blott who recently went to see Man of Steel and had some thoughts to share for us here at Assorted Buffery. Major spoilers throughout.

If you're looking for a fan's review of Man of Steel then turn away now. As far as prior knowledge goes I'm a Marvel man through and through, so I brought very little fan knowledge to the film. I didn't even know that 'Pa' Clark is to Superman what Uncle Ben is to Spiderman. Regardless, I was excited when I saw the first Man of Steel trailer. It looked great, with traces of Tree of Life in the camera work, and I thought that perhaps where Batman had gone the way of shadows Superman would paint an optimistic and uplifting picture for its audience. These two opposites could then be pitted interestingly with one another in the inevitable Justice League. Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, that is not the case.

I'll start with what I liked: I saw this film at the IMAX and it looks GOOD. The set and costume design is great and there are some genuinely beautiful shots. Unfortunately, as I'll cover later, the film's 3D gets in the way of that. I know it largely goes without saying at the moment, but avoid this film in 3D. I won't say avoid this film altogether because this is the POSITIVE section. My second bit of praise for this film is that the scene where Clark Kent first dons his costume and learns to fly is pretty spectacular. The whole thing is handled very well and captures the euphoria any one of us would feel upon realising we can break the sound barrier. Unfortunately by the end of the film we've seen Superman fly into/out of so many things that the sense of spectacle is largely lost. There are elements of a good film in Man of Steel, but they are few and far between and what's wrapped around these moments is deeply disappointing.

Here endeth my limited positivity.

Lets begin with Pa Kent. Costner plays a man afraid of what the world will do if Clark was revealed as the alien he really is. There's an interesting story there but its not really explored. Instead the idiot Pa decides to tell his son off for saving a bus full of children. There's no, 'you should be more discreet Clark.' or 'We need to be careful now.' Instead he just tells a child that he should have let these kids die. Yeah sure it made for an interesting line in the trailer, but there's no depth to what he's doing in the actual film, he's just an annoying obstacle. And his death scene, which is so clearly designed to tug at heart strings but falls so laughably short, only succeeded in frustrating myself and the others who saw it. Not to mention turning Clark into a brooding 'Man of Feels' for a large section of the film. Perhaps if he'd only taken some time to pause at one of the many IHOPs he exploded through in one of the films fight scenes, and grabbed something from their fantastic menu then he might have cheered up a bit sooner. There are a lot of IHOPs in this film, and Nokias are apparently incredibly popular in Metropolis city; the product placement is frankly out of control to the point of being distracting. I understand that films need to get their money from somewhere and sponsorship is a great way to do that, but the way that several big brands are all regularly splashed across the screen is pretty ridiculous. I'm frankly surprised Superman didn't buy his suit off the rack in Sears.

I mentioned earlier that the film is visually impressive, and it is, someone put in a lot of hard work and produced some beautifully detailed work. I'm a big fan of the new suit and when Jor-El explains the history of the Kryptonian race there are some interesting visuals. Superman's dream of what will happen to Earth if Zod is successful is compelling as well and our introduction to Krypton at the beginning of the film was a treat for the eyes. Unfortunately a lot of these treats were spoiled for me by the 3D, which made the otherwise beautifully rendered backdrops too blurry to appreciate as the camera swung around and over them. Worse were the static shots where the background was completely out of focus (I assume this was a side effect of the 3D and not just a poor choice by Snyder.) Most of the visuals which I love are restricted to the first half of the film however, after which the film reverts to CGI landscape type for Superman to be thrown/throw others through. And he gets thrown through a LOT of things, it's been said a lot so I won't dwell on it, but you'd think Superman would think to fight people a little further away from a city so filled to the brim with people it's named Metropolis. Disregarding the damage done by the Superbattles, the fight scenes themselves left me feeling somewhat bored. The early fight scenes had some variety to them but in the end there was little in terms of interesting combat. With the exception of his brief, but exciting, bout with Zod's second in command, superman's big fights normally consist of him making holes in several buildings at once. This is perhaps a problem presented by Superman as a character, he's pretty much unkillable, so it's hard to have him go toe to toe with anyone and make it interesting. As I understand it some of the best Superman comics pit him against a hugely intelligent opponent who can negate or take advantage of his powers through cunning, and I saw none of that in this film.

Finally, the greatest source of frustration for me was how shallow the whole thing felt. There is plenty of laughable, on the nose dialogue to choose from in this movie. The most notable of which for me was an American general summing up what had already been said by the actions of those around him: "This man is not our enemy." You think, Chief? It all felt clunky to me, and worse than that, serious emotional moments fall completely flat because they haven't been built on enough, if at all. There's a whole separate story thread in the final third of the film which puts the staff of the Daily Planet (themselves an impressive collection of talented actors) in mortal peril. And I didn't care because I hadn't spent enough time with them to even think of them as their characters rather than Morpheus and that guy from House of Cards. Laurence Fishburne is stood there, desperately tugging at some rubble to save his co-workers life and I can't even remember her name or what she does. I don't know if there's a whole other storyline sitting on the cutting room floor or if they just had to give these actors a certain amount of face time to get them on board, but there just wasn't enough there to make it compelling. On top of that, the Superman/Lois Lane romance was so completely undeveloped that the final kiss was honestly a little ridiculous, especially peppered as it was with cheesy one liners. There hasn't been so much as a flirtation between these two throughout the film and then suddenly, sloppy make-outs. Pair this with several false endings and I was getting pretty fed up by the end of the film. What could have been at least a huge finale was blunted and dragged out. The same can be said for Clark's childhood, which is chopped up and fed to us piecemeal in tandem with the moments which it is meant to resonate with. Superman needs to step up and help the people of earth? Here's a clip of his father explaining why he can't. Lois asking Clark to reveal himself to the world? Here's a clip showing his father dying to save him from doing so. It's as though the film makers don't trust the audience to get there on their own, and as a result they neuter the film.

I wouldn't say I had high hopes for Superman, but I was interested to see what they were going to do with it. This film was really Superman's chance to convert me into a fan and I think that's my biggest disappointment with it. I was so excited by what the early trailers promised only to be disappointed by the complete work. Hopefully those involved will understand this and take action before the second film comes out. Having seen it I think that there is something there, that much is obvious just when you consider the popularity of Superman as a character. But I think that the franchise really has to be put into the hands of a fanatic, someone who knows about what it means to be Superman, and knows how to challenge him on a level deeper than strength. I do wonder if perhaps a successful Superman film doesn't need to go smaller before it goes big. And I'm not sure that's what we'll get if the current film makers stay on for the next one. 

- Alex

You can follow Alex's blog The Wide Eye here or on Twitter @ANBguity

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