‘Man of Steel’ paints Superman in a dark light
A review of “Man of Steel,” this summer’s big blockbuster, which offers plenty of action and impressive mayhem but not a lot of fun.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Man of Steel,’ with Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni. Directed by Zack Snyder, from a screenplay by David S. Goyer. 143 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction and for some language. Several theaters.
Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” the latest reboot of the Superman franchise, is thoughtfully crafted and occasionally breathtaking; what it isn’t, unfortunately, is much fun. You can sense the hand of Christopher Nolan here (he’s a producer of the film, and also has a story credit): This is no zippy superhero adventure, complete with zows and pows and quips, but a dark meditation on good and evil, shot in shades of gray as clouds loom and brows furrow, and beginning with the painful birth of the infant Kal-El. (Delivering the Baby of Steel was, apparently, no picnic.) But while Nolan’s “Dark Knight” movies, particularly the first two, clicked because of perfect casting and sly character work, “Man of Steel” feels a little leaden: The cast can’t find its way out from under the weight of the material.
Henry Cavill, blue of eye and square of jaw, plays Kal-El/Clark Kent, a young man who grows up learning that he has special powers and must one day save the world. He’s fine, if a little bland, and his chemistry with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is sweet, but we don’t see much of it; this is an origin story less interested in the Daily Planet than in the world of Krypton, whose denizens (led by a snarling and weirdly banged Michael Shannon as the ruthless General Zod) eventually invade Earth.
Mayhem ensues and takes over the last hour of the movie, with the kind of impressively realized mass destruction that’s come to dominate summer-moviedom. The flying sequences are terrific, and the chaos in the movie’s late scenes is amazingly well done; a falling building, in particular, seems headed straight for us. (For the record, I saw the film in 2D and never once wished for another dimension — particularly as, I imagine, the 3D version would be even darker.)
But in this season of popcorn escapism, I kept wishing for a little less ponderousness and a little more light — or, at least, a little more of Superman dealing with the real world, rather than the world he came from. The Krypton scenes are hard to follow for those not well-versed in comic lore — and the sight of a somber-looking Russell Crowe (as Superman’s birth father, Jor-El) is vaguely alarming; you keep thinking he’s about to sing. (Also distracting: Kevin Costner, as Superman’s laconic adoptive father, standing by a cornfield of dreams, as if he’s waiting for James Earl Jones to emerge.)
Resistance to “Man of Steel” is futile: The sequel’s already been announced, and the final scenes give a hint that we might see a little more of the Daily Planet next time. In the meantime, Snyder’s clearly got a vision, though a very gray one.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org