For all his fists-on-hips bravado, Superman has gained a reputation for being a bit difficult to work with. Times have changed since the 1978 original, in which director Richard Donner's main challenge was making audiences believe that a man can fly. Modern audiences need dilemmas and personal issues and this is Superman's problem - he was never designed to be a flawed hero. A balance is struck in this film between scribe David S. Goyer giving Supes a gritty Batman Begins style journey, while flash bang director Zack Snyder makes sure that – unlike the Kryptonian's previous outing, Superman Returns - the film isn't short on action. The problem, however, is that for all the emotional heft and chaotic special effects, there is not an ounce of charm to be found anywhere. Man Of Steel indeed.
Our movie begins just like Superman's first big screen origin story – on Krypton, where Russell Crowe jettisons his new-born son to Earth before his planet implodes. Not before an altercation with military leader Zod though, who had his own plans to save the Kryptonian race and swears vengeance against the little gurgling hero now floating in space. We then cut to a grown up Clark Kent, travelling the world in search of answers about himself while having flashbacks to life growing up in Kansas, son to the two nicest parents in the world but bullied at school for being an outsider.
Eventually, Clark finds an old abandoned ship from his home planet, uncovers answers about himself, meets Lois Lane and finally decides to become the Superman we know and love. All just as Zod and his small army show up to tear Earth apart in search of him.
Cue costume change.
And that's one of the biggest problems in the film. The original movies sensibly split this series of events into two films, allowing Christopher Reeve room to breathe as Superman. We got to enjoy seeing the superhero saving the day in small ways while developing a semi-flirtatious relationship with Lois Lane in the process. The big bad of Zod – with the same strength and abilities as our hero – was saved for Superman II.
Here, Henry Cavill has barely put on his boots before he's faced with a threat that renders all of his superpowers practically useless. Sure we get to see Clark save a few lives before he gets to this point, but there's no red-cape-waving pay-off moment in the meantime. Far from this just being a slight disservice to fans, you get the impression that Clark doesn't yet know how to be Superman and save the day. And yet he is suddenly called upon to save the entire planet from the global threat of a small, super-strong alien army. You'd forgive him for just keeping his head down low and saying "Kal-El? Nope – never heard of him."
In fact, the huge implications of this epic plot becomes almost laughable as the story unfolds, mostly thanks to the script maintaining a terminally serious and worthy tone. Goyer rightfully forgoes the Clark Kent clumsiness-and-glasses disguise in his script – a plot point that you really just can't get away with in this day and age – but you do end up missing the comic flourishes that Clark's double-identity allowed. In this new brooding version, there is not a hint of humour about any of the characters. As a result, you'll believe that a man can frown. A lot.
"This would have never happened to Batman."
Of course, there's no room for brooding once Michael Shannon's evil villain Zod hits town with several thunderous smashes. From then on, it's all unforgiving, continuous action, and that unfortunately brings its own problems. With two flying aliens thumping each other every which way, the enduring fight scenes (which make up almost an entire third of the film) zip across the screen faster than a speeding bullet from each and every angle making it hard to keep up. Meanwhile every single skyscraper in sight is demolished with big 9/11 overtones, presumably killing thousands of people in the process, to no one's lament. The climactic battle sequences are a relentless stream of CGI that last for 30 minutes, destroying every car, truck and building in the near vicinity while never letting up. You could easily imagine Superman finally winning the fight and saying "Yay, I saved Metropolis!" before seeing the rubble for miles around him. "Ah."
It's not all doom and gloom though and there are still a few nice moments to take away from the film. Clark Kent's grey-washed journey to become the Man Of Steel is handled very well, and there are some tender moments with his two dads, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe. Otherwise, the film is completely devoid of characterisation and concentrates instead on beating you into submission with relentless CGI, some of which borders on Green Lantern levels of absurdity and nonsense. Case in point: one set-piece sees Superman have a fight with a giant machine that inexplicably produces huge snapping tentacles that make zero sense other than to have our hero fight a special effect for 20 minutes.
And then it finishes with a slightly hopeful note for the future and a wonderful last line. That said, you are still left with the feeling that Superman has already survived the greatest threat that he will ever face – a small troupe of Kryptonian soldiers intent on destroying the world and who are all as strong and powerful as he is. What will Man of Steel II bring? Lex Luthor? Pfft – bring it, Baldie. 2/5
Are you excited to see Man Of Steel? Does Henry Cavill make for a suitable Superman? Let us know in the comments below!