Overall Impression – Spectacle without anything spectacular.
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
Who’s your main character? – Superman
What’s he trying to accomplish? – Physical: Protect the Earth from General Zod. Emotional: Sort of make a connection with Lois Lane, but it’s very tepid. Spiritual: Learn his place in the world.
Who’s trying to stop him? – General Zod.
What happens if he fails? – Earth is destroyed.
THE FOUR ARCHETYPES
Orphan – Superman is blasted away from his dying home world of Krypton and spends his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood running from being discovered for who he really is.
Wanderer – Superman is discovered by Lois Lane and he finally comes to understand exactly who he is and what his destiny might be; to be a bridge between worlds. Zod arrives and wants Superman brought to him. Superman allows this to happen to save Earth.
Warrior – Superman escapes from Zod and now fights Zod and his soldiers, trying to stop them from destroying Earth by turning it into Krypton 2 .
Martyr – Superman is willing to battle a machine that might kill him in order to save Earth.
AND, IN THE END…
In his review of the 2006 Superman Returns, Roger Ebert point out rather eloquently the main problem with Superman as a hero; his power is that, basically, he lifts heavy things. That wasn’t intriguing in 2006, and it doesn’t get any more interesting in 2013.
It’d be hard to find a superhero movie being released today with a better pedigree: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer collaborated on the Batman trilogy, the defining superhero movies of the past decade, and Zack Snyder made superheroes of humans in 300, and then tried to make humans out of superheroes in The Watchmen. This time around, in Snyder’s attempt to give Superman a steely dose of gravitas, he also should have give us Gravol (Canada’s leading anti-motion sickness medicine.). This movie was loud, the loudest movie I ever remember seeing. And with audiences now used to split-second editing techniques (think most Michael Bay movies) Superman is shown moving verrrry quickly, so quickly that whoever was filming him had trouble panning, zooming, and focusing fast enough to catch Superman in flight. You know the type of shot I mean? Something’s moving fast so you create the illusion that your fake camera person (seeing how it’s all computer generated) can barely capture the object in his or her viewfinder. It’s become a standard shot ever since Battlestar Gallactica previewed. That shot needs to be retired.
But enough grousing about the decibels and visuals when there is so much story to grouse about. At the end of any of the Batman movies we had a profound sense of who our characters were. Not so here. I honestly felt that I knew less about Lois and Clark after the film was over than I did going into it. I even missed…MISSED!…the interplay between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder from 1978’s Superman. I can only think how wonderfully interesting and complex the characters were in Batman Begins. Our Lois and Clark are emotional lightweights. It even made me long for the emotional complexity and nuance of Superman Returns.
Plot holes and plot conveniences abound, and thematically the story never finds its footing. Zod represents the ruthless love for one’s own people. Superman represents the beneficent love for one’s own people, even if they’re your adopted people. How is Superman in danger of becoming just like Zod if Superman were to lose his moral centre? I’m not sure he ever could. And for the record, don’t we want Superman to love us so much that he’d ruthlessly defend us to the point of self-sacrifice? That’s what Superman does for a living, all obvious Messianic parallels intact.
Ultimately, Man of Steel is making respectable money $125M its opening weekend, but that’s the hype machine talking. I’m not sure people are in love with this movie, but I am fairly certain a sequel is already in the works. Let’s just hope that it’s a sequel that adds to the characters and their stories the way The Dark Knight did. It certainly doesn’t need to be any louder than Man of Steel. Seriously.
— Jeffrey Alan Schechter