After seeing Man of Steel, the Christopher Nolan-iphied Superman update, it’s become clear: Nolan is limited. He needs real-world characters who can supply real-world solutions, even if those real-world characters are fighting The Joker or swimming in someone else’s dreams. Starting off on an alien planet? It’s just too otherworldly for him to make worldly.
An alien infant crash-landing on Earth needs a touch of whimsy, even if we take the premise seriously. However, Man of Steelis so straight-faced, it makes it hard to care that a man can fly.
Sure, Nolan didn’t write the screenplay; it’s credited to David S. Goyer, with whom Nolan wrote The Dark Knight trilogy. But Nolan and Goyer cooked up the story, and Nolan’s streak of seriousness runs throughout Man of Steel’s yawn-inducing 143 minutes.
Born on Krypton, Kal-El’s parents, Jor-El (a well-cast Russell Crowe—here the seriousness works) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer, who’s awkward) realize their planet is dying. They send Kal in a vessel to Earth because they believe he can thrive here.
Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts a coup on Krypton as the planet implodes and is sentenced to 300 cycles (however long that is) in the Phantom Zone, but not before he learns Jor-El has sent the Codex—a thing that has allKrytonians’ genetic makeup in it—to Earth with his infant son. And that’s all in the first 15 minutes.
The rest of the time we see Clark Kent (Henry Cavill, who successfully toes the line between nice guy and superhero) grow upand become Superman, and then fight Zod, for whom the Phantom Zone is no match. And if you’ve seen Richard Donner’sSuperman and Richard Lester’s Superman II, you know exactly what happens during the rest of Man of Steel, minus Lex Luthor. And man, could Man of Steel use his levity.
Nearly all the fight scenes—which involve lots of people from Krypton using the Earth’s yellow sun to gain super powers—devolve into slamming bodies through walls of glass, brick, or concrete. You’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it 100 times (or more; I lost count).
Shannon’s Zod could have taken a cue from Terrence Stamp’s Zod of the Donner era and maybe hammed it up a little, but Zod here is written so straight—and directed by Zack Snyder with such a heavy hand—that his performance comes off as simply bad. It’s a shame, because Shannon is a great actor. He thrives in subtlety, which most certainly does not exist in Metropolis or on Krypton.
As for Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Nolan and Goyer try to make her more than a damsel in distress, throwing her directly into the plot to save Earth, but she’s still a human among superhumans. At least Adams, who’s O.K., is better than Margot Kidder.
Now that Snyder has directed, with ham fists, five mediocre-to-bad movies in a row (Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Watchmen, 300), maybe we’ll get a break from his bombast. But if Man of Steel makes money—and I predict it will make a ton—he’ll be back. And he and Nolan and Goyer can give us a very serious sequel about a man who can fly.
Man of Steel/PG-13, 143 minutes/Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX