Thursday, January 2, 2014

Short Take: Man of Steel

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The comic-book hero Superman, created in the 1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, gets the cinematic treatment once again in director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The film is insufferably pompous: long on pretension, numbingly violent, and completely lacking in humor. Snyder tries to run as far as he can from the material’s origins as pulp adventure for children. He seems to equate a grim tone with sophistication. The last movie featuring the character, Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns, also had a melancholy air. But it wasn’t afraid to play things for laughs on occasion, and Singer’s knack for poetic flourishes helped to keep one engaged. Snyder’s film is oppressively somber and literal-minded. The story is stale, too. The screenplay, credited to David S. Goyer, from a story by him and Christopher Nolan, is just a reworking of the first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve. The major difference is the absence of Lex Luthor, the earthbound villain played by Gene Hackman. Superman (Henry Cavill), a native of another planet, is sent to Earth as a baby when his world is destroyed. The different planetary conditions grant him superhuman powers, and he learns to cope and do right by them. He’s followed to our world by General Zod (Michael Shannon), a megalomaniac who leads a small group of refugees. Zod attempted to conquer their home planet before its destruction, and he now sets his sights on taking over Earth. It’s of course up to Superman to stop him. Violent spectacle (and CGI overkill) ensue. One's eyes glazeth over. The large cast includes Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, and Richard Schiff. As effective as all have been elsewhere, not one is memorable here. The elaborate production design, which at times heavily recalls H. R. Giger’s work on Alien (1979) is by Alex McDowell.

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