It has finally arrived, the progeny of Chris Nolan, the godlike father of all superhero movies and Zack Snyder, the mother of them all. The progeny is significantly stronger than most of its brothers from the land of Hollywood, possessing the gritty métier of its father and the resilient power of its mother. It heroically saves its hometown from the evil clutches of the villainous clichés, and falls prey to the Kryptonite of filmmaking – fake post converted 3D.
Audiences have outgrown the candyfloss casual tomfoolery of 80’s and 90’s blockbuster cinema, and are weary of the overload of the modern dark gritty origin story and the humanization of the superhero. The only solution to this problem was by pairing Nolan and Snyder, and it works on some insane level, because Nolan is the maestro who excels at constructing superheroes by stripping away their morality and immortality, and Snyder is the master of deconstructing the superhero genre. The new Superman story needed to lose its red underwear and its accompanying monkeyshines, without becoming an all too serious and depressing guilt ridden drama. Nolan brings the real world legitimacy to an otherworldly character and Snyder uses that legitimacy to make the character accessible to his fans. It’s a very tricky tightrope, and Man of Steel becomes the best possible Superman movie you’ll get in this day and age.
There are three things that make Man of Steel more interesting than you expect it to be. First, it gives you the reason why Superman came to Earth and why he chose to stay on the planet and save humans. The latter existential issue was never brought up in any previous Superman film and Snyder (and Nolan) do a great job of lending the character an air of innate heroism over his surface level integrity. Secondly, the film offers a villain who has a genuinely tragic, logical and most surprisingly, a relatablemotive to hunt Superman, rather than a ludicrous plan to ‘take over the universe’. The protagonist and the antagonist have the exact same goal – to protect their own race, so the big bombastic fight scenes between them don’t just exist for mindless escapist entertainment - you’re given the choice to actually wonder if the villain is actually a villain. Third, the film lays its characters’ motivation cards on the table right from the opening scene – this keeps Snyder from convoluting the story with a false sense of mystery - we’re given large helpings of the story the moment the film opens, and it’s a pleasure to see it all unfold from one glorious action set piece to the next. The only forseeable downside of this tactic is that the sequel might not have any more Superman content to offer, considering we’re handed nearly everything there is to know about the character. Another interesting theme that the film lightly alludes to is how the people of the world would react, when they come to know that a God is amongst them. Perhaps we’ll see more of this in the next film.
Calling the action scenes ‘set pieces’ would be doing injustice to the film, for the scenes, set against the backdrop of Hans Zimmer's terrific score are some of the biggest, most expansive, most destructive, most eye popping CGI mayhem ever splashed on screens. This is an expensive movie and Snyder makes sure you leave the theater feeling happy about investing your money in his work. The frustrations arrive in the form of 3D, which absolutely hacks the cinematography and the special effects with a scythe and murders the fun out of the film. Post converted fake 3D was the worst thing that could have happened to this film and it is utterly greedy and shameless of the studios to present the film in overpriced IMAX 3D, a format it was NOT filmed in. When Superman breaks the sound barrier and literally punches an extraterrestrial machine in the nuts, you want to see it in its bright colorful 2D glory, not in dim, pixelated 3D. When the Superman and Zod hand to hand brawl kicks into action, you should be able to sit back and watch the city being torn to bits, rather than witness underwhelming imagery through cheap quality rented glasses. The 3D blurs out the fine details meticulously crafted with tremendously long hours of SFX detailing work, by paying to watch this film in 3D, you’d be kicking the already underpaid CGI animators in the stomach.
Barring Amy Adams who suffers from her clumsily written Lois Lane character, the cast is top notch. Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel is circumspect and handsome in equal portions, you could say he isn’t a patch on Christopher Reeve but he is given the much more challenging task of being simultaneously heroic, troubled, otherworldly and human, a far cry from what Reeve did back then. Michael Shannon is fun as Zod, the villain who is deemed a maniac only because the hero says he is. Russell Crowe has an excellent extended cameo, he was once referred to as the new Marlon Brando and it is only fitting that he plays Jor El in this film.
A major criticism would be the way the film rushes from one dramatic plot point to the next, without really focusing to create any lasting impact. Settling down and fleshing out the relationships between the characters would have added to the already long two and a half hour runtime, but it would definitely have made it a classic, rather than a mere enjoyable blockbuster. Zack Snyder is a gifted filmmaker, you could criticize him for a few things, but he’s one of the rare individuals who absolutely LOVES comics and commands the technical artistry to convey that on a big screen. Whether or not Nolan was responsible for grounding the Superman and having him referred to as Kal El remains a mystery, but the Nolan-Snyder team should make more movies. These are the guys who have cleverly looked at the notion of the ‘S’ logo being short of ‘Superman’ and replaced it with the logo being a Krypton symbol for ‘hope’. It is a symbol that we humans on Earth should embrace and hope for Superman to swoop by and save us all from the tyranny of 3D.
(First published in MiD Day)