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Review and Roundup: 'Man of Steel' Debate is Raging

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 11, 2013 at 12:52PM

Bryan Singer is smiling. The lag time on getting the Superman reboot up and running, after Warner Bros. decided that Singer took the wrong course with his 2006 Richard Donner-inflected "Superman Returns," has not been kind to "Man of Steel." A return to form for the DC side of the comics universe this is not. "Man of Steel" errs so far on the side of "Whiz!""Bang!" ""Pow!" that it makes me long for Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay, who would have done a far better job with the action pyrotechnics. Scene after scene devolves to soul-crushingly dull man on man combat.
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Michael Shannon as General Zod in 'Man of Steel'
Michael Shannon as General Zod in 'Man of Steel'

Bryan Singer is smiling. The lag time on getting the Superman reboot up and running, after Warner Bros. decided that Singer took the wrong course with his 2006 Richard Donner-inflected "Superman Returns," has not been kind to "Man of Steel."

Since then we've seen the continued rise of the Marvel universe, with each successive movie delivering a coherent and satisfying superhero who makes sense; the Marvel Comics sensibility comes through in each picture: we know the rules, we believe. But now that we've seen Hulk smash and Captain America fight and Thor pound and Spider-Man swoosh and soar and bounce off skyscrapers, why would we want to see Superman do the same thing?

The debate has raged on about what Warner Bros. should do with the 75-year-old DC Comics superhero. The fanboys objected to the relatively smart and sophisticated Superman played by Brandon Routh, and so this iteration, written by David S. Goyer and supervised by Batman auteur Christopher Nolan, returns us to an action-packed comic book movie that is, unfortunately, all over the place and compares unfavorably to "Superman Returns," which actually earned upbeat reviews and delivered decent box office in its day-- $391 million worldwide. The problem was that it cost more than $232 million (probably closer to $300 million). Warners felt it could have performed better with more action and a powerful villain--and no Superman kid. So Singer was taken off the franchise.

'Man of Steel'
'Man of Steel'

Warners motion picture chief Jeff Robinov struggled with what to do and finally went to the one guy that he could trust. Nolan, who was winding down from his Batman obsession, worked with Goyer on a new direction for "Man of Steel." He was very involved throughout the writing, planning and editing, while leaving visually gifted director Zack Snyder ("300," "The Watchmen") in charge during the actual filming. They went back to the earliest comics to rediscover the sci-fi origins of the visitor from another planet. "I realized that if the world became aware that Kal existed, it would be the first contact story, and in many ways, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history," explained Goyer during our "Man of Steel" set visit. 

Going into my screening Monday night, the buzz on "Man of Steel" was strong. Warners and Legendary Pictures have fashioned a new model Superman for the fanboy demo, bringing us a stalwart American superhero (Brit actor Henry Cavill as Kal-El), two robust father figures (Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent), Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and a powerful villain in General Zod (Michael Shannon). These actors are all remarkable considering the reams of expositional, flat and lame dialogue they have to utter, along the lines of "initiate," "the fate of your planet rests in your hands," and "leave the building now!" 

But a return to form for the DC side of the comics universe this is not. This movie errs so far on the side of "Whiz!" "Bang!" "Pow!" that it makes me long for Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay, who would have done a far better job with the action pyrotechnics. Scene after scene devolves to soul-crushingly dull man on man combat.

Inevitably the women come up far short, as Diane Lane and Amy Adams try to somehow bring life to the sketchily written middle-aged farmwife Martha Kent and ace Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter Lois Lane, whose work for the Daily Planet and romance with Superman bring the movie to a thudding halt.

And so the debate continues. Early reviews are below:

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Man Of Steel, Zack Snyder, Warner Bros.


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.