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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.
Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel."
Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel."


There’s nary a mention of kryptonite, the Fortress of Solitude is only an existential locale, and Clark Kent never earns so much as a single Daily Planet byline in “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan’s strenuously revisionist Superman origin story, which might more accurately have been titled “Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Spacemen,” given the amount of screen time devoted to exiled Kryptonians body-slamming each other into all manner of natural and manmade structures. Clearly designed to do for DC Comics’ other most venerable property what Nolan and Goyer’s “Batman Begins” did for the Caped Crusader, this heavily hyped, brilliantly marketed tentpole attraction seems destined to soar with worldwide audiences this summer, even if the humorless tone and relentlessly noisy (visually and sonically) aesthetics leave much to be desired — chiefly, a “Steel” sequel directed with less of an iron fist.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Visually and rhythmically, however, Snyder has gone his own way, summoning up memories of Dune in the sculpted architectural look of Krypton, echoing Jesus by underlining the sacrifice Clark Kent is called upon to make for the good of mankind, and simply by hardly letting five minutes go by without inventing some new excuse for a staggering action scene -- any one of which undoubtedly cost more than the combined budgets of all of this year’s Sundance competition lineup.


"I can't print this," Louis' trenchant editor (Laurence Fishburne) says after receiving her first draft of her unpublished Superman scoop. "You could have hallucinated half of it." When "Man of Steel" comes to a close, viewers can relate. And once they come back down to Earth, perhaps warmer memories of the Supermen no longer considered viable will come rushing back. In "Man of Steel," Superman never suffers from exposure to fragments of Kryptonite. His single weakness -- and the movie's, after promising earlier bits drop off to make room for the extravagant conclusion -- is depth.

There are remarkable visual coups every few minutes, courtesy of wizardly production designer Alex McDowell and a computer effects team stretched to the creative maximum. Downsides? It would cost the movie nothing to lighten up a little with its My Two Dads routine, or to inject some wit into its save-the-world-from-extremism routine. Then again, with Costner and Crowe in an adept growl-off as said dads, and Snyder and Nolan fathering the production, it was never going to be long on flippancy or showtunes. A Superman movie lacking Lex Luthor was always in danger of underperforming in the irony department, too. And this is fine. But it's not just that: all levity is more or less banished, and even romance, as if putting on a hairshirt for what fans didn't like about Superman Returns (2006). Amy Adams bears the brunt as Lois Lane, here a serious investigative journo. "I'm a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter!", she feels the need to remind her editor (Laurence Fishburne) while trying to get the scoop on this broodingly restrained alien do-gooder. Man of Steel is similarly keen to flaunt its credentials – it has heft, it looks amazing, and it's businesslike to a fault.

It has to be said that the failure to cook up much in the way of meaningful interaction for [Clark Kent and Lois Lane] throughout the film's midsection means that Man of Steel begins to labour even as the visual spectacle intensifies: no amount of whip-pans and crash-zooms, spaceship flameouts or collapsing edifices can compensate for an inert focal relationship. The whole film ends up feeling weighed down: though Man of Steel bounds from one epic setpiece to another, you're left with the nagging feeling that you just can't work out what the central twosome see in each other.


Snyder's film, written by David Goyer and starring an impeccably cast ensemble, is remarkable mythmaking, a canny spin on the oft-told details that have defined the character over time. While there is plenty about it that can be described as new, the bones of it are instantly familiar. Make no mistake; this is Superman. For my own personal sensibilities, this is the most interesting, emotionally-satisfying, richly imagined version of the story. Ever.

I could spend page after page talking about what I love about this film. First and foremost, I am blown away by the sheer scale of it. Marvel's biggest film so far, The Avengers, looks like a charming episode of the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk by comparison, and while size doesn't always make something better, if you want to sell the idea that these are godlike beings battling, then the only way to truly sell that idea is to show what they would do to our planet in the process. No one has ever staged superhero action like this. No one.

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

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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.