And so, while it's easily head, shoulders and torso above every other big screen version of the iconic superhero we've been treated to, the film trades spectacle for charm at every turn. That's not strictly a bad thing, it's just indicative of the type of movie Man of Steel is: a summer tent pole action behemoth.
Free of Bryan Singer's deliberately meditative Christ allegory and Richard Donner's schmaltzy, ham-fisted indulgence and overall ineptitude, this tale of Kal-El, last son of Krypton, is designed to entertain a mass audience first and foremost. Despite a nearly two-and-a-half-hour run-time, there is never a dull moment in Synder's broody, but not overly dour vision.
Taking an approach that mixes the tactics of The Amazing Spiderman and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel is a reboot that goes to great pains to give us a story we haven't seen before while repurposing the most popular elements of the franchise.
In this case, the General Zod storyline started in the original Superman, which was brought to fruition in Superman II, is reconfigured as Clark Kent's coming-of-age challenge. Also: big budget, city-destroying alien invader flicks tend to make ridiculous amounts of money.
To beef-up the presence of Russell Crowe as Super-daddy Jor-El, and immediately let audiences know they're in for a boatload of epic sci-fi action, the opening destruction of Krypton sequence is far more fleshed-out and action-packed than in previous versions. Not only is Jor-El a brilliant scientist, he's skilled in hand-to-hand combat and dragon riding. You heard me: dragon riding. Jor-El rides a Kryptonian dragon within the first ten minutes of this movie — seriously.
From here, David S. Goyer's script avoids the pitfalls of a redundant origin story by flashing forward to Clark Kent as a young man working on a fishing boat. As the extremely well-muscled young Clark tries to find his way in the world, helping people and covering his tracks to avoid unwanted attention, a series of flashbacks show us key moments from the scared alien orphan's life growing up with Ma (Diane Lane) and Pa (Kevin Costner) Kent, and how his salt-of-the-earth, Middle-American upbringing instilled in him an ironclad sense of morality. These scenes give the picture its heart, proving that Costner has a bit of gas left in the tank after all and that Henry Cavill actually can act, despite evidence to the contrary provided in Immortals.
With a focus on military and foreign threats typical of modern American action movies, the story takes unexpected shape, rewriting elements of the accepted Superman lore to make some of the more fantastic conceits a little more reasonable.
However, it's in this search for a sense of gritty realism where Synder makes the most frustrating move of his career: almost every scene of Man of Steel is shot with a handheld camera, even the highly choreographed action scenes. A Superman movie begs for iconic shot composition at least as much as Synder's prior comics-based projects Watchmen and 300.
Instead, the fight scenes are blurry and choppy, while the overuse of shaky cam distracts from the emotional impact of simple conversations. This infuriating aesthetic choice seriously hampers the overall enjoyment of what is otherwise a wildly entertaining and occasionally inspiring, if a little self-important (humour has no place in this dojo), summer event movie.
As far as whether or not it's worth coughing up the extra dough to see a Superman fly really fast in 3D, it's not. Man of Steel has to have the most listless, tacked-on post-conversion stereoscopic imaging ever seen in this modern age of superfluous cinema frills.
As enjoyable as Man of Steel is, at times, Marvel staffers need not quake in their booties. It might be successful enough to kick-start a unified DC film universe (although only the most superficial connective tissue is in place), but it's nowhere near witty enough to give The Avengers, or even Iron Man, a run for its money. (Warner)