Man of Steel (2013) – Zack Snyder (Dir.), Henry “The Howitzer Show” Cavill, Amy “More Pantsuit Than a Hilary Clinton Cosplay Convention” Adams, Michael “I’M NOT YELLING, THIS IS THE WAY I TALK” Shannon, Russell “Fuck That Guy” Crowe, Diane “Silver Fox” Lane, Kevin “The Silverier Foxier, Well More of a Possum” Kostner and Laurence Fishburne.
Here we are. Finally Chicago has figured out it’s insufferable mood swings and delivered us some weather worthy of the word ‘Summer’. And, as every Chicagoan is like to do, I have begun complaining about the heat and the sweat-where-sweat-shouldn’t-be almost immediately. So, instead of delving into my fickle meteorological tastes, let’s complain about something else. As the perturbed (and probably pretty drunk) carnie says, “Oh look, another fucking tentpole”. Yes! Tis the season for a metaphorical filmic circus. What kind of tentpole is Man of Steel? Is it the big ring? The freak hut? Where they store the elephant dung? Keep reading, because the answer might surprise you!
Or the answer might not! It probably won’t. Let’s get that out of the way. This movie was quite safely on the “Movies I will See and Hate Myself” list for good reason. For every excellent sign of its quality, there was an equal and opposite red flag. This thing is the Newton’s Third Law of films. Every point counting in its favor has an exact opposite measure pulling it inexorably into the harsh no man’s land of bland BS. It becomes the worst possible thing a summer blockbuster can be: boring.
Alright, the basics. Our director treats us to an absurdly overlong prologue in which we learn far more about Kryptonian politics than anyone has ever wanted. Jor-El (Russell “The Muscle” Crowe) and his wife Lara give birth to the only naturally born Kryptonian in hundreds of years (well, the wife gives birth, he just creepily watches. Because, you know, Russell Crowe). Oh, and the world is falling apart due to energy harvesting. Oh, and it’s also apparently Pandora after the humans win in Avatar 2 and strip it of all its resources. Oh, and there’s a council with more funny hats than a Tarsem hat-a-thon. Then, Michael Shannon enters, without any insane yelling or creepy laughs, as the curiously monikered ‘Zod’. He, in the essence of some kind of space Hitler, wants to eradicate the weaker Kryptonian bloodlines by way of a thing called a Codex…a knock off of the Crystal Skull that can be read by a computer with…um… And there’s a fight… And he’s arrested or…uh…well…
Bored yet? That’s only the first twenty fucking minutes. In all seriousness, there seems to have been a great effort to realize Krypton to the fullest degree, from the organic Dune-esque costume design to a Game of Thrones-ian definition of the Krypton Houses. I have no doubt that one day a Krypton Wiki will find its way into existence and we’ll be able to examine every inch and frame of the homeworld in the way that only single people who are more connected to their ISP than to any other hum-on beings can do so. Here’s the problem: everything gets fucking destroyed. All of that detail is adorable and all…but we are fine with it in the background and not chewing up precious screen time. The kicker is that the entire prologue is retold by Russell Crowe in a later scene. It was reminiscent of the infamous “Underwears” story from Tommy Wiseau’s shitter-piece The Room. But I’ll return to that gripe later.
The rest of this 2.5 hour behemoth follows the more-ripped-than-my-curtains-after-pissing-off-my-cat Henry Cavill as the titular Man of Really Difficult to Kill Stuff. He wanders through this feature a removed observer, keeping his cool better than a bored jedi. By way of increasingly redundant flashbacks, we get to see the man find his way through these powers that, at first, scare the ever loving shit out of him. Finally, he finds an old ship haunted by the electronic ghost of Russell Crowe (who found the wrong end of a sword when Michael Shannon fulfilled the dream of everyone who saw Les Miserables). From there, he gets his shiny mesh suit and begins just kinda flying around and not giving a fuck about anything. I appreciated that. Seriously, if I could fly, that’s all I would do. Ever. It would never get boring. Ever. But then, Zod comes looking for the Gentleman of a Hardened Exterior and then the movie begins the grandest exercise in tedium since I downed too much pinot noir and decided to organize a ten-year collection of random change.
Firstly, let’s be clear, I had a number of overwhelming prejudices when waltzing into this particular multiplex. Zack Snyder is at the helm, a man who, like Achilles as a child, was dipped into a steaming vat of liquid testosterone to the point that his brain is more testicular than neurological. He is a walking, breathing example of why you can’t leave AndroGel around your children. He gave us the delightful, yet hollow Dawn of the Dead, the my-homophobia-radar-is-going-haywire-yet-my-eyes-are-bleeding 300, the horrific letdown of a comic ‘masterpiece’ Watchmen and, the pies de resistance, the spine-tinglingly, mind-numbingly, jaw-droppingly horrendous excuse for a waste of megabytes that was Sucker Punch. However, here Mr. Snyder has an unseen hand guiding his work. Mr. Christopher “Buzzkill” Nolan watches over this movie like some kind of dark knight, making sure that dick-for-brains Snyder doesn’t hurt his loose plans for the Justice League and topple his attempt to show Joss Whedon that there can be two versions of The Avengers, except in his, nobody will have any fun whatsoever. We have a darker Superman. One with ‘feelings’. This movie is dotted with some incredibly tender moments, all carried by that muscly machine of stoicism Henry “Dreamboat” Cavill. His relationships to his earth ‘parents’ and his budding love with the heavily pantsuited and thankfully likable Amy Adams are legitimately compelling. They lay a groundwork from which some true character development can occur. Much like X2 and The Dark Knight considered the ramifications of these superheroes in the real world, a dose of needed humanity is offered to this alien immigrant.
But then…Zod arrives.
It was as though, during this process, Nolan was the Miyagi to Snyder’s Ralph Maccio. The wizened filmmaker is constantly correcting form and style, helping the arrogant young student through the pitfalls of blockbuster storytelling…until he looks away for one fucking second and turns back to see Snyder punching himself in the face. The pair get so much of the movie right and yet Snyder ruins it with his constant “More is Awesome” mentality. From the get go, we are offered too much. From the extended prologue to the gratuitous shots of Cavill’s finger-lickingly good ab muscles to the why-is-this-here demonstrations of the hefty CGI budget. Nothing compares, however, to the drawn-out and exhausting fight scenes that make up the last hour of the film. The second Cavill punches Shannon in his inexplicable goatee (it wasn’t there at the beginning of the film, where the fuck did it come from?) I knew I was in trouble. And here we arrive at the problem with Superman. Our heroes in this, I think we’re at the Bronze Age of comic books, are a darker sort. They are vulnerable. They have weaknesses. You know who doesn’t have any weaknesses? The Man of Invincibility. While Bryan Singer tried (and failed miserably) to craft a Superman with some level of killability, Snyder, in his style, decides to amp up the competition. We won’t have Lex Luther and his intelligence; we’ll just have another Superman. Thusly, the end result is a game of human ping pong, just with buildings in the way. People punch and punch and punch and yet do no damage. And it goes on forever.
I think I finally realized what bugs me so deeply about Snyder’s excess-ad-extremum style. Watching his fight scenes is like watching porn. At the beginning, everyone is having fun. But then, it keeps going. You get the same shots of the same body parts. You finish, but it keeps going. You sit there, on your couch/desk chair/bed/bouncy castle with your tissues filled. You’re done. You got what you wanted…but it keeps going. Suddenly that initial excitement transforms into shameful fatigue and moral introspection. How many times do I need to see someone fly through a building before they finally decide to end the movie? How many trains can be thrown at one person? We all know what’s going to happen. There are no twists or turns. The novelty wears off and we, the audience, are left waiting for Snyder to stop punching himself in the face and finish off that asshole from Cobra Kai.
Even his actors, save for Cavill, seem ready for the film to be over. While Shannon, who is so delightfully bat-shit in every movie in which he appears (everyone needs to see Premium Rush or “JGL Rides a Bike” RIGHT NOW), looks bored. It’s as though he’s been directed to death. Every inevitable insane impulse he had during rehearsal was evidently left on the cutting room floor and all we have as a signifier of his mental instability is that ridiculously stupid goatee. Also, there needs to be a shout-out to Mr. Laurence Fishburne who I don’t think finished reading the script before signing up. He starts as his no-BS, strong CEO character he honed in Mission: Impossible 3 and ends as some poor human guinea pig caught in a sadistic Roland Emmerich wet dream. Every scene with him, the guy from House of Cards and the crying lady caught amongst the rubble as Metropolis is transformed into urban mulch made me want to personally apologize on behalf of their agents.
Perhaps, one day, they will figure out a way to make Superman vulnerable. Perhaps one day we will see a sequel. Perhaps the “Man of It’s Like Iron, But Less Rusty” is destined for relegation to the back of the Justice League along with Wonder Woman (you know, because she’s a woman and absolutely NO GIRLS watch comic book movies). I give Snyder and Nolan credit for honestly trying, but all good will they build in the first half is utterly obliterated in the second. That is, in essence, what made this movie so painful. It gave the promise of potential and then shot itself in the foot. It seemed, if momentarily, like this could have been Snyder’s redemption and reprieve from the dark side of misogynistic inanity. But then things go boom and the AndroGel claims its victim once more. *Le sigh*. There might be talent hiding deep down in that shell of a creepster and its waiting to break out and bloom. This is a marked and great improvement over his recent forays. Let’s hope Snyder continues down the road of Nolan and stops the self-inflicted facial malefaction.
Also, I’m suffering from a severe lack of Michael Shann-sanity. I need my fix. I think I’m going to watch Premium Rush again. AND NOBODY CAN STOP ME.