Superman doesn’t have a strong track record when it comes to live-action films. DC’s storytelling strength normally lies better in animation than it does in live-action. I’ll even admit that I don’t know that much about Superman outside animated features and television shows. I’ve read some of the comics, but I prefer his cartoons. And after seeing what the 90’s gave us, I didn’t have that much hope for Man of Steel.
I was wrong. Kind of.
Man of Steel is a lot better than all of the previous Superman movies. Really, it is. However, I wouldn’t go into this movie expecting much more than that. I don’t know what it is about Superman, but he just doesn’t translate well to the big screen. Visually, the movie is very aesthetically appealing. In terms of everything else, it kind of lacks. And it just beats the audience over the head with its characterizations. Avatar was more subtle than this film.
Man of Steel suffers from problems all over the place. Character development is stilted, the message is over the top, and it has no sense of pacing. On top of that, the movie is just so much longer than it needs to be. Avengers proved that it’s possible to have a meaningful action sequence an hour long. Man of Steel is proof that a lot of movies should avoid that. I actually hated the last hour when it started because I just knew it would go on forever before Superman’s big showdown with Zod. It also doesn’t help that we cannot connect to most of the characters on an emotional level. I actually liked Zod more than Superman, because he seemed to at least be a bit more dimensional that a piece of dry board.
Probably the biggest problem is that Clark doesn’t grow as a person. Man of Steel uses flashbacks to move along the narrative and show the significance of Clark’s struggles as a child to fit in and compare that to what’s happening in his life now. The problem is that all of Clark’s internal conflict is dealt with in flashbacks, and by the time the movie begins he’s already overcome his character flaws. He has nothing to learn.
The movie also just kept adding useless scene after useless scene for the purpose of length. The entire first half hour takes place on Krypton and barely features Clark at all. It does its job of setting up the plot, but it could have done that in a shorter time frame.
Not helping any of this is that I felt as though I was being preached at for the entire movie. If you thought Alfred’s random speeches were annoying in The Dark Knight, you will not be able to stand Man of Steel. Every other line of dialogue is emotional wisdom said by people who exist to exposit information and reassure both the audience and Clark that he’s destined to be a hero the world will love. Because actual believable dialogue is few and far between, it made it really hard to connect with the characters. The only time I got emotionally invested in any of these people was during the final battle, in which Lois’s boss, Perry White, stops running to safety in order to help one of his employees trapped under some rubble. Even though he can run to save himself, she asks him to not leave her alone, and they stare at each other crying while the destruction comes toward them and death seems imminent.
Those whole five minutes between a minor character and a really minor character was quite possibly the most convincing and realistic part of the movie, because they seemed like real, relatable people.
The women don’t seem that bad either, or rather, no worse than the other characters. And there are at least four of them of note, which is more than what we usually get from superhero movies. So I can definitely give the movie credit for that. Unfortunately, outside a few words here or there, none of them interact with each other.
Everything else, though, is just so over the top. And the message was just as bad. In one fight scene between Superman and Faora-Ul, an evil Kryptonian, Faora is beating the crap out of Superman and says that he’s going to lose because he has morals. That not having morals makes her superior to him. Like wow, I wonder if Superman’s love for humanity is going to give him the strength to pull through. Then, combine that with all the other “You’re destined for greatness, Clark” speeches. Like, thanks, metaphorical sledgehammer. You were so subtle I almost didn’t notice you.
Do I recommend skipping this movie? No. I hope it does well, because otherwise we won’t have a Justice League movie at some point. But Man of Steel could certainly be better. If you want to see, there’s no harm, but it’s not something I’d sit through multiple showings of.