With Watchmen Zack Snyder proved that, while he couldn’t please all the comic-book fans all the time, he could bring a big-budget blockbuster based on a comic-book to the big-screen with style and confidence. That was enough to convince Warner Bros. to hand over the crown-jewel to the director as he looks to bring 75 year-old Superman leaping and bounding into the 21st century.
On the distant world of Krypton a lone figure stands before the council of elders offering insight on the grave peril that their world is in. This man, Jor of the house of El, preeminent scientist of this great civilisation, has learned that the planet is doomed and that immediate action must be taken to make sure of the survival of their race. Meanwhile Krypton’s military leader, General Zod, is in open rebellion and seizes the council chamber before judgement can be passed. Fleeing for his safety Jor-El heads back home to send his newborn son away from Krypton to the safety of Earth. And so begins the saga of the last son of Krypton…
On the acting front Henry Cavill plays a convincing man of steel. His physique is perfect for the role and he has a certain reluctant charm that goes well with the role. His Clark Kent on the other-hand is never explored, with all the teachings of his two fathers serving to define him and not allowing him to find himself. His relationship with Lois is underwritten and the pair never seem to have any real chemistry. That is not Amy Adams’ fault as her Lois Lane is easily the best version of the character to date. No longer is she a girl who risks too much and requires a hero but rather she is a foil for Superman and an accomplice. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are great too as the two wise old heads, and Crowe even gets to flex his muscles in some great action set-pieces. Diane Lane brings a new dynamic to Martha Kent and has a lovely scene with young Clark, played with some aplomb by Cooper Timerline. Kal-El’s other mom Ayelet Zurer is far too stilted and offers no emotional depth when required to give some. Similarly Laurence Fishburne never gets out of third gear as Perry White giving a phoned-in performance when the role and the film deserved more. And then there’s Michael Shannon…oh Michael Shannon…he was born to play a superhero villain and with Zod he’s got an absolute winner. His performance gives Zod the energy and unpredictability of deteriorating atomic bomb, there’s a madness in there and that madness drives the plot and the movie. He’s brilliant too in the fist-fights, more than giving his own against Cavill and Crowe when required to do so.
The Superman origin story is easily the best known of all comic-book stories, as it tells the story of a refugee from another world who finds a home in the US and becomes the living embodiment of the American dream.Familiarity can be a curse, which director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer are quick to disperse with by giving us a new and visually sumptuous look at first Krypton and then the story of Clark Kent from infant to man. The former is a feast of futuristic technology, mixed with incredible costume-design, and marvellously exotic and outlandish beasts. The latter uses flashback to offer glimpses of past decisions and actions that have led Clark/Kal-El to this point and work reasonably well in setting tone and setting up the virtues that define Superman as a hero. As with the opening sequence on Krypton the use of CGI in the rest of the film is nothing short of spectacular. Every dollar that was spent can be seen on the screen, and, while it does drop in places, the visuals serve to create the otherworldly feel that this film needs to have. Where the film lacks focus is in its depiction of Clark Kent the man. The Clark Kent of the comics and the one we’ve seen in the Richard Donner and Bryan Singer films is one deeply concerned with how his actions might affect ordinary people. Here he shows a more blatant disregard for human safety and even life as he punches his way through buildings and towns with reckless abandon. Yes that looks amazing (the first few times) but it flies in the face of why Superman is Superman. This coupled with a pacing issue mid-way through lessen the impact that this film has, although there is still merit in what you see. The dialogue too is very on the nose and often serves to put text where subtext would be sufficient. The sound design and score are impeccable, particularly Hans Zimmer’s score which is up there with his Dark Knight work. If this film doesn’t win many technical Oscars then there will be something wrong with the Academy.
All in all Snyder and co have made the best looking, best sounding, most action-packed superhero film ever, they just forgot to include the essence of what makes the (super)man.