Saw Man of Steel yesterday.
Didn’t love it. Sorta liked it.
If I let myself, though, I think I could hate it.
There are some movies that are deeply flawed but I come out of them loving them anyway because what I remember about them is the good stuff. The Dark Knight Rises was like that. It fails in some major ways, but it is audacious in what it attempts and gets so much right and is just so thrilling that I loved it (though not with the same passion as I love its immediate predecessor) .
Man of Steel flips that dynamic on its head. It gets quite a few things right, but what lingers in memory are its failures.
The casting is excellent (though Amy Adams, who I generally adore, isn’t as good a Lois Lane as I’d imagined she would be). Henry Cavil is a fantastic Superman. The villains are pretty great (especially Antje Traue as Faora-Ul, who seriously upstages central baddy Zod).
The action is all very good to excellent, if at times too frenetic and unclear. The story is smart and restructures the story we all know all too well by now in interesting ways. Largely, the creator’s approach to making a Superman for our time is admirable and successful.
There is no heart here. There’s a virtual geometry of a heart, pumping away in predictable throbs, but there’s no blood in that geometry, no heat. No humanity. The only truly human moment in the film is when Jenny Olsen (Jimmy’s much hotter contemporary iteration) panics while trapped in a terrible situation…and Jenny is barely even a character in this movie. And it’s the actress who brings the humanity, not the script or the direction. Suddenly, in that moment, I cared for one of the characters on a visceral, rather than an intellectual, level.
The film has absolutely no sense of humor. None. Zilch. I don’t want comedy, I don’t want camp, and I hated those elements in the old Christopher Reeve movies. But I do want wit, I do want humor, I do want irony, I do want to fucking smile every once in a while.
And please. Please please please. Please spare us the Space Jesus crap. Sure, it’s easy to find all sorts of subtext in a Superman story if you want to (he’s basically more Space Moses than Jesus anyway, and was created by a couple of Jewish kids to boot), but when you start making the subtext hamfisted text it’s just embarrassing. Bryan Singer was guilty of this in Superman Returns too. Don’t bash us over the fucking head with the allegory: having Superman spread his arms as if he’s on a cross isn’t clever, it’s just stupid and obvious, especially when paired with a line of dialogue like “You can save them all…”
Also, spare us the jingoistic military recruitment video before the film that uses heroic imagery of Superman to inspire more kids to enlist to die pointlessly in far off lands. How frigging manipulative and cynical can you get?
There have been a lot of complaints that the movie makers went too dark and gritty with the film, and for the most part I disagree. There could certainly be a bit more color on their palette visually, but it’s fine, and I don’t think the story or characters are too thematically dark. I like the uncertainty and humanity they bring to Superman, and I prefer a noble person struggling to do the right thing to a two-dimensional symbol of heroism who is unfailingly perfect. I don’t mind Superman killing occasionally if he sees the need, though the need has to be overwhelming and clear and earned by the storytellers (there’s at least one big failure on this point in the film).
Overall, I’d give Man of Steel a very shaky B-. I’m glad they’ve done well with it, because I mostly like the elements in the mix and am glad they’re getting to continue with those elements. I just hope that next time they address some of their failures and make a movie I’ll actually want to watch a second time.