Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel
Cinema & New Media Arts | On Jun 14, 2013
In the gritty, desaturated world of modern action blockbusters, it seems there’s no place for bright primary colors of wonder and awe. The screenplay gestures toward an aspirational vision of its iconic hero that never materializes. “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive for,” Jor-El tells his son. “Make a better world than ours.”
On Earth, though, the prevailing opinion seems to be that if people find out about the strange visitor from another planet it will cause fear and chaos. Adams is terrific as a smart, resourceful Lois, but she’s intrigued by Kal-El without being awed by him. (Even the score by Hans Zimmer is generic bombast, without even a glimmer of the triumphant heroism of John Williams’ iconic, unforgettable theme.)
The screenplay emphasizes Clark’s sense of alienation, of otherness. This was always present in the mythos (think of frustrated young Clark in the 1978 film kicking the football into orbit), but was counterbalanced by a sense of belonging, of identification with mankind, mediated through salt-of-the-earth Kents, whose heartland values their adopted son absorbed into his DNA.
That’s atrophied here. I like Diane Lane as Martha Kent talking down young Clark from a panic attack at school stemming from his inability to cope with the terrifying information overload of his super-senses. But Costner’s Jonathan telling young Clark that protecting his secret is so important that, rather than risk exposing himself by saving classmates from drowning, perhaps he should have let them drown — I’m sorry, that’s not the kind of down-home moral idealism that turns the last son of Krypton into the world’s biggest Boy Scout.
Worse, this turns out to be Jonathan’s ultimate message for his son, culminating in a jaw-droppingly dumb moment of sacrifice: Protect your secret at all costs, potentially even someone else’s life. Is a new movie obliged to maintain the character’s iconic moral goodness? Yes. Especially when you’ve still got Jor-El making speeches about it.
You know, this is pretty much the film I was anticipating, given its provenance. Goyer writes lumpen, “Here I shall declaim the movie’s theme” dialogue, Snyder makes great-looking trailers and films that lack emotional heft, and Nolan is all heft all the time. Say this much: Man Of Steel fits squarely into the chilly, tonally monochromatic world of the Nolan’s Batman films. (I know you liked them, but there wasn’t a moment during those films when I didn’t want to stand up and shout, “Lighten UP, Francis!”)
Between the three of them, they made a noisy, cluttered science-fiction movie with dim, intermittent flashes of heart. (You’re right about Costner —his final seconds in the film could have easily made for a laugh-out-loud moment, but he’s got the chops to nail it.) And speaking of flashes—if they ever do make a Justice League film, that is gonna be one dour JLA satellite. Yeesh. Lotta glum faces staring around the table from their insignia chairs. Gonna make Injustice: Gods Among Us look like LEGO Batman. Is how dour.
As I mentioned, the scale of the final-act destruction, and the imagery of people trapped under concrete and rebar, and indeed the film’s weird fetishisizing of urban property damage, felt too cheap, too lazy, and— as you mention, and as my ferociously brilliant colleague Linda Holmes has recently written about—too unignorably about mass casualties to spark anything but sick dread. He’s only the latest filmmaker to confuse razing a city with raising the stakes.