Zack Snyder is an artist. To call him a great director is something of a stretch (though you would be safe to call him good), but if there is one thing to take away from his new film, Man of Steel, it is that Zack Snyder can engage an audience with spectacle.
As comic book movies have exploded in recent years, subgenres have evolved within the field: there is the gritty, dark reboot (namely Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), and there is the type that is not afraid to embrace the glamour and blockbuster status, giving audiences exactly what they expect from comic book hero movies (Marvel’s recent run of success). Another, less celebrated genre has emerged that focuses on the aesthetic experience of the graphic novel – think 300, Sin City, and Watchmen.
Leaving Man of Steel, I found it difficult to place the film in any of these categories – and I felt that this is maybe the movie’s greatest shortcoming – it certainly felt like a Superman movie – but what kind? It wasn’t dark, and while Snyder always provides an elaborate canvas for the senses (as mentioned), it was not in the same vein as his earlier work (300 and Watchmen). It told the story effectively.
I won’t go into spoilers, so I will just address this about the plot: It is the Superman story. Jor-El sends his son, Kal from a collapsing Krypton to Earth, where he, the last hope of the Kryptonian race, is hunted down by General Zod and his squad, who were imprisoned in a black hole when Krypton was destroyed. Where this movie succeeds, is that it tells the story of not Superman, but of Clark Kent. We know who Superman is – What about Kal-El? What motivates him, what is he thinking, and why does make the decisions he does? In this, Snyder triumphs.
How would I grade the movie?
Story – 3/5 – It wasn’t original, but, as mentioned, it was a good approach to Kent, the man, instead of Superman, the comic book hero. Writers David Goyer and Christopher Nolan did a good job of giving everybody a motive. They tied in Lois Lane well, and the whole thing worked relatively well – the pace was bang-on.
Writing – 2/5 – It read very much like a comic book film. It wasn’t witty like Downey’s Iron Man or disturbing like Nolan’s characters. There were lots of ‘Go to Hell!’s and ‘I’m going to stop you!’s.
Aesthetics – 4/5 – Everybody is on point here, from cinematographer Amir Mokri (you can tell he’s done Transformers movies before) to Hollywood’s top current composer, Hans Zimmer. The fight scenes will pound in your chest, and Snyder ultimately does a great job of making the audience feel the power of what is happening on the screen.
Acting – 3/5 – These are not challenging roles, though everybody does their job. Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Russell Crowe (Jor-El) are as good as you’d expect. Michael Shannon shines as the purpose-driven General Zod, a performance reminiscent of his stint as the righteous prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden. Henry Cavill as Superman is rugged, honest, and easy to root for, but doesn’t steal any scenes.
Overall – 60%