Ok so at the start of this review I am going to lay all my cards out on the table. I have never been a fan of Zack Snyder (yes, even the Dawn of the Dead remake). I have watched Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen and now Man of Steel so I have given him several chances. I could give you a long string of bullet points explaining exactly why, but that comes later. I could also just show you a picture of the man and if that doesn't make you want to garrotte him with piano wire then all hope maybe lost for you.
I just don't believe or much understand the hype to tell you the truth. When people say they like his films there is a part of me, the irrational, uncensored, badly mannered part of my brain that thinks, just a tiny negative thought along the lines of "What, you must be crazy. Actually bonkers crazy". I am also a natural born cynic and sceptic as a rule so buying into something simply because I am told it's good is not my style.
As for Christopher Nolan I am not a true believer there either. There are some things he has done that I rather liked and there are other things, that despite their, obviously impressive, technical superiority, I think are a load of old bollocks. To use a British expression.
Coming off the back of the woeful, yes you read that right, WOEFUL Dark Knight Rises it feels like he has either been supping from his own private vat of 'I'm wonderful' cool aid or was added as a producer to this film in an attempt, maybe, to silence the pretentious, wanky, stroky chin, roll neck and hipster scarf wearing set who blindly attack Zack Snyder without really being able to explain why. I am not one of those either, I can tell you at length WHY. I am also not someone who believes Nolan is somehow high brow genius and Snyder is some gutter dwelling cockroach. I just think when it comes to making films, while technically they obviously have some chops, Nolan more than Snyder, they both have problems when it comes to story, character, script, intention and other things that, I'm sorry, but I deem rather important when it comes to watching films.
Lastly I am not a superhero comic book fan/nerd/geek. Historically I have always preferred Superhero films and action/detective/horror comics. I can neither get into the scripting problems that everyone having superpowers inevitably lead to in the comics or the soap opera of these character's personal lives that I am meant to invest in. When it comes to Superhero films, however, I have always, more often than not, been able to enjoy the spectacle, the effects, the performances and the humour over any glaring pacing/story errors that Superhero films tend to have. I tend to zone out during the third act 'CGI things hit each other a lot' bit that ALL these films devolve predictably and depressingly in to, some worse than others.
I have to, of course, also quickly mention that I absolutely love the first 3 Christopher Reeve Superman films but I do recognise the structuring, scripting and story problems in them. However the inspirational, charming, epic and beautiful way those films are put together, performed and scored, not to mention a large dollop of nostalgia tends to put such thoughts to the back of my mind.
Ok so confessions over. Now why did I write all that and why are you reading it? your brain is no doubt screaming. Well I did it to put my review below in context.
By the way, I did NOT like Man of Steel. At ALL. So if that bothers you, offends you or annoys you in any way then I truly apologise, it is JUST an opinion and really doesn't matter at all but if it does then stop reading now.
To the film then.
Firstly some things I won't do. I am going to try and not complain about this film by comparing it to the Reeve films before it and saying it's, clearly, not as good. The influence of what Donner, Reeve, Hackman, Kidder and John Williams did back then will forever be felt and will always be relevant and important but they were then and this is now.
Of course I could easily argue that if they didn't want 30 somethings hating, arguing and ultimately comparing Man of Steel to Donner and Lester's films then why in the name of Beelzebub's cleft did the producers decide to REMAKE the origin story/Zod as villain storyline. Isn't that BEGGING comparison?
Still, to hell with logic, I won't be doing it.
I am also going to not complain about fanboy stuff like the costume or the mythology etc. because, firstly, I am not enough of a fanboy to justify it, it's all been said by far better men than me and secondly it's petty niggling and ultimately pointless.
SO, in all honesty, I would be lying if I said I didn't, initially at least, during the first few minutes, while trying to be open minded fall into the trap of feeling 'oh this just sucks! What are these CGI winged beasties?! This is needlessly showy-offy and wanky, it's not as good as the Donner one, which, of course dealt with Krypton simply and perfectly'
I then took a deep breath, relaxed and thought 'no Jon, you shall relax and enjoy this film and cast from your mind who directed it and the fact that it's not your childhood Superman... embrace it I told myself'
I did really really try.
I know that no matter what I say or how I explain it there will be folks who say 'well you went in hating it, you wanted to hate it, your opinion is not valid because you are naturally biased against Hack Snyder etc. etc.' and they are going to think that no matter what but I am telling you that this wasn't the case.
I gave myself a talking to, I said 'look at it for what it is and watch THIS film, don't wish you were watching something else' So I did. I watched this film and it stank. It stank like a mouldy jam jar filled with stale piss and with day old cigarette butts floating in it.
First problem was the camera work. You'd think somewhere in the bloated stupid budget for this waste of time film they'd find a hundred bucks for a fucking tripod, either that or a thousand for a dolly track, or a few thousand for a steady-cam rig or SOMETHING! We can put a go-cart on Mars and we can't find Hack Snyder something to rest his camera on? I tried desperately to ignore it but if it wasn't shaking up and down badly during dialogue scenes, or positively going epileptic during blurred close up fight scenes, then it was crash zooming and rack focussing all over the place. Jesus Christ on a four speed lawnmower it was irritating. It doesn't make things more exciting it makes things look shit.
There was one of the bazillion flash back scenes with Kevin Costner by his truck talking to a young Clark Kent some homespun, irrelevant, seemingly important but actual hokum nonsense and not only was some of it in poor focus but the camera was bobbing up and down like the camera person desperately needed a piss. There really is NO excuse.
Another example of the camera work RUINING this film. When Superman first flies in his outfit it is meant to be an awe inspiring, exhilarating, fist pumping and happy moment. In this case I would've just been happy to be able to see it! The camera is crash zooming, rack focussing, shaking, whizzing, bobbing, bouncing and flying about so much that I waned to walk out. That people accuse The Expendables of being badly directed because of the 'shaky cam' fights but they give a pass to Batman Begins and this which have some of the very worst filmed action sequences I have ever sat through is beyond me. I am sure my detractors will just say I am an old man or looking for things to complain about but the photography direction is one of the most important aspects of a film because the camera operator IS our eyes. Guess what, SUPERMAN does not need to be filmed with faux-documentary style realistic camerawork because... GUESS WHAT?! SUPERMAN IS NOT A DOCUMENTARY!!!
Second problem was the quality of the image. When the image was occasionally in focus it had been so enhanced with green, grey, gritty, high contrast, fake, post production grain that it managed to make Amy Adams and Diane Lane look like a tired, pockmarked Fat Bastard and The Crypt Keeper. A story is dark and edgy when it's actually dark and edgy, not when you just decide it is and give it a good old digital wash making it look like boiled shite.
Then there was the CGI. Considering the script had been written in such a way (i.e. barely, if at all) that the entire story relied on copious amounts of the stuff, you'd think they'd have some decent CGI. Not that I care most of the time as all CGI looks pretty crappy to me, lacking as it does anything approaching realism or a soul, but the CGI in Man of Steel was shockingly bad considering the budget, the studio and the film's reliance on it.
The action scenes were long, drawn out, loud, turgid affairs with little to no point, rhyme, or reason. Billions of dollars damage was done, thousands of people probably died and often with no satisfactory result or catharsis at the end of it. Also there wasn't a set piece in this film we haven't seen a couple of hundred bloody times. School bus, check, bully, check, saving people from a fire, check, planes fall out of the sky, check, New York being destroyed, check, CGI villains being thrown through buildings, check and so it went on...
There was one scene which I thought was a good idea, the tornado scene. That makes sense, I thought. Since the Donner film in '78 established Smallville squarely in Kansas a tornado scene of Supes vs nature is logical now when you think about it, right? Except this is a Nolan/Snyder film and so instead we get a possibly exciting tornado scene that's only really there to deliver one of the biggest insults of the entire film. The death of Jonathan Kent. What a load of arse.
So Supes can save a bus load of school kids from drowning but saving his human Dad and dog from a tornado would be one step too far?
It's always the same with these comic book films: 'you can't reveal your powers' 'I can't have a girlfriend because then you'll be in danger' and what happens? by the end of the film he's revealed his powers to everyone and their parrots and the girl has been kidnapped anyway!!
All their bullshit philosophising, hypothetical danger, worrying, moralising and speechifying is all for nought.
Plus you then have this Peter Parker crap of guilt over the death of his surrogate father rather than the somewhat more poetic message of Clark Kent having to learn from Pa Kent's death that, as powerful as he is, you can't fight time, nature and ultimately death. You see that would be a message we could all relate to and invest in but NO! this is a Snyder/Nolan joint and so it has to be cod-lofty-philosophical-stroky-chin nonsense about 'one day you'll reveal your powers, when the time is right and the world will stand with you' well, yeah, everyone will stand with you except the people in the world flattened to death by massive chunks of falling iron work and masonry as you throw Zod about the place with angry abandon amidst a clumsy and howling 9/11 metaphor.
None of this would matter though, the CGI, the action scenes and even, maybe the camera work if I gave two hearty and heavily pungent shits for any character in this film. There isn't a semi-decent performance, an interesting line of dialogue, an emotional moment or any chemistry, style, class, cool or humour. A po-faced, dreary, slow, heavy handed film featuring non-people who either mumble or shout, there is no in between.
As I couldn't invest in anything that was going on I was left focussing on things like the camera work, the massive amounts of injured and dead people Superman left in his wake, the massive, intrusive, laughable and sad store-names product placement during the downtown Smallville fight, the fact that Zod seems to have picked up a 1940s stereotype, creepy, bald, German, mad scientist as part of his Krypton crew and a series of questions like:
Why does Zod also want Lois Lane on the spaceship with Superman?
How does Zod, at that point, even know who Lois Lane is?
Why is young Supes in a flashback playing a caped hero with a red cloth from the laundry when he doesn't discover his cape until years later?
Superman goes and talks to a priest?? REALLY??!! His very existence dispels the myth of God, he is HIMSELF a metaphor/substitute for the story of Jesus Christ so why on earth is he taking advice from this creepy priest in an empty church on a summers day?
Oh and don't get me started on Superman's crucifix stance with his arms out after the (holy)ghost of his father tells him he can save Lois, he can save ALL the humans (and the fluffy bunnies too) but only when his real father, who's a ghost, says so. When his actual flesh and blood earth father NEEDS saving, nah he can't do that.
From the opening shot of us seeing Superman's mother give birth to the ending where Superman snaps Zods neck it wreaks of Snyder and Goyer sitting in a room patting each other's back or wanking each other off congratulating themselves on how clever and edgy they're being.
Superman's mother giving birth is precisely the Snyder version of edgy realism. He probably thinks he's daring. Actually it's just silly and a ridiculous and pointless way to start the film.
What does that add to it eh Snydes? What great statement are you making there?
Jor-El then says that Superman is the first natural birth Krypton has had in thousands of years about three more times in the film, I guess his mothers big old screaming sweaty face right at the very beginning didn't drive that edgy and dark idea home hard enough huh Snyder?!
And as for the ending, Goyer himself has described the death of Zod as them 'taking down sacred cows'. Yeah because Goyer lives life on the edge, Goyer is sticking it to the establishment and taking down sacred cows. What a steaming pile of myxomatosis filled rabbit droppings!
You didn't know how to end it so you got too big scary CGI machines to destroy a bunch of stuff, the defence mechanism of which seems to be computer game snapping metal tentacles made up of lots of cubes, then you had Supes and Zod duke it out making more things explode and endangering more lives because you'd seen Raimi's Spiderman 2 and then you had Supes snap Zod's neck because you couldn't think how to get out of the mundane hole you'd dug for yourselves. Taking down sacred cows indeed. You pretentious twat Goyer!
The rule breaking and sacred cow tipping didn't end there, once the movie dispelled with its Lord of the Rings/Phantom Menance like Krypton opening and got down on earth, the rest of the film was so desperate to dispense with the tried and tested Clark Kent story and so does everything it can to change it all because, you know, Snyder and Goyer are mavericks.
It has Lois know who he is and what aliens are from the start, he doesn't play Clark as bumbling... in fact he makes no distinction between Clark or Superman at all, thus sort of rendering the point of his entire character a bit moot, he doesn't go to Metropolis to work for the Planet, there's no fortress of solitude and no Kryptonite. Man aren't those cats Goyer and Snyder just so innovative and pleased with themselves.
However, after this 3hr sacred cow tipping tournament has taken place, the very end is his reveal as Clark on his first day at the planet, glasses and all... still no sign of any acting going on but whatever. Trouble is, as clever as Goyer and Snydes THINK they're being, this ending, like the rest of the film is waffly dribbly piss and makes no sense.
He tells his mother that he's going to get a job where no one will ask him a question when he goes somewhere dangerous and where he can keep his ear to the ground.
Well, firstly, after openly saving the world as Superman in front of journalists, the military and everybody, basically, are you telling me that people don't know who this guy is and what he looks like?
I know what Lindsey Lohan's vagina looks like, are you telling me in this day and age of cell phones, tablets, laptops etc. Nobody has this guys picture? Lois tracked him down in 5 minutes in the middle of the film for Pete's sake! Now he needs a disguise?? and the disguise is still a nerdy pair of specs. What run out of cows Goyer?
Also he spends most of the movie traveling around going where he pleases and doing what he wants, he unearths a spaceship and flies off in it without any questions being asked, he even says to the military that he'll save people, on his terms and Washington has to deal with it. So why on earth does he need a job where no one will ask questions?
Oh and that second point about keeping his ear to the ground, sounds good in theory but in the day and age of the internet is working at a bizarrely, still 1950s style newspaper office really going to be giving him the hot pertinent info he needs.
Oh and can't Supes, if he chooses, hear and see everything all at once. Couldn't he just use his mind-internet to locate trouble and focus in on it?
Oh and doesn't he live, basically, in New York City? There's trouble there every single minute of every day from purse snatching to murder to bankers to politicians... he'll have his work cut out for him without needing a newspaper to work at.
None of it makes any sense.
Oh and the 'he's kinda hot' joke at the end - embarrassing, squirm central. When you've had literally NO humour in your film for 3hrs you can't have an army woman say this horrible horrible cringe worthy line and expect chuckles and applause.
I could go on and on and on... there's the score, the editing, the script... I am sorry but this film defeated me. I wanted to be surprised, I wanted to enjoy it, I wanted to be proved wrong, I tried, i relaxed, I put my prejudices to one side and attempted to let this movie drag me in. Instead it beat me slowly to death one noisy, repetitive, CGI filled, out of focus mess of a fight scene at a time.
There were TWO things that I liked about the film! SHOCK HORROR!! one was the Zod, Supes, drowning in skulls dream scene which I felt was a great representation of a comic-book image and just a damn cool idea (I refuse to believe Goyer and Snyder had anything to do with it, PLEASE tell me it actually comes from a comic book) and two, I felt that at least the first two acts had a relatively tight structure that made some sort of sense. The endless flashbacks stopped momentum a lot of the time but, more or less, the driving force behind the story seemed sound even if the characters seemed hollow cyphers.
Last thing I would say is that I have now seen 4 of the bigger films this summer. Each one, from its trailer and promotional material, I would've normally passed on but I have been chastised SO MUCH for making my mind up based on trailers and promotional material and told time and time again to go against my gut, against my better judgement and actually pay and go and see these films. Well I did and the ones I thought were going to be average, were average, the one I knew was going to be self indulgent wank was self indulgent wank and Superman turned out to be everything and worse than what I feared from the director, the writer and the 57 trailers.
So this is me saying NO MORE. I will watch WHAT I WANT TO WATCH and I will have my opinion on the rest based on the stuff the studios marketing company gives me. The last 4 films I have seen in the cinema have been such colossal wastes of time as to be criminal and reviewing them has taken even more time. I am done. Call me what you like, cut me down however you want. I know what I like and that's what I am going to see. End of story.