July Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 7 years ago

At the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 2, the character Bill gives an arresting speech about superheroes and their alter egos. According to Bill, Superman’s mythology sets him apart from other heroes, as he needs no costume to become Superman. Unlike his heroic colleagues, Bill argues, Superman was already born a super-hero. The alter ego in his case is Clark Kent — the nervous, weak and fragile human version of Superman. In fact, Bill concludes, Clark Kent is how Superman views us humans and this avatar is therefore nothing more than Superman’s critique on the whole of humanity.

Now, if we apply this theory to super-hero films in general, Man of Steel should be the definitive comic book adaptation. Superman (Henry Cavill) should truly show the others how the world (or America) should be saved. Marvel characters, what? Christopher Nolan, who? Superman’s got it covered.
Or does he? While the first half of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is intriguing enough to make you want to sit through the entire film, the second half, with its explosions and ear-splitting noise, is wholly disappointing. Snyder clearly has a distinct vision and is well-versed in comic books, but sadly his cinematic take on the super-hero has its share of hits and misses.

Man of Steel’s introductory scenes on Krypton, Superman’s dying home planet, are beautiful. Kal-El is the first natural born after centuries and his parents, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), unwillingly have to send him off to planet Earth, in order to save him from military leader Zod (Michael Shannon). The latter is after a mysterious Kryptionian codex, which Kal-El’s parents have injected into their son.

Kal-El’s pod is discovered by the folksy and understanding humans, the Kents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). The couple brings the infant up as their own son, naming him Clark. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Clark Kent occasionally saves people from drowning or fire, which leads him to realise that he may not be from Earth. We watch Clark work a series of odd jobs all the while keeping his true identity under wraps. However, with the introduction of feisty journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), his secret is in danger of being exposed, as she quickly uncovers his true identity.

Zod is then re-introduced into the narrative, as he wants to turn Earth into Krypton and capture Superman — and the film goes downhill from there. It has nothing to do with actor Michael Shannon, who brings great menace to the role of Zod and maintains it throughout the film. It’s just that the last hour or so has no depth and undoes the careful layering of the prior scenes. There are endless fight scenes and the film begins to assault your brain more than stimulate it.

Since Christopher Nolan (of the The Dark Knight trilogy) is the producer of Man of Steel, many have appreciated the ‘realism’ he has introduced in recent super-hero films, which one has to take with a pinch of salt. This is a super-hero film, about an alien saving the world from another alien, where realism does not feature heavily. Furthermore, the characters aren’t believable since the reality these characters live in, after all, is based on comic books and not real life.

There’s a barrage of summer blockbusters to be released in the coming months, including many superhero films (The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World). After seeing Man of Steel, I predict that they will all be an improvement. Sure, it’s fun to watch Superman fly off for the first time. But in today’s day and age one should appreciate a film for more than just gimmicks. Sadly, Man of Steel has no heart or soul.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany