The primary directive for Man of Steel is to be the biggest, baddest action film of all time. After nearly 2.5 hours of nonstop fights and explosions, Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot may indeed sport the highest destruction per frame rate in cinema, though it does so at great cost. The cumulative effect of such grandiosity is alas not one of excitement building upon itself, but of a numbing nature achieved through an overdose of repetitious sights and sounds. By the actual epic finale, the style has long since worn out its welcome, practically negating what for a while was a mighty fine and surprisingly unconventional adventure.
Eschewing a pure chronological telling in favor of something more ambitious, Man of Steel formulates its familiar origin story in unusual fashion. In the wake of turmoil and destruction on Krypton, it’s then strange to first encounter Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) during one of his adult heroics on Earth, that of rescuing oilers from an unstable ocean rig. As certain images or words inspire reflection, David S. Goyer’s script then hops back and forth between Clark’s childhood and current acts, each deed enacted with big-budget superhero pep. Though the approach results in some disjointedness in establishing a groove and depicts Clark’s past as conveniently littered with events to prove his bravery, a straight-line narrative almost certainly would have dulled the thrills and made an overlong film feel even longer.
The timeline jumping pays off nicely, however, once Lois Lane (Amy Adams) appears on the scene. Investigating her mysterious savior after a mishap on a top-secret government site, The Daily Planet reporter’s trail of witnesses synch up extraordinarily well with Clark’s previously documented deeds, resulting in a cohesion that makes the initial jitters well worth the discomfort.
Yet despite its overall victory to this point, the film feels like it’s missing numerous key scenes. Introducing an important plot point, then emerging an ambiguous beat later without the necessary information or interpersonal connection to adequately process what has occurred, the story plays cinematic leapfrog, forever darting and rarely pausing. Scenes with Clark’s adopted parents are the exception, primarily thanks to a standout performance by Kevin Costner as dream dad Jonathan Kent, but the gaps prove fatal for Clark and Lois’ chemistry, nearly all of which is assumed.
With such holes needling on the sly, the hero connection is nonetheless established, yet when the story is seemingly ripe for maximum interest is precisely when Man of Steel turns generic. Flying around in his birthright garb, the entity now known as Superman battles colonial-minded General Zod (a sadly blockheaded Michael Shannon) and his fellow Kryptonian survivors while Snyder apes J.J. Abrams by zooming in on his bombastic action scenes.
And are they ever bombastic! Jump-started with a big fight on Smallville’s Main Street that at once emulates the Thor finale and laughs at the Marvel film for concluding so “simplistically,” the film launches into an effects-laden orgy that may very well still be happening. The tedious cycle of Metropolis mayhem and Superman throwing down with Zod dulls Synder’s intended epic scope, encourages a mental check-out, and leaves one pining for the intellectually stimulating thrills of the film’s bygone first half. Instead of smart entertainment in the vein of producer/story co-source Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, what plays out is something far too familiar, and though perhaps successful its grand-scale goal, Man of Steel is prime evidence that bigger is not always better.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.
Man of Steel is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.