(An edited version of this appeared in WTF magazine)
When it was announced that Christopher Nolan will not only produce but also share story credits for Man of Steel, the Superman reboot directed by Zack Snyder, a darker tone and an introspective characterization of the lead was as obvious as a superhero film during Hollywood summer. The earlier reboot from Bryan Singer was an incorrigible mess in everything from casting to treatment and this decision of Nolan’s involvement came across as the jackpot idea for a lot of fans especially on the heels of the sometimes sagging but mostly thrilling The Dark Knight trilogy.
Man of Steel is the Superman origins story and gets to the point from the very beginning. Krypton is doomed and Jor-El prepares to save his son Kal from the apocalypse. In an uncharacteristic twist, it is almost like the superhero is not the “chosen one” but rather the planet Earth is and infant Kal-El is shipped across safely. Though Krypton looks like a badly done video game, the beginning portions from Krypton up until most of Kansas is wonderful. The throwbacks to a young Clark Kent and his present, yet only half discovered self works superbly to capture the travails of a man who is a product of questionable genesis and doesn’t enjoy a legitimate claim to the world he inhabits. The deftly articulated story of Clark’s growing up years is scalped by his epiphanic moment when caught in a storm as he watches his father give himself to a tornado from a safe haven meant for humans. It is Zack Snyder’s “there is a storm coming” moment, so ubiquitous in Nolan films and recently also in Skyfall. Clark does the only logical thing to do and leaves his house taking up odd jobs and free to discover himself.
Those are the highlights and the most beautiful moments of Man of Steel. Not sure if it was intended, the best parts of this film belong to the portions without the suit. Once Clark Kent becomes Superman (meaning, he just puts on the suit. As Quentin Tarantino will tell you, he was born Superman), the film loses its footing and never quite regains its earlier promise of brilliance after that. It is all out war and the problems here are compounded by the fact that the action is boring and unimaginative. There is nothing inventive in Superman pushing through Zod and his minions and pulling down buildings in their wake, a widely believed allusion to 9/11. That’s mostly the difference between a Nolan film like The Dark Knight and this one, that at once is great on paper but only half realized. The film making finesse is missing from this one for large parts and that, I think, is integral to an ambitious superhero action adventure. Another problem with this film is a complete disregard to the characters not named Clark Kent. The rest of them from Lois Lane to General Zod are shoddily written and also play them too straight as compared to a more complicated Superman.
Zack Snyder has steered Man of Steel in an uneven fashion and it is a little surprising coming from the same guy who handled a more layered Watchmen brilliantly. This Superman may be memorable in parts and has its share of fine moments, but the makers have been saddled with that 3 Doors Down lyrics, ” If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman…” .