I went to see this purely on the strength of its trailer. Admittedly, the idea of yet another Superman reboot wasn’t something that excited me. I can barely remember the Bryan Singer reboot of a few short years ago (yet the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve films are etched on my memory).
Yes, the trailer. Zack Snyder films make for great trailers. They are full of spectacular imagery, which when strung together with some tremendously exciting music will make a film look incredibly enticing. I recall the trailers for 300 and Watchmen and Sucker Punch, and how they teased with the stylised imagery. 300 I enjoyed, but has troubling racism issues and is just one long ridiculous fight sequence. Watchmen I remember being reasonably successful, if not, in the end, all that memorable enough to ever even vaguely eclipse the superb comic book. Ozymandias in the film never convinced me and there is some superb stuff left out from the comic. Sucker Punch… was Sucker Punch and the less said about that the better.
Here’s the trailer I saw in the cinema that sold me –
Wow. It looks incredible, right? Iconic imagery with cape fluttering in the wind, scarlet against Arctic white. Pounding exhilarating music (seriously, has Hans Zimmer eaten all the other film composers in Hollywood?). Awesome spaceships! Massive fucking explosions! Buildings falling! Russell Crowe! Kevin Costner? Henry Cavill’s impossibly white teeth and heaving pecs!
That right there is the stunning art of assembling a movie trailer. It’s a missile specially programmed to hit all the right buttons and sucker you in. The mystery to me is how Zack Snyder and team can create such fabulous imagery, but somehow manage to not string it together into a decent film. Can you tell I’m a little bitter?
***PROBABLY SPOILERS AHEAD***
What puzzles me is how there can be so much technical expertise and money thrown at a film like this and how there can be so much ineptitude with characters and plot elements. It’s tough to construct a narrative that can follow an opening sequence with Russell Crowe riding a dragon, leaping through space, evading crazy alien spaceships and swimming through a Matrix-esque vat of baby pods, and an entire planet exploding. I know this is how the Superman story begins, but there is a sequence later on that tells the story of Krypton using animated metal beads (there is probably a real name for this but I don’t know it…) which would have been a concise and clever way to do it without all the bombast – also accomplishing a different method of approaching the traditional narrative.
I liked that they plough straight in with Clark Kent all grown up and trying to find himself, flashing back to key points of his childhood rather than hashing out the Smallville era in full, but trouble seems to follow him around like a perilous plot element. Want to be a fisherman? Oh no! Exploding Oil Rig! Day out with Dad? TORNADO! Off to school? Everybody’s going to DROWN.
Actually, Henry Cavill’s Clark is a decent take on Superman. He comes across as relatively tortured to begin with, unsure of his place in the world, afraid to reveal his true nature out of fear, despite continually being forced into it – and I get that is the point. The characterisation is quite good there, and Cavill is more than capable in the role, culminating in a very un-Superman-like action that he is forced into. Cavill just manages to avoid smugness in the scenes where Superman has to take the moral high ground, or convey to an entire trigger-happy platoon of soldiers that he is not the enemy simply through a beatific grin and the arch of his manly cheekbones.
Amy Adams as Lois is less successful in my opinion. I think it’s more down to the direction than her performance, but her reaction to most things is the same slightly quizzical expression on her face. Including wandering into an alien spaceship and encountering the floating guard-bot or Superman sneaking up behind her. Also, she is continually placed exactly where the plot needs her to be, whether it makes any logical sense or not. Climbing an Arctic ice-cliff at night as though it’s a gentle stroll. Tracking down every single one of Clark’s acquaintances like the good reporter she is. And the worst one, right at the end, despite Superman punching Zod through every building in
New York Metropolis across a massive distance, she still manages to turn up right at the final moment exactly where he is. And the jokey kissing scene? Just conveniently forgetting that a horrific apocalypse has been wreaked upon New York and they are standing at Ground Zero.
This is where the film suffers most, in its narrative progression. It is choppy and poorly paced, with important plot points wedged in with no natural lead-in. And then Michael Shannon’s General Zod arrives and it’s all action, explosions, punching through windows and vehicles tossed around. Michael Shannon is very good, in fact, and an actor I thoroughly enjoy watching whatever he’s in. He has a barely-repressed intensity that just ignites the screen. Take Shelter is an extraordinary film with him at its centre. Back to the action… which is relentless, occasionally brilliant (I much prefer the fight in Smallville to what occurs later), but ultimately excessive with some intermittently bad CGI (although I think it looks better than a lot of the Avengers did) – and the final Superman vs Zod showdown is beyond ridiculous. Chuck Wending says it all about the final third of the movie in his hilarious review of the film.
Disappointing. Crowe and Costner didn’t work for me at all. They were just Crowe and Costner. Fishburne was okay but didn’t really get a chance to play his role, so when we come to the big tense scene where they’re trapped and about to be gravity-squished by the giant tripod that seems to be playing a really boring game of Pong through the Earth’s core, it’s hard to care what happens to anyone.
Don’t get me started on the shaky-cam. Or the clichéd moments of Superman always arriving right at the last moment to save the day. Or the old Good guy/Bad guy nonsense that permeates the film. And then there’s the Christ imagery…