Had Superman been a character whose interest did not immediately wane through premise alone, Man of Steel would still have had a struggle in finding its audience. A near-invincible entity from another land whose only weakness is green rocks. Clark Kent would clearly hate rock-climbing, geology or anything to do with the rocks that are destined to deplete his sanity, health and mental prowess. Speaking of depleted mental capabilities, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder finds himself in the uncomfortable position of working for fanboys forevermore or not at all. He has, quite clearly, taken the avenue of finance, rather than the corridor of poverty. Harsh it may be to suggest the latter, it is an honest recommendation if Man of Steel is the quality he will offer through the remainder of his time making films.
Attempting to bring poetic and deep, thematic beauty to this one-note nonsense is a Herculean task that neither Snyder nor Cavill is up to the task of accomplishing. Action that has aged rapidly and poorly, the siege of Krypton in particular smacks of underwhelming tones of grey colour schemes. Gritty is very different to flat, although there is a clear, unrewarding fusing of the two in Man of Steel. A landscape as dim as its creator, Russell Crowe leads an underwhelming introduction to the film in a performance that feels dazed and scared of whatever is to follow this clear high point of quality.
Annoyingly enough, though, there are pockets of Man of Steel that do show signs of engaging with its subject, it simply isn’t smart enough to consider them often or consistently. Snyder, Cavill and Amy Adams are muted in style and tone, they are unable to grapple with swathes of uncut, unpolished dialogue that can’t grip the grief or guilt felt by its soppy, one-note characters. Kevin Costner’s appearance serves as nothing more than emotional ballast for Cavill’s unmotivated, emotionally devoid leading role. Whatever witty and charmed subversions Snyder’s work can offer are, ironically, subverted in the way of tradition and cliché, with no room for inventive prose or worthwhile dialogue. Perhaps the issue is not with Snyder’s feeble craft, but with the dense simplicity of Superman as a concept.
Empty, shallow and without any major merit, Man of Steel will coast along on the name value of its cast and adapted comic characters. As a piece of entertainment, this is a slog to endure, with no real sense of pacing as Snyder riffs on comics, Smallville and his own self-serving moments of sheer amateurishness. His shaking camera stifles the film in more ways than just technical, it is hard to take a fight scene seriously when the camera is towed along behind the rushed choreography and ineffective dialogue. A superhero film without the tropes is just relative nonsense, and that is exactly what Man of Steel gives audiences.