Niagara Gazette

June 18, 2013

CALLERI: New Superman movie tries out a new reality

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The original Superman character, a fighter for “truth, justice, and the American way,” became a cultural icon. He was an out-growth of the Great Depression, a colorful character of hope and promise.

Purists will surely balk, but although Superman hasn’t been neutered, he’s certainly been altered in “Man Of Steel,” the bleak new movie featuring the formerly red, yellow, and blue-costumed pop art hero. His outfit is now darker and made of strange material, telling you right away that this is not your grandparents’ Superman.

I liked some of it, but after while, it began to really waver. At 144-minutes, the film is too long for what it delivers. Much of it takes place in outer space, the kind of dreary outer space we've seen in many other nihilistic offerings. While watching it, "Dune" came to mind, as did a mess called "Event Horizon," as well as the work of the Swiss surrealist Hans Giger. The sets and costumes are right out of his design fantasies. Warner Brothers should pay Giger royalties.

Most of "Man Of Steel" is a re-working of the Krypton and youthful phases of Superman's life and the vital importance of fathers and son: Jor-El to Kal-El and Jonathan Kent to Clark. On Krypton, the nefarious plans of the villainous General Zod play too large a part in the movie, which lacks emotion. It's "cold" and the colors used are drab, mostly black and gray. The dull visuals lack vibrancy. Russell Crowe as Jor-El is his usual mordant bore. There's too much of Michael Shannon as Zod.

I didn't mind at all that it alters and downplays some aspects of the Superman mythology, but there's really not much of a story. Henry Cavill looks like what Superman should look like, but he's bland and boring. Cavill's from Showtime's "The Tudors," but his best work is in Woody Allen's "Whatever Works," in which he plays a handsome stranger without much personality.

"Man Of Steel" has little vital dialogue, and none that genuinely advances the story in an interesting way.

As producer, Christopher Nolan had clearly a major role in how the movie looks and flows. Perhaps too major a role. What does Nolan have against skyscraper architecture? We get the same collapsing buildings and flipped cars we've seen many times before, especially from him. Did he have leftover ideas from his "Inception?"

The movie's biggest failure is that after that first hour and 40-minutes, some of which is engaging, there's a too familiar 35-minute battle sequence that repeats things again and again. It becomes extremely tedious and soon bores. Director Zack Snyder takes us into "Transformers" territory, and we've already seen enough of "Transformers."

I saw the film in 3D, which is completely unnecessary. It adds nothing. It would be a waste of money to see it in 3D. It's a standard digital transfer.

People who love the classic Superman character and stories may hate how the mythology has been changed. The traditional Superman is about adventure and brightness. Nolan-Snyder's Superman revels in cliched outer space material and darkness.

Metropolis is a generic urban backdrop and the Daily Planet is mostly an afterthought. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is, absurdly, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter. Editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is mostly a ghost, but not a “Great Caesar’s ghost.” He’s a dull shadow of his well-known self. There's no copyboy Jimmy Olsen. Adams's Lane becomes a kind of Supergirl, when that is, the screenwriters remember that she's a character in the film after they've hidden her during some action sequences. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are Clark’s Earthly “parents,” and there are a number of schoolchild flashbacks.

It’s the loudest movie I've experienced in years, and that's saying something. Not bothersome, but what few words there are get lost and the music can't compete with the explosions and ka-pow of the many, many punches in too many fights.

Regarding Superman flying, for some reason director Snyder decided that long shots were called for. Most of the time, Superman is a speck on the horizon. There's no wow moment in the entire film. Also, the word "Superman" is used only once. As for any comedy, only one line, almost at the end, is geared to generating a laugh. And it's a weak line. It tells the audience what it has already recognized.

The shallow, unsatisfying movie lacks depth. Overall, it's more an extended episode of "Smallville" than it is an entertaining and exciting action adventure, only louder and with more effects, which are never that special.

This Superman turns into a chore. You feel as if you have to see it because it exists. This murky, repetitive "Man of Steel" is not a coherent experience. Ultimately, the fun is missing.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.