The best scene in “Man of Steel” is also its purest, and simplest, and least complicated, and many people happen to agree. It happens when Superman takes his first flight—streaking daringly low across continents, rocketing like a supersonic bullet piercing through clouds, and gracefully soaring up into space. A noble, stirring feeling of absolute awe emerges. I was expecting more moments like that in Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan’s film, but they never materialized. Instead, New York City once again bears the wrath of some extra-terrestrial evildoers descending from outer space. Armored superhumans grapple together and are forcibly thrown into unfortunate skyscrapers many times over, emerging without a scratch, until it becomes monotony, and the same skyscrapers predictably topple over with a resounding crash of steel and glass over screaming throngs of helpless denizens. Instead of terror or terrible thrills, tedium settles in to stay.
Perhaps that is unfair. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that “Man of Steel” has its moments, or rather had the potential for so many more moments like the aforementioned one. It’s odd because it seems to recognize that also—that it could have been the polar opposite of the “Iron Man” films, where gleaming technology and snarky one-liners are replaced with a little inspiring profundity. Or, at least, something more akin to what Russell Crowe’s Jor-El likes saying aloud—how his son will be like a god to the human race, how they will love him and admire him, how he will show them the path to greatness. That’s the story that I was hoping for, as someone who has never read a comic book nor seen the Superman movies. A story about an indestructible superman, born on a distant planet light-years away and raised in the cornfields of Kansas. No need for fancy-pants gadgets or relationship problems. He’s beyond that. At the end of the day, he still calls himself an American, and embodies all the American ideals. It was Michael Caine who said that if Batman is the way the world sees America,Superman is the way America sees itself.
If “Man of Steel” was really that movie, one could forgive all its atrociously redundant and boring battles, and, in general, its lazy script. However, everything that hints at greatness—there are some scenes with Kevin Costner, the young Superman’s adopted father, that seem to be written by an eleven-year old but are imbued with clumsy earnestness which I don’t take particular offense to—are overshadowed by gigantic explosions straight out of whichever summer blockbuster of your picking. Ah, but there are American flags flying in the dust and rubble, and in the background of nearly every scene! There are central elements that work, such as the British hunk by the name of Henry Cavill, who is shy, unassuming, yet when he stands on the Antarctic ice and, closing his eyes, turns his head towards the sun he resembles an otherworldly man. The characters of Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, and Superman’s adopted mother, played by Diane Lane, however, are just badly written in all aspects, and Michael Shannon gives a valiant turn as General Zod, but what lingers in the mind is his scowl and strange haircut. Not to mention his stubborn unwillingness to give up the fight, yawn, already, after being slammed into whatever’s still standing for the sixteenth time.
The most disappointing thing, at the end of the day, is that I know that the Superman movie I (perhaps naively) wanted to see—simple, honest, serious, and with some self-respect that is lacking in most of today’s superhero movies—will probably never be made by Hollywood, because it would be considered boring, and boring movies don’t make a lot of money. Better to muck around in the mud with the rest, and, oh, can we get the same VFX house that Michael Bay used for the whole third act? “Man of Steel” should have fully committed to being that which it occasionally yearns to be, or could have been. After all, sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith…
Photo via Google Images.