The problem with rebooting a franchise is that the story is already known. From the acting standpoint, the only interest is seeing various interpretations of characters. Unfortunately in “Man of Steel,” some proven performers like Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon and Amy Adams get little chance to put some juice into their roles. The movie is an extravaganza of explosive special effects that trigger deja vu. As buildings topple in Metropolis, one cannot help but think: Didn’t we see this in “The Avengers”?
So we have Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “Sucker Punch”) directing, David S. Goyer (credited with the story in “The Dark Knight”) writing the script and Christopher Nolan attached as producer. But let’s face it: What lifted Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” above the growing pile of CGI-laden superhero action flicks was an exceptional award-winning villainous performance as The Joker by the late Heath Ledger. If “Man of Steel” was going to make its mark, beyond the financial readings, and make us forget the lighter-toned Christopher Reeves-starring Superman movies, it needed a standout performance that is sorely lacking.
Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman certainly has the physical attributes for the role, and has proven with his work as Charles Brandon in “The Tudors” that he can flesh out a role. Aside from the physical demands, wherein he grimaces and yells, he does not have much to do. His best scenes are with Diane Lane, who plays his Earth mother Martha.
But there is zero chemistry between Cavill and Adams, who plays Lois Lane. Adams’ finest moments are in the first half of the movie when she is following leads in trying to track down the mysterious Clark Kent, confirming her earlier belief that he is some sort of alien. After that, she seems to be a throw-in, serving only to be a distraction and love interest for Clark. In a “what the heck” plot development, as Clark agrees to surrender to General Zod, the general also demands that Lois surrender to him. Why Zod would need Lois when he clearly has the advantage over Clark is one of the head-scratcher aspects of the script.
Even the confrontational scenes between Crowe as Jor-El and Shannon as General Zod lose their edginess. For one thing, Zod has been genetically engineered to be a warrior, so it seems futile as Jor-El seeks to convince him to show compassion. For another, in the later confrontational scene, Jor-El isn’t even really there — he is a computer-programmed hologram. This is why it generated chuckles when Zod finally realizes he’s wasting his time arguing with a computer-generated image.
The fight scene between Reeves’ Superman and Terrence Stamp’s Zod in the 1981 “Superman II” does pale in comparison with the massively destructive match between Cavill and Shannon in “Man of Steel” (If you look closely at “Superman II” you can see the people in the scene are actually cutout figures). But as usual, excessive editing muddies up the chaotic hand-to-hand combat, making it difficult to see which one is crashing through a building.
For all its spectacular imagery, “Man of Steel” lacks any pulsating emotion. The lasting impression is that of things exploding and buildings crumbling as people flee. If there is a follow-up to “Man of Steel,” the makers should take time to watch Reeves’ take on Superman. Cavill doesn not have to do a direct copy, but it would be helpful to add some clumsy charm to the role that made Reeves the standard Clark Kent/Superman.
Miscellany: Glen Mazzara, who scripted a lot of “The Walking Dead” episodes, reportedly is going to pen a screenplay for a prequel to “The Shining” for Warner Bros. The movie so far is titled “The Overlook Hotel.”