Reviewer Gavin Miller looks at the latest Superman blockbuster.
After raking in $117m and £11m in the US and UK respectively over the weekend – the second-biggest box-office openings in both countries this year – the new Superman film has undoubtedly been a massive commercial success.
Sadly that didn’t completely translate to the big screen, with 300 director Zack Snyder’s effort intermittently soaring with fresh new ideas – then hitting the earth with a thud as bloated action scenes descended into generic blockbuster territory.
After the spine-tingling trailer – with a new orchestral score that helped ease the pain of John Williams’ legendary theme tune’s omission – early expectation had hinted at a product hitting the level of Christopher Nolan’s (who did executive produce this) Dark Knight trilogy.
Sadly, for a fan like myself – the first two exceptional Christopher Reeve Superman films dominated my youth – it detracted too much away from the Richard Donner-set universe, 2006’s Superman Returns was slated for adhering too closely to.
But for the most part it’s also understandable. With Warner Bros owning the rights to the DC Universe, they’re looking to get a piece of the uber-successful Avengers pie, by launching their equivalent with Justice League – and this is the first piece of the puzzle.
That meant this needed to be modern and relevant for the current generation – my partner is ten years younger than me and as a yardstick lapped up this new universe (and added an extra mark) – and for that is a success.
Yes, Krypton is now a volcanic ash-covered world and not an ice-covered tundra, yes, Jor-El flies on winged-creatures, yes, there’s spaceships, and yes, the battles – love them or loathe them – look like something ripped from Transformers, but it does apparently stick pretty-closely to comic-book mythos, so it’s undoubtedly best to try and embrace it.
This version of Superman looks like it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future.
And the new Superman isn’t a problem. Brit star Henry Cavill (The Tudors) does no wrong playing the straight-laced role. It can seem a bit wooden and lacking humour at times, but that is more the character and dialogue than Cavill himself. He does a decently convincing job as Kal-El.
The same for both Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon (even though he’s no Terence Stamp) – as Supes’ father Jor-El and General Zod respectively – but four-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams doesn’t quite feel right (yet) as Lois Lane. Along with Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, both characters weren’t fleshed out enough during the film’s (still pretty long) duration to really make a memorable impact, but that may come in future films.
This origin story launches instantly on the aforementioned Krypton, with Crowe’s Jor-El (who does feature more than you’d think as a technological apparition during the film) readying his son – the first naturally-born child in years – to be launched into outer space with the unstable planet’s core about to destroy it, and Zod (complete with right-hand lady Faora, played by Antje Traue) trying an aggressive military coup.
We then see a nomadic Clark Kent/Kal-El – now grown-up after crash-landing in Kansas and being raised as their own by Earth parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) – trying to find his place in the world, with heroic tales and growing pains in his younger years seen in the form of flashbacks.
It’s not until Clark inadvertently sets off a mystery spacecraft’s beacon deep in the Arctic, that he alerts Zod and his army – who have escaped from their imprisonment in the ‘Phantom Zone’ after Krypton’s demise – and inadvertently makes the mythology of his existence become fact on Earth, and ratifies the research of Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Lane to boot.
With a Zod hell-bent on establishing a new Krypton – with a relic of the planet’s past located on Kal-El’s crashed ship – Metropolis and the rest of the world are clearly made aware of Superman’s presence when Zod invades and demands Earth gives up this alien being that has been living under the radar for three decades.
But when its revealed that Zod isn’t simply looking to leave, but actually permanently invade and harvest the planet it for his own means, military leaders eventually support Superman in fighting this new threat – albeit through several bloated action set-pieces that involves a lot of big punches and mid-air body slams.
For the most part though, this new Superman does fly. In years to come this review may seem a tad harsh – currently it doesn’t even sit above Superman Returns in my superhero movie rankings – and when a Justice League world evolves this may sit quite nicely in DC Universe lore.
Fortunately it has more hits than misses, as this Man of Steel manages to soar above the crushing weight of generically messy computer-generated blockbuster sections to show enough promise for future outings – even though after all the fanfare a touch of disappointment is still my overwhelming feeling.
Snyder’s world may have a touch too much style over substance, but his biggest accolade is undoubtedly bringing Superman to the next generation.
And that is no mean feat.