I believe in flying men from outer space. I believe in big Kansas cornfields perfect for secretly breaking the sound barrier on foot. I believe in using clunky eyeglasses to shield others from your true identity. I believe in that cornball, all-American notion that the forces of good can triumph over evil, and can also be as layered and fascinating a movie subject as their more nefarious counterparts.
Richard Donner not only shared my beliefs when he breathed new celluloid life into that squarest of caped do-gooders in Superman: The Movie (1978). He made those concepts soar with old-fashioned showmanship and a heart as big as that vast expanse separating Krypton, the Smallville-bred crime fighter’s origin planet, from his adopted home. (How old-fashioned, you ask? The film started with a shot of a movie palace curtain opening to show a black-and-white glimpse of Metropolis as it existed in the minds of an older generation.)
“A tad nostalgic, don’t you think, Rosario?”
Afternoon, Mr. White. Didn’t see you looking over my shoulder there.
“Well, you are aware there’s a thing as a deadline in the newspaper business, no? Get on with it, already.”
Don’t you want to know who plays you in Man of Steel, Warner Brothers’ new Superman reboot directed by Zack Snyder?
“The Fishburne fellow. Did you know he lied about his age to star in Apocalypse Now?”
Yep. I’ll get right on it.
“I want to hear that printer ASAP.”
Uh, The Daily Planet no longer prints articles for the proofreader, sir. (muttering to myself) Micromanage much?
Where was I? Oh, yes, Snyder. On paper, it seems like a very intriguing idea. The director of Watchmen and the underrated Sucker Punch taking a stab at DC Comics’ most iconic character surely made many fanboys salivate in anticipation. In reimagining Kal-El for the YouTube generation, however, the filmmaker has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Before it self-destructs in a deafening 3D orgy of destruction and sci-fi warfare, Man of Steel is a lumbering, ADD-afflicted tale of identity crisis and familial malaise. The theme of the legacy fathers leave behind to their sons is underlined by screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins) with a huge black magic marker, and he allows more room for ambiguity in the alien visitor who is adopted by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, pitch perfect) and his wife Martha (Diane Lane, ditto) after his space capsule crash lands on Earth. But in order to pull off such an ambitious revisionist take on a character of whom so many fans have a specific idea of how he should behave, Goyer needed time to flesh out his inner conflict. Snyder, alas, has no time for such nuances. He’s intent on getting on with his story, often at the expense of character development.
Take, for instance, the film’s Krypton prologue. Should I thank Snyder for refraining to spend more than is necessary in such an ugly, underimagined depiction of Supes’ home planet? (About the Kryptonians, they look as if Eiko Ishioka barfed and the vomit designed those costumes.) Or should I condemn him for refusing to explore the existential crisis of a race who plundered their own planet’s resources and are about to pay the ultimate price for their poor judgment? Don’t blame Russell Crowe, whose solemn take on Jor-El as an scientist action hero doesn’t wear out its welcome, though I always saw the character as already having moved beyond such physical displays of violence by the time his son is born. (Kal-El’s natural birth, which is illegal in Krypton, opens the movie.)
“Well, at least Crowe’s not singing this time.”
Hey, Jimmy. Love the bow tie. High five. (slap)
“So how’s the review coming along? I heard Mr. White breathing down your neck just now.”
Well, how would you feel about having to convey how disappointed you were in the summer movie you were anticipating the most?”
“That bad, huh?”
No, Man of Steel is not terrible. Just a major letdown. I mean, you’re not even in it.
“Come again? You’re joking with me. Just what kind of Superman movie is this?”
The journalism content in it is pretty minor, Jimmy. Actually, the love story between Lois and Clark is virtually nonexistent, as well. Don’t you dare tell her she’s not a brunette this time.
“My lips are sealed. So is Henry Cavill good in it?”
He is. Man of Steel might have tons of problems, but his performance is not one of them. He’s ready to plumb the depths of Clark/Kal-El’s fractured personality, whenever Snyder and Goyer let him, which is not very often.
“Sounds like you’ve got a handle on it. Gotta run. Big photo shoot today.”
Later, shutterbug. OK, where was I? Oh yes, the screenplay. The non-linear structure Goyer opts for is a miscalculation, making an already choppy movie even more muddled. I wasn’t a big fan of his sci-fi jargon, either. The world’s fate is at stake, thanks to General Zod, who vows revenge after Jor-El plays a crucial role in having him sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. I clapped with joy when I learned Michael Shannon was going to play the supervillain, but his scenery chewing this time around is labored and tortured. Like much of Man of Steel, his performance is a joyless enterprise. Hold on, readers. My cell phone’s buzzing. Who could it be – uh oh… Hello?
“Amy Adams?! I’m being played by Ms. Goody Two Shoes!”
Hi, Lois, How are –
“Did you see her in Enchanted? They cast a Disney princess to play me!”
She’s actually pretty good in Man of Steel.
“I’m sure she’s a big ball of sunshine!”
Come on, Lois, you got over Teri Hatcher playing you. Eventually. Adams plays you as a career-driven tough cookie with a strong ethical backbone.
“I’ll be the judge of that. (pause) How’s the Tudors guy?”
He’s pretty hot, though I wanted him to crack a smile every now and then. You know?
“I gotta go. Things are looking pretty bad here in Istanbul. Hey! Let go of me! Read my badge. JOUR-NA-LIST. Get your paws off me! Hel–” (“Call ended” icon on cell phone screen)
Um, Lois? Hey, Clark! I was just on the phone with L–
“I’m kind of in a hurry, Rubén. Catching a flight to Turkey. How’s the review coming along?”
I think it tries to capture what’s missing from the new Superman movie. An old-school innocence, a pure sense of wonder that made you look up to the skies in awe. And when Cavill finally flies, Man of Steel becomes, however fleetingly, the film it could have been. At least before it OD’s in CGI overkill. And that’s the saddest part of Snyder’s film. Man of Steel reduces the Man of Steel to a coldly efficient military weapon. And there’s just something wrong about that.
“You’re talking to thin air, Rosario. Kent’s long gone. Where’s my review?”
Coming right up, Mr. White. Coming right up.
Man of Steel opens nationwide on Friday. There’s no need to shell out the extra bucks for the 3D upgrade. It gave me a big pounding headache, and made me long for the Superman Norman Rockwell would have approved of.