Directed by Zack Snyder, produced by Christopher Nolan, and scripted by David S. Goyer
What an odd, entertaining, loud and engaging ride the new Superman “Man of Steel” film is. It’s such a visceral experience that in the final third I accidentally bit the inside of my cheek, resulting in an unusual amount of blood in my mouth. THAT’s how distracting this film can be: you gotta see this on in a large cinema with good sound; this is not iPhone or iPad stuff. I saw it at Sydney’s “Event” cinema Macquarie Centre at an 8.15pm Sunday session with an audience about 50% full.
“Man of Steel” is also a truly odd combination of Christian religious fervour and post September 11th disaster. This Superman is an obvious stand-in for Jesus: there are too many explicit references to his saving mankind and not being understood. And the scenes of destruction of Manhattan in New York City consciously imitate the destructive events of September 11th 2001. It’s not quite clear what the film-makers are trying to achieve here; is the villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) somehow being equated with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists? Must the destruction of New York City be so total? Given that a number of high-rise buildings in the final scene are completely destroyed (imitating how the Twin Towers fell) and many others sustained tremendous damage, the total loss of life must have been in the tens of thousands. Why is there no mention of this, no dead civilian bodies? So many unanswered questions – the film ends on a note of triumph, but yet it is tragedy. Here we are, almost 12 years later, and the constraints are now removed: it appears that we can create disaster films in Manhattan that are more than reminiscent of September 11th. Enough time appears to have passed, at least in the minds of Hollywood film.
“Man of Steel” carries the weight of many themes: genocide (barely averted), nationalism (partially thwarted), romance (mostly chaste, except for that one kiss between Superman and Lois Lane), parental responsibility (well and truly fulfilled), the limits of US military power (clear to all to see) and personal destiny (that’s what it’s all about). There’s even a bit of environmental sustainability. A bit.
This film works in part because some of the acting is excellent, particularly those playing the two sets of parents of “Cal/Clark Kent” (Superman): Russell Crowe (as Jor-El, the Kryptonian father) brings an extraordinary gravitas (Russell, what can’t you do?) and Kevin Costner (as Jonathan Kent, the earthly adoptive dad) is great. The scene where Costner’s character dies is one of the great recent movie death scenes. I will refrain from describing it in detail so as to maintain the mystery. But it is special. And Diane Lane as the earthly mom is also great, perfectly cast as the Kansas farmwoman. Henry Cavill as Superman himself looks the part and does a credible job, especially when he is wearing a beard “in disguise”; when clean-shaven he is just a bit TOO clean. But he is sufficient. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) helps a lot.