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Man of Steel

Or: Man of Stale

The only fun I had during Man of Steel occurred towards the end of the film as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) descends the staircase of a demolished Grand Central (or what ever the metropolian equivalent is called) Station. My ears still ringing with the echos of smashes, crashes, thuds and shrieks, I listened to the snicker-snack, snicker-snack of her abominably inappropriate heels on the marble and burst into uncontrollable fits of smothered laughter. It marked my the fifth and final stage of grief, for the death of all my hopes for the film.

Man of Stale, sorry, Steel is yet another take on the great American Myth of Superman. The last natural born descendant of the dying race of Krypton, Kal-El (Henry Cavill), is spirited by his loving parents away from a world threatened by military coup (under the command of the blandly villainous General Zod) and core-collapse with the blue print of all Kryptonians tucked into his cradle pod. Arriving in Kansas, that magic land of heroes, Kal, or Clark as he is dubbed, grows up struggling with his powers, always on the run from his destiny but never quite able to turn aside a human in need. Eventually discovering his true legacy, Clark is just in time to don the cape when Zod and his crew of bland nasties arrive intent on destroying the ‘impure’ Clark and recreating Krypton on Earth.

I am sad to say that for all its grandiose graphics and thundering score by Hans Zimmerman (never leaves the blood unstirred, that man) this retelling of the legend could use more finesse and care. There is no rise and fall to the action, just one unending thrash. Even the idyllic scenes of small town Kansas are interrupted by tornados, car crashes, and laser fire.

The whole film is stale, comprised of superhero tropes that are trotted out and trotted in with no regard for the narrative’s needs nor the audiences attention. Facing us are three hours of stale humor, stale plot twists, stale battle choreography (Oh, just hurl the general through that office block some more, will ya Kal?), sterile romance, and squalid vulgarity. The effects, though well chiseled out, happen at such speed that it is difficult to appreciate any of their artistry. Every shot has a grimy feeling to it, as though Metropolis and Krypton and even the depths of space are soiled. Worst of all, the dialog of the film, a waiting garden for the writer to cultivate some many snappy one liners, twisting character development or grand speeches of the nature of humanity and hope, yields only withered weeds and stumps of these promised crops, each smacking strongly of vapidity.

Despite the high concentration of talent working on the film (Lennix, Schiff and Fishburne appear in their accustomed roles of Heroic Authority Figure, Heroic Intellectual, and Heroic Father to his Crew) this poisoned plot seeped and numbed every last performance, even invulnerable superman, to be something flat toned and deadpan. The best performance you can hope to find is that of Russell Crow (once again in his element, thank goodness) as the steely Jor-El, Kal’s father, ready to deliver babys, manipulate machinery with his thoughts, and offer debate about the merits of genocide at a hats drop. The worst you will see is Shannon’s General Zod, a particularly poorly written and conceived role. It was curious to note that, as the film went on, Zod began to look, and indeed sound, more and more like the Evil Twin of Garrison Keillor. I for one would have greatly preferred Mr. Keillor in the role as he certainly could not have done worse with it.

Alas, even the illustrious Adams is not immune to the stale contagion. Though the writers have recast Lois Lane from journalist grunt to intrepid Pulitzer prize winner with a love of adventure (“I get writer’s block when I’m not wearing a flack jacket”) she is mostly confined to the duties of falling through the sky screaming, fleeing adversaries in those ridiculous heels (snicker-snack, snicker-snack) and exchanging smiling glances with Superman across piles of rubble. Glances, born almost a century long romance, which can be summed up as: “He: I am Handsome. You are Pretty.” “She: I prefer the term ‘fresh faced and dew-eyed’ but yes, you are quite Handsome”. Suffice to say we see none of Lois’s Steel, only her Silk, and even that’s poor quality.

And as for Cavill, our hero? Well I’m sad to say he does not distinguish himself in any apartment but physical representation and pained looks. The latter he distributes, with great generosity, upon every passing inconvenience from barking dogs to death ray’s. While his physical presence is most impressive (“He’s hot” coos an army captain in what passes for wit in this sad artless world), the man inside the mussel is locked in his fortress of solitude and refuses to come out, accept to throw us a pained look.

Of course there are moments of goodness: Perry White (Fishburn) struggling to free his coworkers under a pile of Rubble while death by gravitational bounce draws closer, the Lexcorp logo on a demolished truck, the song of a humpbacked whale, an explanation of what that peculiar S really stands for. Yet these are small shiny moments in one unending slog of violence and two-bit heroism. If you go and see it, count yourself fortunate if you can muster a chuckle over the snicker-snack of those heels in the ruins of Metropolis and the Ruins of our american myth.

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