Man of Steel

By Casey Tourangeau

Mailed on June 14, 2013

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Dear Christopher Nolan

Dear Christopher,

I barely even know where to start.

I mean, I certainly understand why DC Comics trusted you to oversee Man of _Steel and the relaunch of the Superman franchise. No one's going to argue that your Dark Knight Trilogy - which successfully walked the line between honouring the source material and presenting it with a fresh vision - isn't loved (for the most part) by both mainstream audiences and devoted fans of the comics. And, like any influential piece of pop art, the dark, gritty style of those films became _de rigueur for superhero movies looking to be taken seriously.

But here's the thing: not every comic book movie needs that sheen of self-importance to be successful. If nothing else, Joss Whedon recently proved as much with The Avengers; good execution and joyous storytelling can impress as strongly as the darkest tragedy. You just need to know when to play which card. Batman, a character born of tragedy and anger, naturally falls into step with a dark vision. Superman, however, is no Batman.

You might think that I'm picking on you a bit. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of blame to go around. Screenwriter Davide Goyer and director Zack Snyder have to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for this misfire, but you also share story credit with Goyer, and Man of Steel has your fingerprints all over it. So much so that it actually feels like you and Goyer simply took the structure form 2005's Batman Begins and slapped it onto the Superman mythology. Like that earlier film the backstory of Kal-El (Henry Cavill), last son of Krypton, is told through nonlinear flashbacks, jumping back and forth in time trying to tell a familiar story in an unfamiliar way creating a composite built from the character's past experiences.

Unfortunately this creates a major structural fault, as the entire first act of the movie, which begins with Kal's birth, would not exist in his memory. The solution seems to have been to ignore this issue and rush headlong into the story, forcing the audience to catch up. While I'm a fan of narrative economy, the entire Krypton sequence had more of a "lets get this over with" feel than "try to keep up with us." Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the evil General Zod explain (well, more yell) their backstories to each other - nothing is shown. Instead, you and Snyder seem more interested in creating a version of Krypton that is so visually busy, it would have felt more at home in a _Star _Wars prequel.

This rush might have made sense if Man of Steel was rushing toward the revelation of Superman himself, but the film seems strangely embarrassed by it's own hero. Instead of embracing the innate goodness of Superman, you've added a layer of grime, as if to let the audience know you think he's too square for a modern blockbuster. Henry Cavill, in his chiseled perfection, certainly looks the part of Superman, but he doesn't feel the part.

There's a lot of looking-but-not-feeling going around in Man of Steel. The film is stuffed with good actors: Michael Shannon as Zod; Amy Adams as Lois Lane; Lawrence Fishburne as Perry white; Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Ma and Pa Kent. But apart from Costner and Lane -- both of whom bring some much needed warmth to the film -- everyone registers more as name checks than actual characters. Jimmy Olsen has been reinvented as Jenny Olsen, but her character is so insignificant, I didn't realize who she was until reading over the credits a day later.

And, in a depressing trend for blockbusters this year, Man of Steel seems more interested in creating a reaction from the audience by linking it's imagery to a post 9/11 world. There is so much wanton destruction as Superman battles Zod in the film's climax, that I was sure I was witnessing tens of thousands of deaths every minute in the background as the film focuses on the foreground action. What's worse, Superman never does anything to stop this. The only way to see Superman save anyone in the Man of Steel is to watch the third act in reverse.

And if anything in this film is truly tragic, it's that.

Still waiting for Superman,


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