Movie Review: Man of Steel

With the destruction of his home planet, Krypton, imminent, a newborn named Kal-El (Henry Cavill) is sent off by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) in a spaceship bound for earth, bearing within him the codex for Krypton which will ostensibly allow for the planet’s rebirth. Once here, Kal is adopted by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and finds that he is greatly empowered by the proximity of our yellow sun. Gifted with startling abilities that he cannot fully grasp nor understand how to use, Kal (now named Clark Kent) drifts through his first 33 years, occasionally stopping in his travels to save someone’s life but never realizing his full potential. But when General Zod (Michael Shannon), a deranged exile from Krypton shows up in search of the codex with plans to destroy earth’s population, Kal must decide to fully embrace his ability in order to protect the world that has become his home. I feel kind of stupid summarizing the plot to a Superman movie given that his is one of the Metropolis - Finalmost well-known mythologies in the world, but one Man of Steel’s bright spots is its reinvention of the source material. Similar to what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek, the team behind this film (writer David S. Goyer, director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan) took what had become a fairly tired story and breathed a bit of new life into it while still holding (relatively) true to (most of) the established backstory. Man of Steel plays like an actual reboot rather than a remake of the 1978 Superman and in my mind that’s a good thing. To be frank, Superman himself is the most boring of superheroes in my mind and all of the previous Superman films are kind of terrible. The version of Superman presented here is much more approachable than any previous Superman has been and the darker tones that Man of Steel delves into serve the character well. It’s not a perfect script, especially when it comes to the dialogue and exposition, but it gives this franchise a much better foundation than I would have expected.

The cast of Man of Steel give quality performances and this goes especially for Cavill who was a huge question mark coming in. I’ve seen Cavill perform in perhaps three other films and was thoroughly unimpressed with his effort in each entry but here he embraces both the human and superhuman aspects of Superman quite well. He might not be Christian Bale but he’s certainly no Brandon Routh either. Shannon, truly one of the industry’s best actors, doesn’t get as much to work with as I might have hoped but takes advantage of every opportunity he gets. Of the two fathers, Crowe gets the lion’s share of the screen time but Costner’s limited scenes might be the most emotionally relevant of the film.

There’s a lot to like about Man of Steel and plenty of flaws that could be overlooked in most cases. Unfortunately, however, much of it is undone by the horrific direction, especially in regards to Snyder’s film technique. I was nervous about Snyder’s involvement when his name was announced but tricked myself into believing that the studio (and more importantly, Christopher Nolan) wouldn’t let him screw up a huge tentpole film like Man of Steel. I was wrong as it seems to me that the entire film is just a 145 minute adventure in Snyder showing off all the cool tricks he knows how to do with a camera. I’m not opposed to the hand-held/shaky camera style of filming. The format has its merits and can be very effective in the right situation and in the right hands. But a massive, all-encompassing, CGI-laden superhero blockbuster like Man of Steel is not the right situation and Snyder’s are clearly not the right hands. Almost the entirety of the film is shot in shake-camera format, much of it is out of focus, and Snyder continually insists on shooting in close-up. If you’ve ever wondered what Superman’s nose hairs look like, Zack Snyder has an answer for you. The film moves way, WAY too fast for the camera to keep up and as a result of all of this, the visuals within this film are brutally disorienting and headache-inducing. My wife wanted to leave and if we had been so foolish as to purchase 3D tickets, I think I might have walked out. It’s that bad from a visual standpoint and for me, Snyder’s massive missteps strip Man of Steel of almost any merit it may have beyond a general hope that someday there will be a sequel that Snyder is not involved in. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for comic book violence, some harsh themes, maybe a little language)

Note: My grade started out as a C/C+, jumped up to a B as I was writing the middle paragraphs, and finally settled in at a B-. Basically, it comes down to how much I appreciate the path Goyer has set this franchise on versus how much I loathe Zack Snyder's hideous work behind the camera. I recommend skipping this film in theaters and watching it on DVD/Blu-Ray when the maddening visuals will be less horrifically disorienting.

In Home Viewings: The Cold Light of Day

While vacationing with his family in Madrid, Wall Street trader Will (Henry Cavill) makes a routine trip into town to make a phone call. When he returns, his family has disappeared and the sailing boat they were staying on has been ransacked. Before he knows what’s happening, Will is waylaid and only avoids capture when his father, Martin (Bruce Willis), comes to the rescue. It turns out that Martin doesn’t have the cushy embassy job he’s talked about for years but he is, instead, a special agent. Soon Will is caught between two groups of intelligence troops, both after a briefcase Martin recently passed off and both threatening to kill his family if he doesn’t get them what they want. The Cold Light of Day is the sort of movie that reminds you that if everyone is saying something, it is probably true. When it opened to less than $2 million dollars and a horrid rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I had this misguided feeling that it couldn’t be as bad as people were saying it was. I mean, Bruce Willis is involved so it can’t be all that bad, right? Man oh man, was I wrong. Within the first two minutes of putting the DVD in my player, I knew I had made a mistake and my punishment for such an egregious error was to sit through the next 90 minutes and try not to yell and throw things at the TV. I barely made it.

But what makes The Cold Light of Day so bad, you ask? In a word, everything. LITERALLY. Everything. Its star, Cavill, gives absolutely no indication that he is capable of taking over an iconic character like he will in Man of Steel. Will is a bumbling fool and Cavill’s attempts to make his foolishness appealing are dreadful. Repeat: Dreadful. In fairness, he gets very little support from the established actors around him, partly because they all have limited screentime and partly because it’s very clear that all of them only came to the set because their agents couldn’t find a way out of their respective contracts. The narrative is as paint-by-numbers as you can get as almost any viewer could predict exactly what is going to happen and when right on down to the final line of the movie. Scott Wiper and John Petro must be very proud of their work on this script. And Mabrouk El Mechri provides direction in such a way that I began to wonder if he never wanted to make an American movie again and therefore sabotaged himself. It’s that bad.

If The Cold Light of Day has any redeeming quality, it is the fact that it is mercifully short. IMDB has it pegged at 93 minutes but it’s much closer to an hour-twenty and if I’m being honest, 93 minutes might have been the death of me. At least the filmmakers got one thing right. This aside, however, The Cold Light of Day is devoid of entertainment value of any kind and I pray you’ll learn from my mistake and just stay away.

The Cold Light of Day Director: Mabrouk El Mechri Cast: Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver Rated: PG-13 (violence and language) Recommended For: People who hate Henry Cavill and want to see him suffer