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Review Man of Steel: The word superman is kept at arm’s length

<i>Man of Steel</i> has got more to do with the 'steel' part.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Written by Shalini Langer | Mumbai |
June 14, 2013 4:26:16 pm

Cast: Henry Cavill,Amy Adams,Michael Shannon,Russell Crowe,Kevin Costner,Diane Lane,Laurence Fishburne

Director: Zack Snyder

The Indian Express rating: * 1/2

There is a reason this film is called Man of Steel,and it’s got more to do with the “steel” part. There is so much of the periodic table in this confused blockbuster,despite its desperate attempts at contemplation in the tradition of the Dark Knight trilogy,that you have to scour for the man. But then when he does come on,Cavill fails to inspire or to evoke sympathy for his dilemmas.

A man who has come to help others from a distant land,who may be misunderstood by those who he is selflessly trying to help,is a theory that may hold resonance for American audiences. And that is what Snyder,of 300 fame,is going for here,at great effort. In fact,the word “superman” itself is kept at arm’s length,with even the ‘S’ on his costume explained as a symbol of ‘The House of El’,meaning hope,from his home planet Krypton.

Krypton itself is a cold,dark,cavernous place with anorexic royals who could have been lifted straight out of 300. Clark Kent is born here as Kal,the first “natural birth” on the planet in thousands of years. For,Kryptonites have taken to artificially propagating bloodlines that are considered superior,to be incubated in genesis hubs. Before Krypton explodes,Kal’s father played by Crowe manages to send him away on a capsule.

Crowe,however,continues to play a long and crucial role in the film as the ghost with the power to not just surface inside capsules he designed as Krypton’s chief scientist but also to manipulate them. Back on Earth,it’s he who explains Kal’s destiny to him,when he is pondering over those strange powers he has always lived with.

His Earthling parents Costner and Lane are nice and warm,in a film sorely lacking on both fronts. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is wasted and hilariously so,stomping her feet in one scene to declare to her editor (Fishburne),”I am a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist!”

As Cavill revels in his frowns,Shannon as the villain Zod conveys his wrath through clenched teeth. His sidekicks,or rather one churlish sidekick,are reduced to long glares and monotonous threats.

What is the most disconcerting part about Man of Steel though is its uneven pacing,unsure of whether it wants to be a blockbuster or a film about a man finding himself,or a boy growing up with scary powers,or a man finding his feet. It achieves none of the above credibly,being too loud (in all senses of the word) when it comes to the bang and too obvious when it comes to the pangs,and being always very,very solemn,trying very,very hard.

Where is the joy of that superhero associated with literally three exclamations — ‘It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!’? Where is the wonder of the boy rescued by a caped man? Where is that exhilaration of finding oneself above the world (flying at supermach speeds isn’t really the answer)? Where is even that private chuckle at being able to see through Lois’s clothes?

Christopher Nolan is associated with the film as producer,but with or without him,Snyder doesn’t have the touch to give his Superman the heft of Dark Knight or the lightness of Spiderman. Here people are sent to “300 cycles of somatic reconditioning” when they are to be frozen in icepods,and Earth is “terraformed” when it is essentially being changed into Krypton. Pilots flying to certain death are told to send “damage assessment reports” when they can.

Could Snyder actually,actually be mocking end-of-the-world scenarios? You wish.

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