Superman is a genre unto itself. From its early days in comics, to TV, to its real-world fascination in films like Hollywoodland, to the 5 movies it has spawned, it is its own industry. I have to admit that when I heard the saga was being rebooted yet again, especially after the recent and pointless Superman Returns, I was less than enthusiastic despite the creative team behind the effort.
From the literal re-birth at the top, with nods to The Matrix, and through the Jesus imagery, I knew I was in trouble with the film. For a moment I had been elated as it looked like Shannon’s (Premium Rush) Zod was going to have more believable motivation and emotional keel than he is usually portrayed, but that went out airlock quickly. While script attempts to cover the reasoning with a side-step into eugenics near the end of the film, it was a thin excuse.
Most surprising was that the movie as a whole was so self-conscious and without any of the depth and effective storytelling I have enjoyed with any of those involved: Snyder (Sucker Punch) as director, Goyer (Dark City) and Nolan’s (Dark Knight Rises) script and story. Perhaps this is a case of too many cooks? Each of these folks has writing and directing backgrounds, usually directing their own work. In putting them together, something ephemeral was lost. The movie is a huge and entertaining roller-coaster from an action point of view, but it never really comes together as a movie.
What we ended up with, from a story angle, was a confused mess of motivations and science with beautiful visuals and f/x. The story itself was almost devoid of emotions other than shock and awe for the action sequences. The closest we have to an emotional connection is with Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun), as his mother, and their family dog. The rest all feels very much presentational; we want to feel something during moments with his father, Crowe (Les Miserables) and Costner (Rumor Has It), but it simply isn’t there.
On the positive side, Adams (The Muppets) and Lane were both allowed to be strong, competent women. OK, they had Lois getting into trouble and screaming more than once, but all those cases were logically acceptable for me. That she put herself in those situations spoke to her gumption (yes, I said gumption, this is an updated period piece) rather than stupidity.
You may have noticed I haven’t even touched on our leading man, Cavill (Immortals, Tudors, Stardust). This is because he was essentially a plastic doll dressed up to serve a purpose. He served it well, but there was no connection with the audience. It could have been any youngish, buff, blue-eyed hero with wavy black hair. This is where Christopher Reeve’s performance was ahead of all that have followed. He created a Superman that was, well, human.
A bit of trivia: Cavill was up to play the role in Superman Returns, but was released when the project changed directors.
So why this movie at this time? I think the answer is that everyone is trying desperately to compete with Marvel and Disney now that The Avengers cycle is such a hit; we’re already two movies into Phase 2 with Thor: The Dark World still on screens. If you doubt me, note that the sequel to this film is Superman vs. Batman, coming out in 2015, and will be followed with Justice League the following year. There is money in all that old pulp, but only, if like the Marvel universe, they give us better stories. Despite the success of horrible films that had great effects (Avatar, Transformers, etc), longevity of the properties requires better scripts. Even Cameron has allowed others to write the scripts for the Avatar sequels in the works. Here’s hoping they can pull Superman together for the next round. They’re working with a rich universe, now they just have to let us in rather than just show it to us.