What Went Wrong
The truth is the truth:
In their mutation from the printed/digital comic book world into the live-action feature film universe, the superheroes of the Marvel Universe are overwhelmingly the victors while to DC’s camp go the spoils, the clunkers and the position of a distant second best.
From the get-go, Marvel has thrown all the right the heroic punches, as much as it consistently enters the ring with sheer, unadulterated courage and innovative product.
To put it simply, Marvel has guts — they deliver their superior human flicks in the right manner. They stick to the mythology of their selected comic book origins and hold back on the edgy innovation. It’s still there — but they don’t make such a big deal out of the alterations — as does DC.
It Took Too Long
For what seemed like eons, DC, and its Warner Bros. studio partner, dragged their collective butt in spotty attempts to, for one, get their Justice League (as a group or individually) up on the big screen. Although their Christopher Nolan-directed Batman/Dark Knight trilogy was a massive hit, and the Nolan-produced Man of Steel, directed by Zach Snyder, had intended to grant a potent shot in the arm to the Superman franchise. But the success of Marvel’s multi-guided Captain America/Thor/Iron Man/Avengers movies (not to mention their Spider-Man flicks, all editions) have far superseded (sorry) DC’s less-than-stellar entries into the genre (hello and goodbye Green Lantern).
To put it simply again, Marvel’s wonder mutants are just a lot more fun to watch; they have more pep, the casting is spot-on — and their “joy factor” is tremendous.
On the other hand, DC’s super frenzy of motion picture heroes lack the vibrant spirit and color (in tone, cinematography and costume) of their comic book page origins.
Man of Steel (MOS), for one, was utterly vacant of joy when it premiered way back in 2013 when it was supposed to reboot the Superman film franchise. It was a downright depressing entry. What it lacked in figurative character it additionally lacked in characters, period, namely, The Daily Planet junior photographer Jimmy Olsen. He should have been in this initial reboot, if anything, in place of that ridiculous Steve Lombard reporter character (annoyingly played by Michael Kelly).
And were they kidding with the hand-cam cinematography? Millions of dollars were allocated for this movie — and portions of it are filmed like a low-funded Billy Jack remake — minus the Cinescope?!
Equally disturbing was the overwhelming volume of sound, the overt-destruction of Smallville and Metropolis (thousands had to die?!), and the excessive alien-space/sci-fi-ness to it all.
It’s All About The Casting
It was all so distracting and disappointing, as were some of the casting choices, the actors and their acting; the writing, the dialogue and the directing.
Helmer Snyder might know what he’s doing with large-scale, action-adventure landscaping, but when it comes to intimate scene editing, and guiding actors and getting legitimately human emotions and interactions from and between them — well, Tom Whedon (The Avengers), he ain’t.
I found myself actually shaking my head through a good portion of the film, in awe of how sophomoric was its execution in general; and while assessing specific aspects of it such as the miscasting of villain General Zod (played by Michael Shannon with a seemingly-Mary Poppins voice), and those Russell Crowe-Jor-El/mirror/on-the-Krypton-vessel moments (Seriously?!).
As to Henry Cavill, who embodied Clark Kent/Superman, the dude’s great looking — but his presence just isn’t big enough, vertically and dynamically. He’s too short — and that cape was too long (it’s clearly dragging the ground, tattered and dirty in certain moments — and that no one would catch that — or that anyone would allow that to make it on screen — is head-shake worthy). Cavill clearly worked hard to get that body — but Superman is BUILT…not developed. There’s a difference.
Christopher Reeve, who is considered by scores as the one and only true cinematic-Superman, was born with his form (God bless him), while Cavill had to develop (and sometimes pump it up before shooting (which was painfully obvious in a few scenes with the actor’s awkward physical movements). Reeve was 6', 6,” larger than life and had personality. Cavill is just “life,” minus the personality.
And although casting an African-American actor (Laurence Fishburne) as Perry White was a progressive move on the studio’s part, having Amy Adams portray Lois Lane was a mistake. She just didn’t do it for me. (And since when does Lois Lane have red hair? Apparently, since she developed absolutely no on-screen chemistry with Clark Kent.)
Too Dang Dark
Overall, the MOS presentation was again, just too dang dark, dingy and sad and, consequently, I was sad upon leaving the theatre.
Unlike, the essence of DC’s Batman character, the Superman character is not dark by nature. Therefore, it’s totally acceptable that the Dark Knight trilogy would be dark in tone, in character, in story presentation, and in general execution.
But as explained in the earliest DC comic books (and to some extent, in the later editions) what transpires in the life and development of Superman, from an organic standpoint, is ultimately quite upbeat. Firstly, in the attempt to save his life (which they ultimately do), his parents jettison him from their dying home planet of Krypton to Earth. He falls into the farm fields and loving arms of the childless Martha and Jonathan Kent (in MOS played by a ridiculous Diane Lane and an okay Kevin Costner). They raise him to be a fine upstanding young man, who retains an assortment of additional extraordinary powers, including astounding strength, heat vision — and the ability to fly.
How cool is that?!
So, why in tarnation would the DC/WB crew decide to darken that world and destroy that optimistic and hopeful view with the heavy-laden Man of Steel? As Cavill’s Clark tells Adams’ Lois in one scene, the S on Superman’s skin-tight garb is his home-world monogram for hope.
Thank goodness he explained that because otherwise, one wouldn’t have surmised as much upon viewing the rest of the MOS.
With its implementation of the movie, the DC/WB camp may have figured that since director/producer Nolan did such a great job with his dark take on Batman that he could pull a similar stunt with the Superman films.
But such did not transpire. In fact, with Man of Steel, the dark issues were merely intensified with Nolan’s decision not to direct the project, and to instead hire Snyder — who, as mentioned, guided the equally joyless (and very bloody) 300. In effect, a Kick-Ass film director does not a kick-ass Superman film, make (or something like that).
Certainly, DC/WB made a noble attempt to hire Nolan and subsequently Snyder.
The objective was to think out of the box and make something really different.
That’s all fine and good.
But in doing so, one cannot — nor one should not — go too far outside the box, or one may not find any audience outside at the box-office.
Clearly, again, this did not happen with MOS.
The Man of Steel did marginally well at the box office. But I’m not so sure that is a testament to its quality as more to its brilliant, massive and somewhat desperate-looking marketing campaign.
And please note: this cinematic opinion isn’t about a baby boomer’s misunderstanding of a contemporary take.
Good is good; well-done is well-done — in any era and in any genre.
The music of Frank Sinatra and Beethoven will always be great music whenever it’s heard. Casablanca and Citizen Cane will ever be considered genius filmmaking in any decade in which they are screened.
In like (or dislike) manner, sub-par movie-making is sub-par movie-making, whether the budget is a college-bound five thousand clams or a multi-million dollar studio-endorsed epic like Man of Steel.
With that said, in only in the last few minutes of MOS do we catch a mere glimpse of the fun the entire production might have embraced and showcased from the on-set had Snyder, Nolan, DC or Warner Bros. saw the forest through their superhero trees and camera angles.
For my money, whoever is in charge of the sequel (or the Justice League, in general, for that matter), should hire a happy director (who will at the very least start things off by bringing back that original bright red and blue costume!).
Because this time, we had nothing but a loud, noisy, spiritless film in which Superman (spoiler alert) actually kills someone — which once more — goes against the very grain of everything the character has stood for from day one (in DC Action Comics Number 1).
And if DC ever, ever hopes to catch up with Marvel’s supersonic hero-based films and their perfectly-balanced mix of success, quality, and sincere critical acclaim, then first off, they better keep trying. And whichever creative team that’s in place will need to step into the ring with their gloves off and they’re thinking caps on, and leave any clouded-egos at the door.
If not, the consequences will continue to be dire, with a less-than-worthy product like Man of Steel — the very core of which in the big-screen, superhero scheme of things, seemed like an empty and hallow re-telling of the Tin Man — without the heart or a personality.