Man of Steel, possibly the tallest of all the studio's summer tentpole blockbusters, broke box office records in its opening weekend, making over $125 million and becoming the biggest June opening ever. However, Man of Steel seems to be one of those films that polarizes audiences and critics, earning a 55 percent "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Tomatometer-wise, that puts Man of Steel in the same company as the first Transformers movie (which earned 57 percent), marking the beginning of a franchise popular with fans but increasingly despised by critics who say it epitomizes the dumbing down of America and has cemented director/producer Michael Bay as one of Hollywood's most hated directors.
Man of Steel isn't Transformers-grade bad, though it ends with the sort of overly-loud, overly-long CG destruction-fest that would be right at home in a Transformers film. But my biggest problem with Man of Steel is one that has kept me from liking Superman my whole life -- that a superhero with godlike powers and unimpeachable morals is very difficult to relate to or empathize with. And it doesn't help when that superhero looks like his real identity crisis is whether to be a bodybuilder or a fashion model. Watch my ReThink Review of Man of Steel below (transcript following).
As a kid, I liked the Superfriends cartoon, and while it was fun to fantasize about what it would be like to have Superman's powers, I was never a fan of Superman himself, maybe because I found him rather unrelateable. But if anyone could bring Superman into the real world for a modern audience, the best team you could ask for would be Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer, the masterminds behind the Dark Knight films, and Zack Snyder, a director who specializes in seamlessly combining actors and digital effects. But while Man of Steel does the best job yet of visually putting Superman in the 21st century, I still couldn't connect with the last son of Krypton in a movie that eventually goes too long and way too loud.
Clark Kent (aka Superman) is played as an adult by Henry Cavill, a guy who looks like a bodybuilder moonlighting as a fashion model, and is about as accessible. However, you get some empathy during Man of Steel's many flashbacks to Clark as a boy growing up in Kansas, which I found to be the most interesting and humanizing parts of the film as we see young Clark tormented by his strange powers, the pressure to keep them secret, and the alienation he feels from knowing how different and alone he truly is. It's Clark's adoptive parents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who instill the values and perspective Clark needs to be the hero he becomes, and Costner does a great job of showing what makes Clark a true dual citizen.
The villain in Man of Steel is General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), who was the military commander of Clark's home planet of Krypton before it was destroyed. With a vendetta against Clark's Kryptonian family, Zod and his crew come to earth with plans to kill Clark and turn Earth into a new Krypton, killing all humans in the process.
Perhaps the best thing about Man of Steel is that computer graphics have advanced to the point where we're able to see Superman fly and fight in a more realistic way than ever before, giving you the sense of how it would look if a person could actually fly, as well as the speed and force with which two Kryptonians would battle. However, both these things lose their luster over the film's nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, and especially in the last fight scene, which drags on for what seems like 30-45 minutes of earsplitting destruction.
Unfortunately, that didn't leave me with a whole lot to like, including Clark Kent himself. I think a big reason why I never got into Superman is that with his godlike powers and his seemingly unimpeachable morals, Superman is nearly impossible to relate to. The responsibility of his powers is so awesome that the character doesn't allow for much darkness, humor, or really humanity for the audience to connect with. His powers are so limitless that I never felt worried that he wouldn't be able to accomplish or overcome something. And while I did feel sorry for Clark as a kid, that sympathy disappears when you see that he grew up to be the most handsome and ripped guy ever, and his tight outfit won't let you forget it. It's Cavill's looks that help rob the supposed romance between Superman and reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) of any real chemistry.
Add an overly serious tone, some annoying reappearances by Crowe, and an uninteresting plot involving Kryptonian DNA and a silly doomsday device called the World Engine, and the overly long, overly loud finale really starts to grate on your nerves, especially since it's dragged out by following around Lois Lane's boss (played by Laurence Fishburne) and some of Lane's Daily Planet co-workers, though it's never explained why we should care about them. While Man of Steel will clearly make all the money it needs to justify a sequel and perhaps a Justice League megamovie, it's a pretty inauspicious beginning to this all-important franchise. Then again, Batman Begins wasn't that hot, and the Dark Knight franchise mostly turned out okay, so maybe there's room for optimism. But from what I saw in Man of Steel, not a lot.