Whatever happened to Brandon Routh…? Not too long ago he saved the world in Superman Returns before quietly fading away, back into oblivion (which actually translates as a little-know sitcom called Partners). It’s something of a mystery, not least because Bryan Singer’s 2006 reworking of the world’s most famous comic book was actually quite good and certainly more intricately drawn than Zach Snyder’s version.
After months of carefully orchestrated hype, complete with portentously thrumming theme music, Man of Steel finally crash-bangs into cinemas.
The film is solid, not super, but if there is one aspect of it that’s worth making a noise about it is home-grown star Henry Cavill (born on Jersey).
To put it bluntly, he’s just a lot more ‘man’ than Brandon Routh and perhaps that’s where Singer fell down, because Routh’s superman was, arguably, a little too boyish and vulnerable. Women loved him; men, not so much.
Cavill will surely appeal to both sexes, but apart from his Olympian build and perfectly chiselled face, there is something deeply soulful about him – he seems genuinely good without being soft.
After a longwinded opener that sees Krypton swallowed in flames and the hero baby shuttled to Earth, Cavill makes a low-key entrance as a bearded fisherman. It’s one of many jobs he struggles to keep because at some point or another, he’s compelled to perform a superhuman feat that has the locals agog and then, it’s on to the next town with the words of his adoptive father echoing in his ears (a poignant role for a craggy Kevin Costner): “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Of course, the wreckage Clark leaves in his wake (including an oil rig spectacularly bent out of shape) creates a trail, and Amy Adams is all over it as Lois Lane, reporter for The Daily Planet.
With this, Snyder hits another stumbling block. Adams is a great actress, immensely likeable and her perky little upturned nose might be ideally suited to sniffing out stories, but when she barks at editor (Laurence Fishburne) for failing to back her up on the story of an “alien” in our midst, you half expect her to stamp her foot, jut her bottom lip and burst into tears.
Adams is no Lois Lane and more crucially, she has absolutely no chemistry with Cavill. He has a stronger bond with mom (Diane Lane, looking nicely weathered and wise) and in any case, the point about this Superman is that he’s a loner, a mega misfit who loves humanity and yet, doesn’t trust them to know his identity.
It’s only when Krypton’s crazed military leader General Zod shows up, inevitably with a nefarious plan to take over the world (another surprisingly shaded turn from the ubiquitous Michael Shannon) that Clark is forced to come out of hiding – in a tight blue bodysuit and flowing red cape.
Well, if you’re gonna come out, you’ve got to come out in style! It’s one of those moments that cinema was made for; to inspire cheers from the crowd as they finally cotton on to something known and beloved.
But, Snyder plays it down. Everything that’s cosy and familiar about Superman/Clark (the phone box, Metropolis, the black-framed spectacles) is held back. Snyder is bent on keeping the gravitas, even down to the juddering camerawork and slightly grainy, bleached out visuals.
Surely, this approach has much to do with producer Christopher Nolan who has taken Batman and successfully turned him into ‘The Dark Knight’, the ultimate noirish antihero.
But these are two very different superheroes.
For one thing, Batman wears black. His darkness stems from a shockingly violent childhood trauma. Superman grew up in the cornfields of Kansas – the very picture of a wholesome upbringing. The ordeal that shapes him is laboriously concocted here and in particular, a formative moment with dad in the middle of a tornado leaves a supersized plot-hole that threatens to suck all the credibility that Snyder has tried so hard to imbue in the film. As his biological father Jor-El, whose consciousness is preserved by alien science, Russell Crowe is more wooden than holographic. He literally acts as a signpost, pointing the way to safety in moments of peril.
Fortunately for Crowe, scenes of disaster porn provide an entertaining distraction, especially in the latter stages. In fact, there’s a danger of sensory overload with skyscrapers tumbling, mushroom clouds blooming and an almost constant sonic boom to rattle your bones.
There is plenty of visceral excitement (maybe too much for the filmgoer who projectile vomited in the screening RT attended), but Snyder misses a trick with the flying scenes.
They could have been more immersive and it’s worth noting, the 3D effect does nothing to enhance the action. In the end, however, the one component that would have really lifted this movie is: a sense of humour. The screwball energy of the original Superman movies (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder throwing zingers at each other across the newsroom) struck a perfect balance with the jaw-clenching derring-do.
Henry Cavill is a worthy Superman, but if this franchise is going to fly, he’s got to lighten up.