Director: Zack Snyder
Stars:  Henry CavillAmy AdamsMichael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe
Running time: 143 minutes
Rating: PG-13
✭✭✭✭✭✩✩✩✩✩
Score: 5/10

Like a ton of bricks, the second major comic book movie of the summer, the Superman reboot Man of Steel, is upon us. Beginning on the planet of Krypton, where a special boy named Kal-El has been born, and eventually traveling to the most American of American states, Kansas, Man of Steel traces Superman's origin. Once the groundwork of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) has been laid, the film becomes about the conflict between the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon), a crazed resident of the former Krypton hellbent on erecting his past world on the surface of Earth. This would not be a good thing for humans.

The Complex Pop Culture team—Tara Aquino, Matt Barone, and Ross Scarano—saw Man of Steel earlier in the week, and then sat down to debate the film via a round table discussion. It wasn't pretty.

Warning: There will be spoilers.

Matt: The first footage we saw, in the trailer, had a Terrence Malick feel. I remember thinking, "This is Zack Snyder? This is Superman?"

Ross: Right. It seemed like we were going to get a contemplative, pensive Superman. Something where you would have time to sit with the characters and see them differently.

Matt: And that’s why I feel like I got duped.

Ross: The film opens on Krypton, and spends so much time there, with dragons and volcanoes.

Matt: The longest prologue ever.

Ross: I don’t know the Superman origin story very well, but I always thought Krypton was dying and that’s why his parents sent the baby into space. But in the film, we have that happening, and we also have a political coup, led by General Zod. Was that always a part of it? It's a lot of confusion.

Tara: I didn’t understand why General Zod was that pissed off. It felt like he just turned bad all of a sudden.

Ross: He was mad because the bloodline of Krypton was being corrupted? Either way, he was mad that the baby was going into space with all of Krypton's DNA loaded inside.

Matt: Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors, but he was only allowed to huff and puff.

Ross: By-the-numbers Michael Shannon being crazy.

Matt: I don't feel like I got to know any of the characters. Everyone was one note, one dimensional. The movie relied on your previous associations with the material. "Oh, that's Superman and I recognize him because I know about Superman. "Oh, there's General Zod—cool!” It was like the filmmakers figured we didn't need to learn anything about them.

Ross:
Many of the scenes feel so short, that they're off-putting.

Matt: The transitions are weird.

Ross: They're abrupt; things happen too quickly. At the beginning, we have the long, action-packed prologue on Krypton, and then we jump right to beardo Clark Kent working on fishing boat, and generally seeming like a dope. And that felt right, because the trailer suggested we'd have somber moments where Superman feels apart from the world. And then, all of a sudden, an oil rig is engulfed in flames, and Clark Kent's gotta save people.

Matt: Every moment where they were trying to give you some sort of character development then also had to be a big action moment. We see him gets bullied as a kid on the school bus, but as soon as that happens, there’s a big action sequence that turns it into a spectacle. It happened in the scenes with his dad (played by Kevin Costner), too.

Ross: Every single time Costner and kid Clark had a conversation, everything had to be explicit. Like, we have to talk about the plot right now—we have to talk about how we found you, which leads immediately into your responsibilities. The film didn't allow for any quiet moments between any of the characters, any moments where the characters didn't have to reveal massive things about themselves or the story.

 

That’s when a movie goes wrong, when you start thinking about the property damage.

 

Tara: And all the scenes in Kansas felt like commercials for America, or Hallmark cards. They sold you cheese.

Matt: From the trailer, it wasn't supposed to be this way. This was supposed to be different, a darker take on Superman, where the idea is that he is going to be rejected by the public, that they won't understand what he is. And Kevin Costner's character tells that to his son, asks him to hide his powers. But the film never delivers on that. By the middle of the movie, when the action starts, it feels like you're watching a sequel where this guy is already living in this world where everyone accepts who he is. Because you never feel like he'll be persecuted for it, all the early scenes between him and his father are meaningless. What’s the point of him being there if as soon as Superman is revealed to the world as an alien, there’s no real sense of people being afraid of him. There's a curiosity on their part, and some confusion, like, "OK, this is weird." But there’s no sense of a revolt against him, or that he's the enemy that his dad said he'd become

Ross: And I didn’t feel anything about Lois Lane (Amy Adams); I couldn’t understand why she was falling for Superman, other than that he saved her life a half-dozen times. If that's the criteria, then sure, time to kiss this guy on the mouth, I guess.

Tara: I feel like a lot of things in the movie happened only because they happen in the comics. With Perry White and Jenny Olson—they’re just there because they have to be there.

Ross: There about as meaningful as the fact that you see a tanker at one point that has Lex Corp written across the side.

Tara: Product placement.

Ross: Honestly, most of the movie happened because of IHOP and Sears.

Tara: There was so much product placement. Don't forget Nikon and 7-Eleven. But what really brought things down was Russell Crowe. When he shows up later, as a projection helping Amy Adams, there's no sense of urgency. He literally spews directions at her and it's clear that everything is going to be OK.

Ross: I think that sums up the problem with most of the movie. I never believed that anybody was in danger, that there were any real stakes. Not even during the hour-long climax. The fight with General Zod could have gone on for two hours because I didn’t know how it would end. How would these invincible characters stop each other? One was going to punch the other harder?

Matt: It’s one of those fights where no one gets hurt. It could have gone on forever with no one having a bruise, and you knew that Superman was going to win.

Ross: There’s too much money at stake for it to be any other way. Literally before I saw this movie, I knew that there was a sequel. And so the final confrontation becomes boring.

Matt: I think per square foot, this had the most falling buildings I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Ross: If Superman’s purpose is to save the human race, he did a terrible job, because so many innocent people died in collapsing buildings. Every time General Zod threw him threw a building, I thought, "How many hundreds have just perished?"

Tara: That’s when a movie goes wrong, when you start thinking about the property damage. But in closing, Henry Cavill’s face is amazing. 

Ross: The most moving spectacles in the movie are his bulging pectorals.

Tara: The only captivating thing is his face.

Matt: I wasn’t bored, though.

Ross: I was bored during the fight scenes.

Matt: But, at the same time, I never want to see this movie again. The story is a mess. It felt like it was in a race to get to the hour-long climax. It’s weird to call a two-and-a-half hour move rushed but—

Ross: It was somehow rushed and dull. 

Tara: The climax lasted an hour. This guy sitting next to us checked his phone at 7:30, and we had just started the final climax. And then it didn’t end until 8:30.

Matt: So almost half of the movie is the climax.

Ross: Then it ceases to be a climax. A climax needs to stand out as concentrated and intense moment of energy. It can’t be something sustainable.

Tara: The saddest part about walking out of the screening was when I overheard someone say, “I feel like I just watched Transformers.” 

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Review by Tara Aquino, Matt Barone, and Ross Scarano