Movie Talk

First Reviews Are In: Is 'Man of Steel' Too Dark, Too Big, Too Much?

Movie Talk

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'Man of Steel'

'Man of Steel' (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It's big, it's spectacular, and it's action packed. And it's pretty dark for a thrill ride.

The first reviews were released Monday evening for "Man of Steel," Zack Snyder's eagerly-awaited re-imagining of the Superman legend, and the initial critical consensus is very much mixed.

Everyone agrees that Snyder spared no expense to make "Man of Steel" a truly epic-scale superhero adventure. And there's no argument that Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan succeeded in giving Superman's origin story a more serious and contemplative tone. But a number of critics think the creative team may have gone a bit too far in both directions, making for a movie that's too over the top and lacking in heart.

[Related: Superman’s New ‘Man of Steel’ Costume Inspires Giggles and Grandeur]

In an enthusiastic write-up, Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter said, "To the oft-asked question of whether or not the world is really starving for yet another superhero origin story, 'Man of Steel' simply responds by serving up what could be as much spectacle and action – minute-by-minute, frame-by-frame – as any movie anyone could think of." And McCarthy's colleagues agree – nearly every review has noted that "Man of Steel" looks remarkable, with all manner of high-end digital trickery used to create the planet Krypton, various disasters on Earth (both on land and at sea) where the lost planet's last hope comes to the rescue, and no-holds-barred battles between Kal-El (who is only occasionally referred to as "Superman" in the movie, and played by Henry Cavill) and the allies of the evil General Zod.

Much is also made of the fact that "Man of Steel" puts a darker and more cerebral spin on the origins of Superman compared to his previous screen incarnations. In "Man of Steel," Cavill's superhero spends much of the movie struggling to make sense of his place on Earth and his destiny to serve its people, especially in his teen years, as he becomes increasingly aware of his exceptional powers. Depending on which writer you're reading, Synder and his team have either made the film just a little too serious, or robbed it of most of its joy. "Gone … are any of those lighter moments, fondly remembered from Supermen past, in which our hero – in or out of disguise – used his powers for decidedly non-super feats and, by doing so, grew closer to his fellow man," Variety's Scott Foundas wrote.

Critics are also drawing parallels between the grittier approach of "Man of Steel" and the darker, psychologically-driven portrait of Batman in producer Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. "'Man of Steel' sets out to darken up the last son of Krypton and to fit him to the current trend of brooding, haunted vigilantes," wrote Alonso Duralde for The Wrap, adding, "For the most part, it works." However, IndieWire's take on the movie was less enthusiastic, with Eric Kohn writing, "The dreary atmosphere underscores unremitting commitment to a brooding storyline that creates the illusion of meaning behind the abundant CGI."

Everyone concedes the film's many action scenes deliver the goods and then some, especially two major showdowns between Kal-El and Zod in Smallville and Metropolis. "There’s a lot of super serious meat on the bones of 'Man of Steel,' but it doesn’t skimp in the action department either," Film.com's Matt Patches wrote. "The hits hurt, the flying is kinetic, and the explosions feel hot as hell. 'Man of Steel' doesn’t need the 3D treatment because it’s already immersive."

Amid all the action and the spectacular visuals, the acting seems almost an afterthought in most reviews, though everyone acknowledges that Cavill certainly looks the part in the title role and delivers a thoughtful, nuanced performance. "Cavill gets the character's square-jawed forthrightness down without sacrificing too much of Clark/Kal's uncertainty and even bewilderment," Duralde writes in The Wrap. However, Michael Shannon's performance as Zod has polarized early viewers (McCarthy praised him as "ferocious," while Kohn felt Shannon was "on autopilot, his creepiness downgraded to a half-interested scowl"). And the efforts to make Amy Adams' Lois Lane a journalist first and a love interest second have not pleased everyone; as Andrew Pulver wrote in the Guardian, "You're left with the nagging feeling that you just can't work out what the central twosome see in each other. And for Superman and Lois Lane, that's hardly ideal."

However, while few of the early reviews for "Man of Steel" are raves, none are out and out pans, either, and even the weakest reviews so far (from IndieWire, who gave the film a C+, and the Guardian, who rated it three out of five stars) find things to like in the movie, especially young Kal-El's efforts to come to terms with his powers and the striking visual effects.

Initial tracking suggests "Man of Steel" is poised for a $100 million opening weekend, according to Variety. This may be a different kind of superhero saga, but it's still likely to be a blockbuster by anyone's standards.

"Man of Steel" opens on Friday.

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