Zack Snyder, 143 mins 12A

Film review: Man of Steel - Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a bit of a fudge

3.00

A Superman movie can be a touching drama of alienation, or an action epic. But it can't be both

Superman, as we all know, is faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, but he's not always strong enough to keep a film franchise in the air. The Christopher Reeve series soared for a while in the 1970s and 1980s before nose-diving, and Bryan Singer's 2006 relaunch, Superman Returns, didn't get off the ground.

Man of Steel should fare better. It's produced by Christopher Nolan and scripted by David S Goyer, who collaborated with Nolan on his mean and moody Batman films. And it's directed by Zack Snyder, who made 300. So, if nothing else, he has plenty of experience at showing gym-toned men attacking each other. The snag is that Man of Steel seems to be two films, rather than one, and while the first of them can be quite marvellous, the second crashes and burns.

Film One has Superbaby being born on the dying planet of Krypton, and then being packed into a spacepod by his father (Russell Crowe) and sent off to Earth. Once he touches down, the film slips back and forth in time, like Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life but with added oil-rig explosions. We see Superboy being raised on a Kansas farm by the good-hearted Kent family (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and being confused and upset by his burgeoning powers. And we see him as a troubled, bearded drifter played by Henry Cavill, who joins Christian Bale and Andrew Garfield in the gang of British actors who have nabbed the roles of iconic American superheroes (the campaign for Helen Mirren as Wonder Woman starts here). Always looking slightly peeved with the human race, he has to ponder whether he should let the world know how super he really is, and whether he'll become an outcast or a god in the process.

It's a bravely ruminative, sensitive drama (explosions notwithstanding), and at times, I admit, it reduced me to a Man of Jelly.

So much for Film One. Film Two gets going halfway through Man of Steel with the arrival of a renegade Kryptonian (Michael Shannon) called General Zod. (Zod was last seen in Superman II, making this the second of this year's blockbusters, after Star Trek into Darkness, to pinch its villain from an early 1980s sci-fi sequel.)

Before Superman has had the chance to foil a single bank robbery, the General launches an alien invasion with a sizeable crew and a space station chock-full of weaponry, which means that Man of Steel is no longer a fable about a unique, Christ-like individual with survivor's guilt. Suddenly, he's just one of many Kryptonians flying around the place, thus undermining everything Film One had achieved.

All enquiries into humanity and responsibility are drowned out by long, noisy, computer-generated fight scenes which marry Nolan's taste for doom and gloom with Snyder's taste for over-the-top action. The result is a depressingly apocalyptic spectacle. It's all very well to include the time-honoured image of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) falling from a great height and being caught by Superman, but when we've just witnessed city-wide devastation that would have killed thousands of innocent civilians, it doesn't seem like such a victory.

Another superhero specialist, Joss Whedon, broke off from directing Avengers Assemble in 2011 to spend 12 days shooting a modern-dress version of Much Ado About Nothing (109 mins, 12A ***), in black and white, in and around his Los Angeles mansion. It doesn't quite make the jump from likeable home movie to fully realised film, and the play's misogynistic contrivances are particularly wince-worthy in a contemporary setting, but it's still an admirable project. And, for the first time in 400 years, Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) is actually funny.

Critic's Choice

Michael Douglas vamps pianistically as the bling-laden Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s witty Behind the Candelabra. Meanwhile screen goddess Rita Hayworth vamps it up in many a Hollywood classic in her month-long retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank.

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Stinson Hunter and his associates Stubbs and Grime in Channel 4 documentary The Paedophile Hunter

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
This Banksy mural in Clacton has been removed by the council
art
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?