I really really really tried to love this movie. Hell, I tried to like this movie. That never happened, however, and while Snyder does some things right (and he gets them really fucking right), there was just way too much wrong with it. Story, acting, props, editing, casting, the list of shitty things just goes on and on! Alas, none of that concerns us right now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the cinematography.
First of all, what the fuck was up with all the zooms!? It was barely 5 minutes in when I thought to myself, Snyder just made the zoom his version of the Abrams lens flare. Almost every epic battle scene was filled with an ADHD like camera, zooming in and out of action. I liked it the first time, and the second, but by the 50th time (and I’m probably not even exaggerating that much) I absolutely hated it. What is so wrong with cutting from a wide to a close? Why were Snyder and cinematographer Amir Mokri so opposed to just letting the gloriously epic action take place in a grand all encompassing wide? Instead, the camera jolted back and forth as if saying “Hey did you see that, omg wait look at that, holy shit where is Superman in this shot?! OH! There he is! Zoom in on that! Hah! Bet you didn’t realise how big everything was huh? Omg let’s look at how big everything is again!”. STAHP. Please just STAHP. It was absolutely painful. There was no confidence in the beauty of the image or in the intensity of the actions (ridiculous considering the overall quality of the costumes and CGI as well as the brilliant choreography), instead adding movement where none was needed. And speaking of the pointless addition of camera movement…
Get a fucking tripod! Holy crap was the camera shaky. Throughout the first half of the movie, the camera constantly shakes as if shot with a 20kg shoulder rig and a 50kg camera operator. Dialogue scenes, seated or standing, were filled with shakes and in case you were thinking, maybe he was depicting Superman’s (Henry Cavill) shaky sense of identity or the frailty of Krypton’s future, no. Just usual background explaining monologues and plot moving dialogue. Nothing emotional. Once more, it feels like Snyder and Mokri had no confidence in the early half of the film. They couldn’t accept the stillness of what was happening and instead they thought “Let’s spice this motherfucker up with some shakes!”. Ironically, later in the movie, as action starts to build up and tensions rise, the shakes alleviate. Tracking shots are butter smooth, battle scenes are calmly presented and the dialogue scenes return to some modicum of normality.
So the first half of the movie is mostly Snyder pushed into being Nolan, and it is in the second half that the Snyder that I love comes out. Snyder fucking nails action scenes. He is imaginative, exciting and entertaining and he doesn’t present action scenes in the somewhat juvenile manner that someone like Bay would. Where Bay’s films feel like “holy shit we should make those things explode while that thing flies over it and then explodes in mid air and it’ll be fucking epic!”, Snyder always managed to add a little more depth into his action scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Superman punching dudes through walls says a lot about the nature of violence or something wanky like that, all I mean is that Snyder’s approach to action scenes never feels pointlessly grandiose. Shit doesn’t happen for the sake of being “Epic!”. It is pretty amazing how Snyder is able to present the immense speed and power of these super beings within the space of a small room.
The fight scenes are fucking awesome. Not once did I lose track of what was happening, and thank god that the film community has moved on from the Jason-Bourne-Cut-A-Million-Shots-Together-In-One-Second presentation of action. No one should downplay how difficult it is to present the action clearly, especially considering that Superman and Zod’s (Michael Shannon) goons were moving faster than a speeding bullet (Sorry guys, had to do it). Man of Steel is at its best when any super being is fighting and those scenes are exhilarating. Watching Superman in battle is awe inspiring, the sense of power and speed presented feels just right, never letting up the tension or losing you in confusing sequences. The first smile I cracked while watching the movie was when I first saw Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) kick human soldier butt. It was just so fucking cool.
As usual, there is a lot more to talk about like the hit and miss CGI, the awesome rendering of Superman’s cape (it looked good throughout the film guys, it really did!), a particularly fake looking polystyrene prop rock, painfully blatant product placement and the awesome use of tracking shots. When you put everything together, the cinematography averages out to a simple good. While the action scenes were easily the best ones I’ve seen in years, there were too many grating cinematographic decisions to ignore. Couple that with the shockingly bad acting/direction and dialogue and the film is barely watchable. If you get a chance, borrow someone else’s blu-ray copy and watch all the action sequences on the biggest screen you can get your hands on, otherwise give this one a miss.