‘Man of Steel’: blockbuster marketing, puny storytelling

steel2From a purely financial standpoint, “Man of Steel” is one of the great success stories in recent Hollywood history.

A trade paper suggested last week that the very expensive movie (with a budget somewhere north of $200 million) was in profit even before opening day, because of the marketing deals the producers cut with Gillette, the National Guard and other companies.

The huge global grosses last weekend were the icing on the cake — icing that seems likely to continue piling up as the Superman reboot opens in China and Russia and the other international markets.

Although Superman, as a superbaby, still arrives on Earth in Kansas (where he is adopted by the kind and childless Kents), “Man of Steel” is curiously devoid of American touchstones in this version.steel1

The wonderful “Front Page”-style set-up in which Clark goes to work as a journalist in a thinly disguised New York City — where ace reporter Lois Lane doesn’t realize her new buddy is Superman — has been jettisoned this time around.

Instead, Lois Lane knows Superman’s identity from the get-go and with him becomes involved in a major military operation designed to defend earth from the old enemies of Superman’s family back on Krypton.

General Zod is a one-note bore in “Man of Steel,” played with utter, dull seriousness by the fine actor Michael Shannon, rather than with the campy elan Terence Stamp brought to the Richard Donner “Superman” films more than 30 years ago.

The Superman comic books, TV series, and earlier movies all had a spirit of fun surrounding the goofy premise. In the effort to “reboot” the moribund franchise, “Men of Steel” has been given the same dark, grim mood as the last three Batman pictures. The serious tone was fine for Batman who has most of his adventures at night and who is in a much grimmer comic book city than Superman’s Metropolis.

Producer Christopher Nolan and his associates appear to be embarrassed by the Superman set-up, and have made puzzling tweaks in the iconography, down to stripping Superman of his bright red briefs. Instead of the bold comic book colors that Superman cries out for, greys and blacks dominate in “Man of Steel” — even Lois Lane is forced to dress down in muted colors.

It’s hard to account for the grim tone in so much of our escapist entertainment these days, but I wish producers and directors would stop messing around with winning formulas just to prove how serious and “creative” they can be.

Joe Meyers