Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie Review – Man of Steel or That New Superman Movie

I say “That New Superman Movie” because nobody is calling this thing “Man of Steel”.
I’m gonna go ahead and start by saying that Man of Steel is an excellent Superman movie. You should go and see it in the theater, possibly even in 3D. There were quite a few parts where I found myself thinking, “Wow – I bet this would look amazing in 3D”. So there’s that.
I also had quite a few problems with Man of Steel. There was unnecessary cursing, I would have liked it if the movie overall had been brighter, and there’s a huge thing at the end that I think is just plain wrong. But I’m honestly not enough of a Superman guy to know for sure.
Before I go any further I should probably make that absolutely clear – I am not a Superman guy. It’s not so much about the character as it is about the way he is mishandled sometimes. I’m not gonna get into a whole thing, but just so you know where I’m coming from, All-Star Superman and Christopher Reeve’s portrayal are the best versions of the character to me.
           Okay, now back to the issues I had. My biggest problems with the movie were the stars. I didn’t hate Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, and Amy Adams by any means, but the whole time I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but feel like they just weren’t right. I’m going to sound like a dick while discussing this, so bear with me because once I finish my criticisms of those folks it’s pretty much all shining nerd joy.
Let’s start with Cavill’s Superman since I think my issues with him were mostly cosmetic. He simply does not look like Superman. Oh sure – he got absolutely ripped for the part. Dude looked great. But anybody could have done that. This is Hollywood. Those people don’t have to get up and go to their shitty job or try to figure out how they’re going to eat healthy and work out while having to do laundry, pick up the kids, and finish up the TPS reports. They call up their personal trainers and their nutritionists and tell them what they need to look like and when. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work, but I am saying that any of us could look like that if we had the time and resources that these people do. So this dude got all jacked up and totally filled out the tights in a Supermanly way. And then was left looking like Eli Roth and Zachary Quinto had a hairy love baby with (and this is where I get a little cruel) a British smile.
I suppose there is a rationale behind having a weird-tooothed Superman. I can just hear the conversation (and believe me, I respect the amount of nerd thought that probably went into it):
Producer: “Hey, um – should we maybe, I dunno, do something about his teeth? I mean, he is Superman.”
Nolan/Goyer/Snyder (I suppose): “No way. He’s all-natural. Kal-El’s teeth are going to come in however they come in. No braces are going to be powerful enough to alter his dental destiny.”
Producer: “Yeah, but… shouldn’t people want to see Superman smile?”
Nolan/Goyer/Snyder: “This will make him more relatable. Or something.”
The same argument does not apply to Superman’s bodily hair, as he shaves and gets haircuts throughout the movie. So he definitely could have shorn off that dark brown man-sweater that was sticking out of the neck and sleeves of his costume. Yes – seriously. It was gross. As a particularly hairy man I have no problem pointing out when bodily hair is not appropriate and when you have a Superman that looks as though he has an army of spiders tucked into his costume it is not appropriate.
And since I’ve already painted myself as a complete asshole who is so shallow as to judge actors based on their appearances, I’ll go ahead and say that Cavill simply doesn’t look like I think Superman should look. His face is just too harsh and angular. He does, however, posses an innocence that overcomes that to a certain extent. At first I was mistaking that for blandness, but it isn’t. Cavill definitely projected the right qualities to be Kal-El. He was innocent, alien, and just had this sort of incorruptibility about him. It played really well. I just wish he had looked more perfect.
I know there are folks out there that might take issue with comparing Cavill or any other actor to Christopher Reeve, but I can’t help it. Those movies were my first experiences with Superman. I saw all of them (as well as Supergirl) in the theater with my mom and they shaped my opinions. It’s hard to move past the fact that we will never get another Big Blue Boy Scout as good as Reeve’s; regardless of the quality of the movies he was in.
Speaking of those movies, Margot Kidder was fantastic as Lois Lane and shared a chemistry with Reeve that was one of the most compelling things about those movies. Amy Adams and Henry Cavill do not share that chemistry, mostly because the Man of Steel version of Lois Lane is a soft, bland character with none of the spark that she is traditionally known for. I guess they cast Adams in the role because this lady wasn’t available:
(This was supposed to be a picture of a Lois Lane body pillow, something I had no doubt I would be able to find while I was writing this. But – quite shockingly – the internet let me down. No amount of searching resulted in a picture of one of those Japanese “love” pillows with a picture of comic book Lois Lane on it. My point was that Man of Steel might as well have used one of those rather than Amy Adams.)
Okay, that was too much. But I thought it was funny.
I like Amy Adams a lot, but I think she was a bad choice for Lois. And when you add the fact that the character just wasn’t written very well you have a big problem. She had exactly one snappy line in the movie and I suppose because she used the word “dicks” the writers thought it was enough to define the character. The things Lois did in the movie were fitting, but the way she behaved just didn’t work.
Aside from her lack of attitude, she just got way too swoony over Superman. It was almost like the Silver Age Lois. I could totally see Amy Adams trying to trick Henry Cavill into marrying her. And you know what else? Going back into the appearance thing, it was totally distracting that Lois did not have dark hair.
I don’t know if Adams was the worst Lois ever because I don’t remember Superman Returns well enough to know if whoever played her in that was decent. But Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, and Erica Durance are all awesome Lois Lanes; so that’s a tough legacy to follow anyway.
And that brings me to Michael Shannon as General Zod. I am not familiar with Shannon outside of Man of Steel, but I do know that some of my acquaintances were very excited about seeing him as this character. I feel like he had moments of sinister greatness, but didn’t always pull it off. There were times where he seemed to be mugging a bit too much and came off as sort of silly. And – unfortunately for me – at those times he seemed to dip into a voice that reminded me of somebody. I didn’t figure it out until about ¾ of the way through the movie, but there were several times where I had that confounding realization that he sounded familiar and I couldn’t think of who it was. And then I realized I really wanted to hear him say, “One million dollars,” because the dude sounds like Dr. Evil. Not always, and not when he was being angry and mean; but usually when he was delivering exposition.
I’ll give credit where credit is due, though – when the time came to bring the (non-Dr.) evil, Shannon did. He came across as a genuine threat and a motivated antagonist. There wasn’t one moment where I didn’t take General Zod’s story or intent seriously. That’s why I say it was unfortunate for me that I picked up on the Dr. Evil thing. Not everybody will (or will even agree with me).
Aside from revealing the plot outright, there’s only one truly big spoiler and I’m going to discuss it now because it’s the only other problem I have. So if you don’t want to know, turn away now.
Kal-El kills Zod and I’m pretty sure I don’t like that. The movie tries to convince us that there is no other option, but that’s what Superman is about – there’s always another way for Good to triumph over Evil. Zod is using his heat vision to try and murder as many humans as he can. Superman grabs his head and tries to talk him out of it, but Zod is committed to genocide. As the beams get closer and closer to the cornered, cowering humans, Kal-El lets out an anguished cry and snaps Zod’s neck.
One of the most effective moments I have ever seen in a comic book was when Wonder Woman snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck. It was shocking to me and the repercussions of her actions – namely the reactions of Batman and Superman – made for several months of very interesting comics. But that moment would be nothing in the DC movieverse where we’ve already seen the incorruptible Man of Steel murder his very first opponent.
If you’re a bigger Superman fan than me and don’t agree with my opinion on this, let me know.
Oh, and one more thing – I loathe Kevin Costner. I didn’t like him as Jonathan Kent, but I’ve never liked him in anything. So there’s no need to take my opinion too seriously here. I just feel like the guy is incapable of emoting.
Okay. Now we can talk about the good stuff, of which there was a lot.
The opening 30-40 minutes of Man of Steel were absolutely mind-blowing. I spent a good portion of that time with my jaw just hanging open in disbelief that the filmmakers had gotten away with giving the audience such a far-out and totally awesome version of Krypton. Seriously – I felt like they had put one over on the studio. Like they got away with something. It was beautiful and strange and created such a strong feeling of where Kal-El had come from and just how alien he is.
The performances by Russell Crowe and (lady) were fantastic and heart-wrenching. There were a couple of moments where my eyes welled up a little. But there was crazy action as well. A large portion of this opening is Jor-El having an adventure that involves him kicking much ass and riding a giant alien flying thing while being chased by Kryptonian airships. It was a helluva thing to behold. The portrayal of the Kryptonians and the destruction of their planet was perfect and awe-inspiring. You will believe a world can die.
Warning: If you are not comfortable with the idea of a Superman movie featuring Giant Outer Space Buttplugs do not read this next part.
Zod’s introduction is very strong and he immediately comes across as not only a genuine menace but a man who utterly believes in what he is doing. The scene where he and his people are banished to the Phantom Zone is FUCKING EPIC. While there is a bit of a nod to the flying triangle, this is a whole new kind of crazy. All I’ll say is that the first part of the process is Zod and his crew being painfully sealed up in individual chambers that look like giant Buttplugs. Giant Outer Space Buttplugs. Which are then shot into a massive spaceship that looks like a Tentacle Monster. Which is then sucked into a thing that kind of looks like the flying triangle for a second.
After all of that we get to the scenes I was dreading the most – beardy Clark Kent moping around fishing boats and Seattle and other rainy places. Except that’s not what is going on at all. This is a Clark Kent who has gone all Kung-Fu – traveling around the country (or world, I guess) and doing good deeds. This is the real start of the Jesus metaphors, which I will discuss right now because there is no way around the fact that Superman is and always has been a Jesus metaphor.
Man of Steel handles the Jesus thing respectfully and intelligently, although it is a bit heavy-handed at times. Like when Clark is sitting in front of a stained glass depiction of Jesus and telling a priest how his father sent him to Earth. Or the scene where Jor-El literally tells his son that he can save all of humanity and Superman descends to Earth with his arms spread out and his ankles crossed. Okay, his ankles might not have been crossed. But they might have been. I’m not sure. But at no point did the treatment of the Christ metaphor come across a sneering or condescending.
So anyway, Clark is out there saving lives and looking tuff. I bet ladies and fellas of a certain persuasion are going to be wearing out their pause buttons on some of the oil rig scenes where Cavill is running around shirtless.
My point here is that the scenes I was worried about not only weren’t bad, but actually ended up being awesome because they displayed who Clark Kent was before he was even in the tights and knew his origin. He’s a guy that can’t help but do good.
That’s about as far into the plot as I’m going to get, as I don’t want this to be a recap. Suffice it to say that the Phantom Zone does not hold Zod’s army for long and they have nefarious plans for Kal-El and his new home. The story is tight and exciting with plenty of powerful, dramatic moments. There were quite a few times where I felt the impact and heaviness of a scene. The filmmakers have successfully created an epic Superman story.
Zack Snyder was the right guy to direct this. As I suspected (though I felt he would need a firm hand guiding him – Nolan’s). All of the best elements of Sucker Punch are present with none of the detriments. Snyder has an eye for the epic, fantastic, and kinetic. Everything about the movie felt huge and important – every set piece and sequence was an experience that was topped by the next. I don’t want to bag on the Marvel movies, but nothing in any of them comes close to comparing to the climax of Man of Steel.
And I suppose that is where this DC product has trumped Marvel – the sheer scope of this new Superman adventure makes all of Marvel’s outings seem like kid stuff. Something about the way the destruction of Metropolis was handled made it feel so much more serious and devastating then even the alien invasion of New York in Avengers. Perhaps the presence of Perry White and the Daily Planet crew helped with that. While Avengers kept us invested in the heroes, Man of Steel gave us people on the ground – people like us.
That being said, I can’t imagine how many thousands died during Superman’s final fight with Zod; let alone the entire climax. I kept feeling like Kal-El should be trying to take the fight away from the city, or should at least acknowledge the destruction being wrought.
That’s something that I am a little conflicted about. While this was an awesome and compelling Superman movie, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I mean, it wasn’t all sad and heavy, but it just didn’t have that sense of superhero glee that Marvel’s cinematic universe has embraced. There were definitely fun parts – Kal-El figuring out that he can fly was one, the scene where he surrenders himself to the Army is another – but there was a grimness hanging over everything from the amount of emphasis placed on Superman’s alone-ness.
I guess I had a couple other minor gripes. As big a deal as Clark makes about his secret identity, he sure doesn’t try too hard to maintain it. Telling people he’s from Kansas and letting Lois run around calling him “Clark” in front of cops and stuff. He even hangs out at his mom’s house in the tights. And there’s one scene where Jonathan tells Clark he might should have let a bunch of school kids die to protect his identity. This movie had a weird read on Jonathan Kent, but I guess that’s a given considering who they cast.
Oh – another great thing – the kids playing Clark in the flashback scenes were all very good. As a matter of fact, I think I liked 12 (?) year old Clark more than I did grown-up Clark. And those flashback scenes were well done. None of them overstayed their welcome and whatever lesson being learned or story being told was ever overbearing.
The supporting cast was strong. As I mentioned before, Russell Crowe and Ayalet Zurer were excellent as Jor-El and Lara. Diane Lane was one of my favorite characters as Martha Kent. There’s a scene where it looks like she’s probably going to die and I actually edged out of my seat a bit. I was ready to be all angry. Meanwhile, Costner just sort of disappeared when he died. We didn’t get to see his head explode or anything. Laurence Fishburne was a great Perry White. It’s hard for me to remember that Perry White isn’t J. Jonah Jameson. He’s an entirely different kind of editor. Antje Traue was awesome as Captain Faora and might have been my favorite character in the movie. She was such a perfect counterpoint to Zod’s calculated evil, what with her pure joy in destruction and warfare. Christopher Meloni and the guy from the insurance commercials were both great as the main Army dudes. And the tertiary cast members of the Daily Planet did well. They managed to be characters that I cared about without much development.
Overall this was a grand, epic movie on a scale that most superhero movies could only dream of creating. The action was breathtaking and the story was compelling without really having any major twists or turns. I appreciate that. Sometimes I feel like writers rely too much on surprises to the detriment of the overall narrative. Sure – there are a couple of things that are set up as turns, but they are telegraphed to the point where most won’t even be surprised by them. The biggest shock of this movie is how damn big it is right from the beginning and then how it manages to keep outdoing itself.
4 out of 5

You might think my opinion of the three major players should shade the rating a tad more, but I think on repeated viewings Cavill and Shannon will grow on me. Adams is still a weak Lois, though.
Oh, and the only reason to stay through the credits is to see the credits. Which, by all means, you should. But there’s no bonus at the end. Bruce Wayne doesn’t show up to tell Clark he knows who he is. Hal Jordan doesn’t fly in to say he’s going to be keeping an eye on him. There’s no Marvel-esque world building at all in this movie (though we do see a couple of LexCorp tanker trucks) and I honestly feel that was the right way to go. I don’t know how Warner Bros. should approach their supposed Justice League movie, but aping Marvel’s method would only earn them derision and further comparisons, none of which would likely be flattering.
Man of Steel has made a new mark in the ever-expanding library of superhero films. It is not subtle, it is not grounded, and it is not afraid to show the audience a new world unlike anything they have seen before. If Green Lantern could have embraced the same sort of ethic I think we might have gotten a respectable movie. I can’t help but imagine how awesome the Training Day-esque version I first heard of could have been if Goyer, Snyder, and Nolan had been in charge.
Right now Warner Bros. Has an amazing opportunity. Marvel is on fire, but the producers seem determined to penny pinch their way to failure. While I’m sure there are ways to make movies without the people that have made the franchise – Downey, Hemsworth, Evans – I think losing those three would be stupid. And Marvel seems to be leaning towards stupid. So if the WB can start cranking out epics like this one I really think they could take back the hearts and minds they have lost to Marvel. At this point I’m not even sure they should try to do a Justice League film. Maybe they should just focus on making rad superhero movies. They can inhabit the same worlds, but don’t force a team flick just because Marvel did it. Just make great movies.
Oh, and leave Nolan and Goyer in charge, but make sure they understand these are fantastical comic book movies. No more “grounded” stuff like the “Batman” movies.
Go see Man of Steel. While I might have cast it differently, overall it far exceeded my expectations. It is the most epic movie I have seen in quite some time.


  1. I completely, 100% agree with you on the Superman killing Zod thing. It made Supes seem impure/not someone to look up to. A lot of people I've been talking to about this say, "It's a good thing! This is Superman's first outing and he needs to be more relateable." And the first thing I said back to them was, "Bullshit!" Superman doesn't need to be relateable, he needs to be a sign of hope, something for humans to see and strive to work towards. Hell, Batman, the person with the even more sad backstory, hasn't killed anyone! It just all seemed cheapened by that single scene. Lol, not that single scene, but you get the picture.

  2. I am absolutely a big Superman fan as he has always been my favorite superhero. I grew up with Christopher Reeve (and I still love his version), but as I got older I kept going further back in time and experiencing different versions. From the 40's Fleischer cartoons (my favorite version of the character) to George Reeves, to the DC animated universe, I can't help but really like Superman. Even when he is not the most interesting character, he is my favorite.

    That said: I did not have a problem with him killing Zod, but I might have a problem with it later. Forgive my long post as I explain myself. What I mean is, killing Zod seemed to be his only option if he didn't want to see a family vaporized. I don't want to get into nerd fights like some blogs have with "he could have covered his eyes, why didn't he fly him out of there?" In real life you can argue that, in the movie they wanted it to be clear it was either family vaporized (and subsquently Zod continues wiping out humanity), or Zod dies.

    So, a very young Superman, who only had his suit knew how to fly for maybe a week, made the rash decision and killed Zod. Zod actually forced his hand, he wanted Superman to kill him, afterall he said Superman took his reason for living. Immediately we see that his decision wrecked Kal-el. He hated that he just killed Zod, also he cemented his choice in choosing Earth over Krypton by maybe killing the last Kryptonian in the universe (of course maybe those other Kryptonians were just teleported away, that's a little unclear).

    So here is where I let you know why I'm okay with it, and when I won't be. I expect the sequel to revisit his choice to kill. Not only that, they need to address the thousands of deaths that had to occur because of Superman's fist fights. We will have an entire second film that will show us how the weight of all those innocent lives, and the life he took with his own hands, will affect his decisions the next time he faces a dire situation. The effects from the events in this first film will mold this young Superman into the iconic hero that we all know.

    However, if they don't use this as a moment that haunts him, and he just shrugs it off and it becomes a character trait of this new Superman, then screw that.

    Until the sequel, I'm happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. Just get it right in the next film!

    1. Oh, and since we're on the topic I want to highly recommend that you check out (it's not netflix right now if you have it) 'Superman vs. The Elite.'

      It was much better than I expected it to be, and it touches on this topic. It shows a great version of Superman.

    2. I agree about the sequel thing. While I think a movie should stand on its own, I do feel like a lot of the events in this movie will lead directly into the sequel. We'll see.
      I've heard good things about The Elite. I'll check it out.