Spoilerish Reviews of Man of Steel

The one movie I’been most excited for since The Avengers came out this weekend. Last night I had the distinct privilege to see a preview screening of Man of Steel (MoS), the Zack Snyder cinematic reboot of the oldest American superhero. There was a lot to love about this movie, and a lot to hate about it. In this post I want to talk about what I really liked and disliked about this movie.

MoS was a story about an alien from a dead world trying to fit in on Earth. It’s a finding-yourself story. General Zod (Michael Shannon) forces Superman to chose between having his home planet back. But only at the expense of his adopted planet. Before Zod showed up, Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El was trying to blend in with human society. However, his Kryptonian genetics allowed the our yellow sun to give Superman his super powers. These powers forced him to hide, rather than blend. His adopted, Earth father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) raised him to hide like this. When bullies pick on him he can’t fight back–while Clark can’t be hurt physically, the bullies can. When he saves his classmates from drowning in a river, he is scolded. But Zod’s appearance motivates Clark to become Superman, to embrace his powers and fulfill the purpose his Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), had for him in sending his son to Earth.

The Likes

The best part of this film, the brightest star in this movie, is Hans Zimmer. His score is flat-out genius and inspirational. His ability to narrate the change in Clark from a timid man afraid of his powers to being Superman moves me to tears. When placed against the visuals it’s breath-taking. Without a doubt it’s the strongest, most consistent part of MoS.

The cast performed very well. Henry Cavill carried the weight of Superman well–both the physical body and the burden Superman must carry. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane was awesome. From her first line spoken to Christopher Meloni’s Col. Nathan Hardy through her dogged pursuit of Clark Kent to her place at the Daily Planet. She was strong and compassionate at the same time–not turning in Superman when she easily could have. Zod was downright creepy and yet his motivations were real and genuine. Both Crowe and Costner played the role of competing fathers well.

The action was great. It looked great. It was intense. It was physical. The punches were hard and fast. The speed so impressed me that I’m excited to see the Flash on the big screen (I’m hoping soon!). When Zod and Superman take to the skies in the climactic battle, I was in wonder. At points it looked too much like a video game but not enough to bother me.

I loved, loved, loved the tornado sequence. It worked brilliantly. It began with Clark spitting in Jonathan Kent’s face that Jonathan wasn’t his real father. Realizing his hurtful words and how he went to far he tried to apologize. But the tornado cut the conversation short. Jonathan had Clark take his mother to shelter while he tried to help the others. When the storm was about to kill Jonathan, Clark wanted to help his father out. But Jonathan waved him off. It was more important to let him die than the world discover Clark’s abilities. To show his father that he did love him and trusted him, Clark let the storm take his father’s life. Powerful stuff. There was talk about taking this sequence out of the movie. But I’m glad they didn’t. It would have killed the movie altogether!

Dislikes

There were some real flaws in this film. These flaws started at the top with Christopher Nolan (story/producer), David S. Goyer (story/script) and Zack Snyder (director). I don’t think they really understood the character. I don’t think they got Superman, though God bless ’em for trying–Supes is very hard to write.

Chiefly amongst this is Nolan and Goyer. The tone of the film, and tone they had Superman play in this movie, was too dark. Not a Batman-esque brooding, but still way too dark. The world around Superman can be a very dark place, especially if it mirrors our real world. But Superman is not a dark character. MoS borrowed from my favorite comic book origin story for Superman, Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid, in saying that the “S”-shield on Superman’s uniform means hope. But Superman himself in this movie did not glisten with hope. He wasn’t a bright light in a dark world.

Furthermore, I think the movie depended too much on using flashbacks like Nolan did in Batman Begins. There the flashbacks were used, and layered, excellently. But this Superman story needed to be a more straight-forward chronological story. The flashbacks created a lot of repetition in the lessons that Jonathan Kent was trying to teach young Clark, which slows the movie down.

Also, and most importantly, Superman didn’t come in and become a moral compass in a world that is lost. Rather, he was actively contributing to the destruction of both Smallville and Metropolis. Instead of protecting the towns and their people, Superman nearly flattened both. In Smallville it was like an old western with a shootout on Main Street–except Superman would never fight there! In Metropolis Superman helped turn the city in a devastation zone that was worst than New York on 9/11! He wasn’t keeping the people out of harms way, he was putting them in harms way! To quote Grant Morrison in Action Comics Vol. 2 #1, “That’s not Superman!”

Then there is the whole death of Zod. Having read the earliest Superman comics (Action Comics by Siegel and Shuster), I’m not upset with Superman killing Zod. Superman was very much a bully with little regard for the life of those who were the oppressors. But the movie didn’t earn this. Superman taking the life of another has to be earned by the story. And that was the problem. Superman had the right response to his own actions. But the killing of Zod wasn’t really built up as the only option available during the fight because Superman was too busy himself putting civillians in danger and not protecting them from even the fight.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this flawed movie. I’m not as harsh as Mark Waid (Birthright) or Marvel’s Brian Michael Bendis–even though they do raise some good points that I agree with. My family is going to spend Father’s Day watching this movie. But the story had some real flaws at the level of story-telling. In my next post I’ll talk about what I take away from what the movie was trying to say. But I want to sum up the problem of this movie with a story from the 1980s.

After Warner Bros. finished their run with Superman (One great film followed by three pieces of crap!) they turned their attention to Batman. Superman: The Movie was a campy movie that worked, so the studio wanted Batman to be campy. But Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the final script for Superman, told them to go dark with Batman. And Warners hired Tim Burton who did just that, and Batman was awesome!

Man of Steel fell victim to what Burton’s Batman nearly did. Because the Dark Knight Trilogy was dark and edgy and succeeded, the studio had Nolan do the same with Superman. But that forces Superman to be something he’s not, dark and edgy. Superman is hope, like they say the “S”-shield means. Yet this movie didn’t have a Superman who is hope. He is the Man of Steel, unwavering and indestructible. But that moral compass that he did not waver from was absent. It’s a great movie that didn’t understand its title character.

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~ by hankimler on June 15, 2013.

3 Responses to “Spoilerish Reviews of Man of Steel”

  1. I strongly agree with you that this is a good flawed movie. I think the visuals are amazing and most of the acting is spot on. There are just some really awkward moments that make the film too long. I have attached my review if you are interested: http://vlizz.com/2013/06/13/man-of-steel-review-snyder-nolan-epic-and-over-the-top/

  2. I’m going to be honest, I almost wish the Man of Steel would have been darker…if nothing else, to break free of the earlier Superman mythologies. But more, because I think we need a more morally troubled Superman (which maybe where this series will go in the future).

    But you are certainly right, he is not a beacon of hope in this film, he is a force of destruction. And the killing of Zod disturbed me, in that way (possibly the darkest part of the film…as even Batman didn’t stoop to that).

    • I don’t know about Batman not killing: “I’m not going to kill you. But I don’t have to save you!” Not saving Ra’s al-Ghul was the same as killing the man and then attempting to justify the killing. And I think Supes was more justified than Batman in killing.

      I do think they are going for a more morally compromised Superman and overcoming that aspect. Superman needs to earn his position as the moral compass of the universe. I’m down with seeing where this franchise reboot goes, with Goyer and Nolan and Snyder.

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