Movie Review: Man of Steel


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superman-man-of-steel-ew-pictures-4-04112013-102722-1First, I really enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s a really good film, and one of my favorite superhero films ever. I loved the epic scale, I loved the realization of a truly alien, dying Krypton, and I loved the richness of the characters, even the ones that are only on screen for a few moments. Lois, especially, is a driven, capable character with courage, clear motivations, and, yes, a strong moral compass that guides her actions, and even makes many of them inevitable. Amy Adams plays her with strength and genuine earnestness that never winks or devolves into damsel in distress camp.

Henry Cavill looks perfect as Superman, but his performance goes far beyond the visual. Quite simply, he makes the role his own. I didn’t once think of Christopher Reeve, the man who absolutely owns the part. Cavill’s Superman is different, and goes for gravitas rather than Reeve’s effortless charm, although I ached for Reeve’s sly wit. Cavill doesn’t echo Reeve, but his portray is unique, interesting, and satisfying. I look forward to seeing how it evolves in later films. As surely as Reeve, if in a very different way, Cavill makes a Perfect Superman.

The backstory is fascinating, and the conflicts between villain General Zod, Jor El, and later Superman, are poignant and fascinating. The mythic structure and overt religious imagery works extraordinarily well. I didn’t care for the uniform (or much else, really) in Superman Returns, because it seemed too much a departure from the classic union suit for my taste. The uniform in Man of Steel is even more of a departure, but somehow, it just seems to work much better.

In short, it’s a terrific film. I say that up front, because I am about to complain about it now. Beware, folks, there be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the film and plan to do so without knowing a lot of stuff that happens, turn away now. But please come back after you’ve seen it, because I’d love to know what you think.

Still with me? Okay. You were warned.

amy-adams-henry-cavill-man-of-steel-skipJonathan Kent dies. That’s no surprise, in most versions of the story he usually does, and his loss is one of the events that shapes who Superman is as a character. Here, he dies in a tornado, and Clark could have saved him. Easily. Now, a key thematic element of this story is the importance of keeping Clark’s powers secret. I get that, and I liked it. It worked beautifully in the structure of the film. But the way this key death was was handled was … well, bad. Just bad.

To be frank, I HATED the tornado scene. Hated it. There were just too many ways to save Jonathan Kent without revealing the secret. I can’t believe that Superman, in any incarnation, would allow his dad, or anyone, to die when he could stop it. In Donner’s film, Superman The Movie, Jonathan Kent’s heart attack had resonance, because it was the one thing Clark COULDN’T stop, and made him that much more dedicated to stopping the things he could. In this film, the death shapes Clark’s obsession with guarding his secret, and highlights his alienation. That works. Again, Jonathan’s sacrifice was moving, but the execution (no pun intended) just struck me as unforgivably lazy writing.

Also, in the climax, General Zod forces Superman to kill him. It’s a powerful moment (again, no pun intended), and everything we’ve learned about Zod’s character makes it inevitable. But I can’t help thinking that the climax would have had more impact if we had seen Superman reluctant to kill before, or if the question had at least been raised. Also, to me, the scene kinda showed that Superman could have ended that epic fight at pretty much any time. Wouldn’t it have been stronger if Superman was constantly having to choose to let Zod go temporarily in order to save the people of Metropolis?

Am I the only one who really ached for some humor? Iron Man III was, in many ways, a dark film. There aren’t that many lighthearted romps about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and terrorism. But it had more than a few really good and warned laughs. The Avengers comes close to matching Man of Steel for sheer destruction, but it still had some laughs. We needed to break a little of this tension.

Last, a couple of questions for those of you who have seen the film:

First, what was Jor El’s plan for the codex? To have Superman gradually gain trust, and then bring forth a new race Kryptonians? I get, metaphorically, that he is now the father of all Kryptonians. That worked. Last Son of Krypton and all that. I’m with you. But from a story point of view, how was Jor El’s plan different than Zod’s, save (perhaps) for the terraforming?

Second, in the flashback where Clark is playing with the blanket cape, who is he pretending to be? (Lovely gem of a scene, though.)

I bring these issues up largely because when a film is very good, the obvious flaws that keep it from being great are that much more frustrating. I did really enjoy the film, though, and I can’t wait for the sequels. Although while I liked Jenny Olson, I miss Jimmy. And Krypto. And while Hans Zimmer’s score was effective, and even stirring, I still miss John William’s iconic theme, which is, frankly, one of the greatest film scores ever. Zimmer’s music is brilliant, but they won’t be playing it after super (see what I did there?) catches at baseball games.

Oh, and for those of you who are interested, this is a list of Easter Eggs you might have missed.

So, what did y’all think?

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8 responses to “Movie Review: Man of Steel

  1. Let’s start with the tornado scene since you hates it precious, hates it forever. It didn’t bother me at all. I’m not saying I liked it or thought it was a cinematic triumph, just that it didn’t bother me. I don’t see what there is to hate and it was nowhere the laziest writing in the movie (that would be the old, tired “reverse the polarity” moment when the villains were sent back to the Phantom Zone. *That* was lazy but probably inevitable.)

    Clark hesitated a second when Johnathon held up his hand, a lifetime habit of trying to “be good” and do what his father told him. And a second was all it took. Not exactly the same thing as letting him die through callous inaction. (That happened when he was kissing Lois instead of digging a few hundred thousand New Yorkers out of rubble).

    Sure, it was contrived and over dramatic. It’s a movie, that’s what movies do. We watch them because they are not real life. Anyway, I thought the tornado scene was better than Kirk’s death in the last Star Trek movie. Also contrived and over dramatic and a complete waste of time because we all know (not think, know) that Kirk is not going to stay dead (he was only “mostly dead”). At least in this death scene someone actually, you now, dies.

  2. You had two paragraphs on the tornado scene and only one on Supes killing Zod. This is a bigger problem for me by far. Superman? Deliberately kill somebody? That’s worth some discussion.

    But I can’t agree with ” the climax would have had more impact if we had seen Superman reluctant to kill before, or if the question had at least been raised.” Ummm…we did. Several times. First as a child he refuses to even lift a hand to defend himself from bullies. Then as a young man in a bar he goes to a woman’s aid and endures beer being poured on him and a can thrown at him and walks away rather than fight. As Superman while defending the earth, he is still ambivalent about violence even to save the life of…well, everybody. Faora taunts him for his weakness of morality.

    So when he finally breaks Zod’s neck…well, I was shocked.

  3. “..in the flashback where Clark is playing with the blanket cape, who is he pretending to be?”

    Got me 🙂 It was a nice scene but he probably should have been pretending to be a cowboy instead. Other heroes pre-Superman have worn capes (I guess…just don’t ask me who. Wait! Zorro wore a cape didn’t he?) but a red cape means Superman and no one else.

  4. I agree with most of this, and though I understand what they did with the Zod killing scene, it still makes me sad that we now have the Superman that had to kill someone. It had weight to it, but still, I can’t help wishing for the alternate version where it ends in a different fashion. I also got incredibly overwhelmed by the vast amounts of carnage, to the point of boredom. We saw explosions and buildings falling left and right, but with the exception of Jenny, no victims, or anyone for Superman to save, either in Metropolis or Smallville for that matter. Even in the overly comical fight scene in Superman 2, we got of a sense of the human cost of the battle, and it drove Superman to lead Zod and company away from the city. This time, the bodies all got neatly buried or obliterated out of view.
    As for the blanket cape, I’m thinking a heroic Arthurian knight maybe? Didn’t Prince Valiant wear a red cape?
    I also really hope that in that vast diaspora of Kryptonian exploration bases and vessels, there lies preserved somehow a canine-like Kryptonian animal. I really loved this idea of a star-spanning Kryptonian empire; it makes room for a lot of cool stuff to appear in the future.
    Also, Clark is now essentially a walking bottled city of Kandor. How that fits Jor-El’s plan, I don’t know.

  5. I was playing when I talked about the cape scene. Yeah, no logic at all, but it was poignant and lovely, and was a perfect end to Jonathan’s story, so I think it worked despite the little smirk.

    John B, I hold hope for Krypto; even if he’s never scene on screen, in my heart I’ll know he’s there. Hey, maybe HE was in the open pod on the ice ship/Fortress. 😉

    Lee, the biggest issue I have with the tornado scene is that when I can easily come up with 10 ways he could have saved his Dad without revealing the secret (remember, it’s a second for us; for Superman who can move at super speed, it’s an eternity) and at least one way to write that scene where he can’t … there’s a problem.

    Yes, I’m holding this movie to a higher standard than, say, Iron Man II, largely because it set higher goals. Iron Man II is a cartoon, albeit a fun cartoon that I really enjoyed. Man of Steel is a pretty serious character piece, as well as a kick ass action movie, and honestly, I found it more successful than the Dark Knight trilogy. When it came so, so close, I find the nits (and yes, I agree I am nitpicking) that much more frustrating.

    I admit that the reverse phantom zone was (at best) a hand wave, and they never even tried to let us know why it only sucked in the Kryptonians who had been there before (and also raised the question of why so many others were required for the story) but I could sort of accept it as comic book science. It didn’t require a character to make an out-of-character decision or act stupidly. The tornado did.

    As for Zod, I think the end could have been earned more (I would have liked to have seen Superman having that kind of concern for people before the end, since he’d — arguably — been fairly aloof to humanity up until that point) but the inevitability of the action came from character, and the anguish that followed showed it had a price.

    Another question … how is it possible that Lois is the only one on the planet with the skill to reverse engineer Clark’s secret? Hmmm. Sequel?

    I am looking forward to seeing it again with Carol.

  6. This is interesting: http://nerdbastards.com/2013/06/18/zack-snyder-explains-the-controversial-man-of-steel-ending-plus-the-real-world-cost-of-the-destruction/

    “BuzzFeed asked scientist and longtime disaster expert Charles Watson ( Watson Technical Consulting) to crunch the numbers on the Kryptonian slap fight and came up with staggering results. With New York as a stand in physical damage to the city clocked in at $700 billion. The cost in human life is much more shocking. A staggering 129,000 Metropolites would have lost their lives with another 250,000 missing and presumed dead and 1 million injured. Final bill, $2 trillion Dollars.”

    Wow. I wish we had seen Kal-el try and save a few of those lives amidst the flying super fist fights. It certainly would have made that ending work better.

  7. I like the superman movies too, especially the very first one. Man of Steel was cool, and tries to introduce a darker element, the same they tried to do with Batman Returns, another series of movies I love. Anyhow, Henry Cavill, I agree, was a good choice for the new superman launch. He has the good looks, high cheekbones; he is tall and muscular, and serious.

    I sooooo AGREE with what you said about the tornado scene—didn’t convince me at all! Like you, I’m aching for the next movie, but my favourite superhero will continue to be batman.

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