First, 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.
Jonathan 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?