Probably one of the biggest movies of the year, and maybe the most important movie for the future of DC, is Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. With the last Superman movie and last Zack Snyder movie leaving bad tastes in people’s mouths, was the combination a super powered disaster or is the start of a brilliant DC Cinematic Universe?
From the first few trailers, I was a little afraid that Man of Steel was going to be a weird, Terrence Malicky, brooding art film but I am very happy to say that it is truly a Summer blockbuster of the highest caliber, with some of the most exciting, over the top action you will probably see this summer.
Man of Steel retells the origin story of Clark Kent aka Kal-El aka Superman as he is launched to Earth as a baby by his parents from their dying planet of Krypton. He lands in Kansas and is raised by the loving Kents, Jonathan and Martha, but due to the unique make up of the Earth, gains super powers. The movie follows the same basic origin we all know and love but throws a few curveballs in that makes it unique, although some purists might argue it’s a more “Ultimate Superman”, to use Marvel terminology. The main difference (or it may be in more recent Superman comics, I haven’t kept up to date) is that Kal was sent to Earth with the Kryptonian Codex, the key to rebuilding Kryptonian society on Earth, or any planet. The structure and plot of the movie also reminded me a little of an amped up Thor in that it takes place over a few days and one of the major battles takes place in a small town and it starts in a super crazy alien landscape, in this case, civil war and apocalypse ridden Krypton.
Henry Cavill is a pretty great Superman. He is not really as brooding and depressed as I feared he would be, he’s more conflicted about trying to stay undercover and revealing his powers to help people and he’s extremely charismatic, especially when he puts on the suit and reveals himself as Superman. The flashbacks to his childhood also do a great job of revealing a new bit of his personality, with him either struggling to contain his powers or learning about his actual origin. Amy Adams is a great Lois Lane as well, she brings a great stubborn pluckiness. Michael Shannon runs just up to the line of going from awesome to awesomely bad, completely chewing scenery in every scene. While he’s clearly the villain, there is an underlying sense of honor and patriotism to Zod that makes you get where’s he’s coming from. Russell Crowe, who is in the movie for much longer than you expect, as Jor-El, is awesome and has a couple of great monologues and also gets to kick quite a bit of ass in the beginning. I liked Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Ma and Pa Kent as well, although Pa Kent was a little bit more of a downer than previous incarnations and has what many people will probably consider a ridiculous death scene.
The action in Man of Steel is the main attraction though, and it is spectacular. The super powered battles completely level Smallville and Metropolis, as you would expect from basically gods punching each other through buildings. It also doesn’t have the normal Zack Snyder “slow down/ramp up” effect that he brought to 300 and Watchmen. Everything feels very immediate, fast and powerful and you can see that they went all out, with Superman fighting Zod and his crew while the army is unleashing hell with everything in their arsenal. I have to give a shout out to the score as well, Hans Zimmer doesn’t attempt to imitate the classic John Williams score but instead creates a new theme that does a great job of building excitement. I liked the little touches that seemed to building up the rest of the DC universe, like the Lexcorp trucks and building under construction, the Waynetech satellite and one of the secondary military characters seems to be Carol Ferris, from the Green Lantern side of things.
I was pretty blown away by Man of Steel and it may be my favorite movie of the summer so far; I would put it right above Star Trek Into Darkness. The action is incredible and the performances overall are great. If this is the start of the DC Cinematic Universe, I’m excited to see what’s next.
I enjoyed Man of Steel a lot. The problem is, as good as it was, I didn’t love it.
Visually, it was incredible. Seeing it in Real D 3D was absolutely stunning! Furthermore, I would say that they truly struck gold with Henry Cavill in his portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El (spoiler — they’re all the same person). Not to draw an unnecessary comparison, but I would suspect that, if done correctly, his continued portrayal of Superman will become every bit as iconic as Christopher Reeves’.
The things that work about this film work REALLY well — Michael Shannon’s Zod is chilling, Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent was sincere, tough yet tender. You really got the complexity of his situation in that he loves Clark, wants nothing but to protect him from the world, yet is horrified of what the world would do to him (and what he could do to the world) should he be discovered. He’s conflicted to say the least, and it really shines whenever he’s on screen. Also, following the Batman Begins style chopped-up narrative was a very smart move. A linear “history of Superman” origin film would have been brutal.
Starting with Zod was a very, very smart move. Like Batman Begins’ use of Ra’s Al Ghul as the catalyst for defining Batman as a hero, Zod poses the ultimate alternative to Superman’s moral code — the very code that will allow humanity to trust him. Obviously, using Zod ties the Kryptonian origins up neatly, but on another level, it allows Superman to be exposed to the entire world in one shot. So, unlike Batman Begins, Superman isn’t a myth or a shadow — he is revealed to the world swiftly and authoritatively. The threat of alien invasion and, minor detail, the destruction of the entire planet, sets the stakes pretty darn high from the start, establishing Superman as protector of mankind, not just a single city. Recall that in Batman Begins, Batman saves Gotham from imminent doom, establishing him as a protector of his city. If history is to repeat itself, the sequel will feature Lex Luthor as the main villain with a more localized threat to Metropolis and Superman himself. You can bet that WB and DC will be trying to make Superman’s Dark Knight.
But, for all the awesome stuff, there were some things that I just couldn’t deal with.
First and foremost, Superman is NOT the Punisher. He doesn’t kill. Period. Chris Nolan seems to have this fascination with changing the inherent moral fiber of beloved DC heroes just to keep us on our toes. I understand that by killing Zod it demonstrates that Superman is willing to do whatever is necessary to save the people of Earth. But you couldn’t just fly away with Zod? You had to put him down like Old Yeller? What about all of the buildings you destroyed in the process? You really think that people weren’t killed because of your battle with Zod? C’mon man. Again, I get the symbolism, but really, where does it go from here? He’s already crossed the ultimate line that Superman does not cross. But then again, Batman killed a bunch of people, directly or indirectly, in the Dark Knight Trilogy, so hey, it’s cool.
Speaking of things that don’t work, there’s the first 20 minutes of the movie. It’s rough. Really, really rough. It was very drawn out, and frankly, quite boring. We get it — Kal was sent to Earth. Did we really need all of that?
Did I mention Lois Lane, who is apparently a better detective than Batman and Sherlock Holmes put together? Another classic example of Nolan flimflammery — why try to reinvent the wheel? Does Lois really need to figure out that Clark is Superman in the first movie? Hell, does she need to figure it out in the first act!? That sort of junior detective agency thing was a little much. Frankly, I think we could’ve been introduced to her later in the film, such as when Superman first surrenders.
All of these bitchy fanboy complaints aside, I really did enjoy Man of Steel and thought it was awesome. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it again. I also love the way that it effectively teased at and even blatantly set up a greater DC Universe — everything from several LexCorp cameos to the Wayne Enterprises satellite during the epic Zod fight. If Man of Steel is the first piece of the DC Puzzle to come, then I am completely and totally on board. Just don’t make a Justice League movie for a couple of years, m’kay?
“You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly.”
The tagline for 1979’s original “Superman” blockbuster was more than just a tagline. It was a promise. A promise to moviegoers that they would not only see something amazing, but they would downright believe it. In the early years of Hollywood blockbusters, this was a huge promise. And it delivered.
Over 30 years later, and the comic book film landscape is much different. The original “Superman” quadrilogy slowly sputtered to death without much fanfare. Tim Burton put a new neo-noir look on his first “Batman” films sparking a run of their own. And more recently, Christopher Nolan and the smart folks at Marvel have been weaving their own impressive tales with super men and super baddies.
Nolan may have done an immaculate Caped Crusader. But does his world do justice for Kal-El? The answer is a frustrating “not really”.
First, let’s talk about what “Man of Steel” does right. It’s casting is pretty impeccable. Cavill fills the tights well both physically and emotionally. Michael Shannon gives the most Michael Shannon performance of his career as the menacing Zod. And Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do the most they can with their folksy charm as Ma and Pa Kent. (Amy Adams gives a mail-in performance in a mail-in role as Lois Lane.)
There’s also the great special effects. I can safely say the bar has been raised. Every battle is well-done and at times it’s the film’s strength.
But where does “Man of Steel” fall? Well, it may have good casting, action and effects. But where it really falters is the story.
“Steel” fails to impress not only because of the story, but the execution. First off, the opening sequence with Russell Crowe Jal-El’ing all over the place on Krypton only serves to impress 3D viewers. And even after that, we spend what feels like an eternity waiting for Krypton to fall and the Superbaby to be launched. If you found yourself getting rather impatient here, it only gets worse.
The next part of the movie is spent giving Clark Kent a purpose. The flashback scenes give the movie it’s only sturdy sense of emotion, but the present day plot leaves little besides cliches. Inept woman stumbles upon secret lair. Reporter leaks story outside of newspaper. Alien existence is continuously denied by people who will (surprise!) admit it later. Nothing new is brought to the table.
The cardinal sin that plagues “Man of Steel” would be its length. We, as an audience, don’t really need that opening action sequence. We also don’t need to be told a million times how bad Zod is; or even hear the explanation to every single character. And also all the pointless destruction. If we are told how precious humanity is, why does Superman have to ruin nearly every building filled with humans to protect it? It was about the 50th structure falling that it grew tiresome.
All in all, “Man of Steel” is a major disappointment. I would’ve been happy if the film remembered the fun and filled with the awe and excitement of what a blockbuster truly is. But Nolan, Snyder and company took the Dark Knight route and the result is rather drab. Better luck next reboot.