I actually saw “Man of Steel” back in August and meant to review it long before now. The fact that I am finally getting to it in December probably doesn’t bode well for my opinion of the film, but in all fairness it just came out on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago so there is still a shred of timely significance here. By now, you have seen the film and decided for yourself if it was worth your time, and if you haven’t then look at this review as a way to convince you to pick it up at Redbox or be a really cheap bastard and just find it online. I won’t fault you either way as long as you give it a chance.
And you should give it a chance. As the title suggests, “Man of Steel” most certainly didn’t suck (setting the bar high, I know), but it also never quite reached the heights that I hoped it would. That’s saying something too, because Superman spends a lot of time flying to and from space in this movie. More lame jokes along with the rest of my review can be found after the jump.
Let me start by making it clear that I’m far from a Superman aficionado, and I think it’s even a stretch to say that I’m a casual fan. Maybe it’s the fact that the guy has way too many powers or perhaps I was always biased due to my affiliation as a Batman freak, but regardless the God-like figure has never resonated with me. When I heard that Warner Bros. was planning on rebooting Superman’s film series, I responded by thinking to myself, “Hmm. I wonder what I should have for lunch in an hour,” and promptly went on with the rest of my day. Then they announced that Christopher Nolan would be overseeing the project and that Zach Snyder would be directing, and my tune changed a little bit. After all, when you bring in the guys who spearheaded The Dark Knight Trilogy and the long-awaited adaptation of “Watchmen,” you’re going to create a certain amount of intrigue amongst the people like me who normally wouldn’t care. Follow that up with a well-rounded cast, led by a guy who really does look like the Superman from the comics, and suddenly I found myself keeping a close eye on all of this. They had my curiosity, but now they had my attention (thank you “Django Unchained”).
What really did it for me was the trailers. The Superman I had known for all these years was the ultimate boy scout; he was capable of solving any problem known to man, was always willing to help anyone at any time and had zero weaknesses other than a vulnerability to a radioactive element that is from another planet. Yeah I know, it’s an iconic character but to me he’s always been boring as shit. But this was different. I loved the tone of these trailers, depicting Superman not as the adopted guardian of the world, but as a social outcast whose abilities were met with angst and paranoia by those whom he encountered (and I say this having not seen the original Superman films with Christopher Reeve, so this may be familiar territory). Unless you have always been the most popular person that you know, odds are that you have felt isolated and detached from both society and your family at some point in your life, and that’s what I was looking for from this movie. I wanted Superman to be relatable while still retaining some of the qualities that made him super in the first place. I wanted him to feel more modern and less like an archaic deity who flew straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Most importantly, I just wanted to freaking like the guy for a change.
Did I get everything I wanted? Not exactly, but this movie did go a long way towards making me rethink my stance on DC Comics’ most significant character. Though I was looking for a narrative with a reasonably deep level of subtext, as always it’s important for these summer movies to deliver in the thrills department, and right from the opening frame “Man of Steel” sets out to accomplish just that. As you may know, Superman’s home planet of Krypton is nearing its end and literally all hell is breaking loose. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) accepts that the Kryptonians are doomed and decides that his son, Kal-El (a.k.a Superman), is the last remaining symbol of hope for their society. He ships him away to Earth, along with the codex of their people, a device that holds all the genetic information needed to bring back the Kryptonians. This pisses off General Zod (Michael Shannon) to no end, but Kal-El departs before Zod can stop him and the General and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone for their treachery. Spooky. Oh, and Krypton does implode. Important to mention that.
Upon his arrival on Earth, Kal-El is adopted by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, who name him Clark and raise the unusual child as their own. Throughout the first 45 minutes, the movie does a great job at delivering on the themes I was looking for, namely Clark’s struggle to fit in and be ordinary when clearly he is anything but. He wants to make his own choices regarding what kind of life he will lead, but his destiny is always eating away at him and he comes to understand that he cannot escape his power, nor can he alter the main reason concerning why he’s on Earth in the first place. Clark sets out to find out who he is and where he came from, and along the way he sees a vision of Jor-El, meets Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Zod and his followers escape from the Phantom Zone and are hellbent on retrieving the codex, which is bad news for anyone who doesn’t enjoy being ripped to shreds.
This is where things become cluttered and the story begins losing its momentum. Clark’s journey to becoming Superman is well-documented thanks to decades worth of source material, but thus far I thought “Man of Steel” had done a solid job of putting its own stamp on that origin story. Then once Clark finds out that he is meant to be Superman, he just sort of embraces it without giving any consideration to rejecting this call to adventure. Really man? Without question, you’re just going to become the protector of Earth even though these people have treated you like shit for all these years? The other problem I had was with the relationship between Clark and Lois, which feels forced and completely unnatural. I get why she likes him because after all, it’s not every day that a guy like Superman comes along, but there’s no reason given as to why Clark gives a crap about her. It just comes off as a generic, cheesy romance story with no genuine level of human emotion, and that’s just not going to cut it anymore. These things are okay to discuss when addressing a comic book film because lets be real, romance is a big part of every comic book film. Every. Single. One.
As for Zod’s attempt to subjugate Earth and the film’s climax, it’s all pretty epic and the action is relentless both in scope and in the destruction to Metropolis. When I say destruction, I mean complete and utter destruction. It’s a thousand times worse than what the Chitauri did to New York in “The Avengers,” and it’s not like that battle was a cream puff affair. That being said, it’s pretty satisfying to watch Superman actually kick some ass and punch things into oblivion, something that was completely missing from the extremely crappy “Superman Returns.” A lot of people have complained that there is too much action at the end and that there’s no way that Metropolis would even still exist following a battle of that magnitude. As always, you can’t please everyone, and I think the way they did it was a pretty realistic take on what would happen if ultra-powered beings from another planet waged war on Earth. When you have multiple people that can fly, have super-strength and can emit lasers from their eyes who are trying to kill each other, shit is gonna get fucked up real fast.
In short, “Man of Steel” was a solid outing for DC’s second-most iconic character (that’s right, I’m sticking with my Batman bias, deal with it) and with any luck this will serve as a launching point from which all future DC movies can build on. The origin story was well-done and the action was literally out of this world (told you there would be more lame jokes!), but the movie missed pretty badly on giving Superman much to do other than ask questions and punch things, and the romance subplot was seriously lacking in depth and originality. Normally, I’d be looking forward to the inevitable sequel and speculate on how they can do everything better the next time around, but considering the sequel stars a certain Oscar-winning director as the caped crusader… you know what, that’s a different article for another time.
Jesse’s Rating: 7.9/10
Pingback: Marvel Vs. DC Movie Mash-Up part 5: Superman IV: The Quest for Piss | Goats in the Machine
Definitely hit the nail on the head. Clark became Superman with very little thought process, and similarly fell in love with Lois. They should have focused on the actual transformation and left General Zod till the next film. He needed a villain that actually connected him to his human identity more.