Movie Review: Man of Steel

 In movie review

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
Plot: Man of Steel is the reboot of the Superman movie franchise. More of a science fiction movie than a Superman flick, the movie follows Kal-El (Cavill) through his life – starting on his home planetof Krypton. Having exhausted all resources on the planet, Jor-El (Crowe) pleads with the council to evacuate the planet and save the people. However, before they can tell him to shove it, a group of soldiers bursts into the room lead by the evil General Zod (Shannon). He wants to create an elite society (presumably on this planet that is still going to blow up anyway?) of Kryptonians.

Realizing all is lost, Jor-El steals the Codex and puts his only son (and the first live birth on the planet in centuries) into a rocket ship and sends him out into the void of space. Zod’s coup is thawrted, and they council banishes him to the Phantom Zone just as the planet goes boom.

Years later we catch up with Clark Kent, now a young man who is jumping from blue collar job to blue collar job (fisherman, waiter, working at an arctic military base….) and saving people along the way. Unknown to him, he’s pursued by Pulitzer winning journalist Lois Lane (Adams), who wants to know about the mystery man who is saving lives and doing “super” things all around the world. The two encounter each other at this arctic military base where an ancient Kryptonian ship has been found, and Clark activates a hologram of his father and learns about his alien heritage. Eventually, he dons the suit and learns how to fly.

However, again unknown to Clark, he has been tracked across the stars by Zod – now escaped from the Phantom Zone and looking for the codex. Can Superman figure out how to be the superhero we know he can be and protect the people of our planet from the evil alien military leader?

I mostly enjoyed the first 2/3 of this film, despite it’s numerous flaws (apparently Jor-El is the only person on Krypton that has a dinosaur / dragon fly from Avatar – which was probably a direct request from producer Jon Peters). Overall, there is a lot to like about this movie, so we’ll start with the positive:

1) Acting: The performances in this movie are pretty great. Amy Adams does a much better job as Lois Lane than the last one, and Henry Cavil does a good job selling us on his Clark Kent. Zod is a mean / angry dude who you don’t trust from the moment you see him, and Ursa (not her actual character name) does a good job of looking seductive and menacing at the same time.

2) Music: I was expecting not to like the music, and while it’s not iconic like the John Williams score, it does a serviceable job of complimenting what you’re seeing on screen.

3) Special Effects: Other than some really awful human CG models at the end, the special effects in this movie are pretty sweet. Lots of particle effects during the disaster movie parts.

4) Design: Everything looked pretty sweet, especially the bad guys and the Kryptonian technology. Lots of references to bugs (I’m sure, also something requested by Jon Peters — Superman kind of fights his giant “spider” in the third act in this movie). My only design gripe was the Superman costume. My complaints about that have more to do with the muted colors and the texture throughout the suit. At least leave the “S” with no texture, to break things up a bit. And removing the underwear just making him look like he’s wearing footie pajamas….

5) Directing: This goes in the plus and minus column. Snyder does a great job of making everything look cool and stylish, but he loses it in the action. The camera shakes far too much, and there are times where you just want him to do some slow motion or something so you can actually see what’s going on.

6) Action: We finally get to see Superman throw a punch. Many, in fact, and they definitely feel powerful.

7) Story: This is more a credit to the source material – the multiple Superman stories they drew from to make this story – but more so it’s the way the characters interact. The resonance you feel between father and son – John Kent and Clark – and how their relationship changes throughout the flashbacks. They could make a whole movie about Clark growing up, and I would watch that movie. Just don’t make it Smallville, please….

Now, there’s also a lot not to like about this movie. And unfortunately, this is going to reveal some **SPOILERS**

1) The world: A good science fiction story has a clearly defined world, but this movie only touches on pieces of Krypton (and the Earth that Clark lives in). My issue with the world they tried to build here is that it doesn’t make any sense. Jor-El appears to be the only person in Krypton who has a flying dragon fly – everyone else uses an insect-looking ship of some kind.

Additionally, the entire population of Kryopton appears to only wear black, brown, and grey – but Superman’s clothes are blue, red, and yellow. Where are the colors on Krypton? Are those colors the choice colors of the House of El? If so, why aren’t Jor-El and his wife wearing them?

If they had so much time before Krypton blew up, why didn’t they make another ship to them all of them along. Jor-El knew what he was doing when he stole the Codex, and they’ve clearly been prepping this for a while. Why not get a bigger ship to take all three of you?

2) Directing: While Zack Snyder has a tendency to make everything look pretty, he did a lot of shaky cam in this movie. A LOT. It was difficult to follow many of the numerous fights scenes.

Plus, with the epic scale he was going for in the movie, the special effects were put more towards the disaster porn scenes of buildings toppling than they were towards the CGI characters in them – which threw me every time. They look fake. Sure, it was nice to see Superman throw a punch for once – and for that punch to do some damage, like they would in real life – but ultimately it takes you out of the moment when he looks like a CGI ragdoll in los-res inhabiting a hi-def world that’s crumbling around him.

3) Superman is an idiot: For a guy who’s been trying to hide his existence from the world for so long, he gave away a lot of information to complete strangers in the movie. People who don’t even particularly like him, like the military leaders. He confesses in the interrogation room that he’s been on this planet for 30 years, and he tells the military commander he’s from Kansas. It doesn’t take a genius to fly out to Kansas, see the Kent farm in shambles, and start to put the pieces together. Or ask questions about a kid who was “different.” Hell, Lois did it with less information – and she can’t be the only reporter who was trying to figure out who this guy was. Especially now.

4) Why should we care: The supporting cast of characters in this movie are not developed at all. Sure, we have an investment in the names – Superman, Lois Lane, Ma and Pa Kent, and even Perry White – but at the end of the flick when everyone and their mother is in peril, why should we care about Joe Blow Daily Planet Reporter and the intern? Who the heck are they? Showing a young girl in danger and men risking their life to save her doesn’t count as character development. It counts as filler….

5) It must be easy to be a reporter these days: So Clark has had a series of blue collar odd jobs throughout the movie: working on a fishing boat, waiter, doing something at a military arctic site. So how the hell did he get hired as a reporter at the Daily Planet? Where are his credentials? Where is his college education? Hell, as far as we know he didn’t even go to college – he just started wandering the world after high school. Because that’s all we see him do: wander the world, and try to survive high school.

6) The Jesus references: “You can save them. You can save all of them.” And then there’s immediately Superman striking a Christ on a cross pose. Really, guys? Really?

7) Character motivation: Superman is supposed to save lives, and want to protect people – at least, that is what I was brought up to believe. In this movie, Superman wants to meet his fellow Kryptonians, and agrees to try to help people. But other than pushing a few soldiers out of the way, saving Lois Lane (twice), and a family of four, he doesn’t really try to save anyone in this movie. In fact, he doesn’t really care about the damage he causes – or the villains cause – at all! He doesn’t try to move the fight away from people. He doesn’t show any concern to the destruction or death all around him. And at the end of the movie, there’ no mention of the death and destruction.

The “S” on his chest is supposed to mean “Hope” on Krypton, but I don’t think it’s going to be associated with that on Earth. After this movie, it’s going to mean “destruction!” Superman caused more damage in this movie than Hulk, but at least Hulk cared that he caused death and damage – when did Superman become a cold hearted bastard (unless it suits the plot that he isn’t)?

8) Limitations and powers: His powers were not very well defined in this movie. Sure, he can fly and is super strong / has heat vision. This is caused by solar radiation. However, Zod and his cronies hang out in alien space suits and start gaining some of these powers. But when their mask is damage, they start getting the powers too fast and cannot control them. So, are their powers really caused by solar radiation, or is it from oxygen? Because if solar radiation, they would be getting these powers as soon as their ship entered our solar system.

And how powerful are their powers, anyway? At some points they’re getting hit and smashing through buildings, other times they’re bouncing off. Can their heat vision destroy each other? Because if it can’t, then the final fight in the movie sure has some explaining to do.

9) Superman does NOT kill: I know what the writers were trying to do here, but they failed. Miserably. They wanted Superman to be in an impossible situation, where he had to chose between the lives of four humans or General Zod. However, I thought of 15 ways he could get out of that situation without anyone having to die. Here are a few of them: Put your hand over Zod’s eyes; move Zod in another direction (up, down, the other way); punch Zod so his eyes closed; jump.

Here’s the other thing that doesn’t sit well with me: this is the only solution Superman can come up with? And why should he care about this family of four to begin with? He’s already killed like a million people during this fight he didn’t even try to take away from the population. What’s another 4 people?

But what really bothers me is that they hold on this beat. He had to think about this. And he makes a conscious choice to end someone’s life. This is worse than the Batman Begins situation where Batman says, “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you,” and jumps out of the train leaving Ras to meet his fate. Batman doesn’t kill (and in the comics, comes after Azriel for letting a villain die while being Batman because simply put, BATMAN DOES NOT KILL) – but suddenly he’s more wholesome than Superman?

In recent interviews I’ve seen the writer and director say this scene is what makes him chose to not kill, but that’s not true either. It’s his upbringing as a human – with human morals – that gives him that code. Superman is supposed to be a reflection of the best humanity has to offer. But if the dude is snapping necks when he “has no other choice,” then is it okay for us to do that too? Especially when there are 15 other clear choices right in front of him (see my previous note, above).

Also, let’s talk about the perception of an alien who can cause all this destruction, who didn’t even try to save anyone, and who killed a dude who’s more powerful than 500,000 of us. Suddenly Superman isn’t inspiring. He’s terrifying! He’s less like Superman, and more like Supreme (Marvel’s Max version of Superman, who does whatever the heck he wants because — dude’s freakin’ Superman, and no one can stop him).

10) The last 1/3 of the movie: I basically wasn’t a fan of the last 1/3 of this movie at all. All of it was there for a nerd boys wet dream, but really didn’t belong in a Superman movie. But seriously, my two big take aways:

The “S” may stand for “Hope” on Krypton, but on Earth it clearly stands for “Destruction!”
Daily Planet Headline: Millions Dead. Superman saves reporter (twice) and family of four
Damn, it must be super easy to become a reporter….

All in all, Man of Steel is a decent superhero flick with some nice (shaky) action, but it’s not a good Superman movie. At all. I recommend you go see it and judge for yourself, but I was left disappointed and hurt at the death of a childhood character – a beacon of hope and inspiration to us all – being turned into a superpowered battering ram with no regaurd to human life…until it made sense for the plot.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Jim McClain

    Correct on all points. Well done.

  • Dan O.

    Definitely has plenty of flaws, but with saying that, I still enjoyed the movie, and knowing that the sequels will probably be better, I’m happy. Good review Trevor.

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