Man of Steel

man_of_steel

A new Superman inherits the cape in an epic, dark, angst-filled drama.

I struggled with the somber tone of “Man of Steel”, but have to concede that it’s a potent, action packed film.

On the dying planet of Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) prepares an escape pod for his infant son. Prior to launching it, however, he witnesses a violent coup d’état perpetrated by military leader General Zod. In response, Jor-El infiltrates the planetary archives and takes the codex holding the genetic information of all yet-unborn Kryptonians, and places it aboard his son’s escape pod before launching it off to a far away planet. For his violent uprising, Zod is captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to suspended animation in a prison ship orbiting the doomed planet, but his conviction only serves to get him off-world when the planet explodes.

Young Kal-El (Henry Cavill), meanwhile, lands on Earth and is adopted and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) as their own. The differences between the suns of Earth and Krypton empower the (now renamed) young Clark with numerous special abilities that he struggles to keep secret, in part because his father insists that revealing his abilities to the world too soon would have disastrous consequences. As he grows into a man, Clark sets out on his own, seeking to help people without betraying his identity or powers.

Things change, however, when an ancient Kryptonian probe ship is discovered by the military frozen in polar ice. Reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) catches Clark exploring the ship and witnesses his superpowers. Unfortunately for Clark, the ship also sends out a beacon that is picked up by Zod in space. So, soon, while Lois Lane is reporting to the world that a “Superman” lives amongst us, Zod is heading towards earth seeking revenge on Kal-El and looking to obtain the codex that will help him restart the Kryptonian race… on Earth.

Will Superman be able to fend off the Kryptonian invaders? Will the revelation of his existence turn the planet against him?

“Man of Steel” is certainly not the Superman movie that I’ve always wanted, but I’ll grant that it was a pretty good movie.

There’s a great deal of set up and character establishment, but once the action starts it’s a nonstop barrage. The flight sequences are powerful; audiences can feel the hypersonic speeds involved. With modern CGI, Superman is finally afforded the sky-scraper pulverizing aerial fist fights that he so rightfully deserves. Surrounding areas are the recipients of a good deal of demolition work as Superman throws down with Kryptonian powered equals. The action has a couple of hokey segments, admittedly. I’m not certain that we needed Jor-El on a flying dinosaur or Superman against the tentacle machine, but for the most part the brawls that Superman gets into against the other Kryptonians are the kind of super-powered slugfests that previous Superman movies have sorely lacked.

The tone, unfortunately, is smotheringly serious. This is “Superman dark”, without a doubt. There was literally only one or two attempts at humor in the entire film, and although much lip service is paid to the fact that Superman is supposedly a symbol of hope, it certainly doesn’t make him a happy person here. He may smile a mere handful of times the entire film. The film is also shot with a darkened palette. The Kryptonian design work is reminiscent of “Dark City”, with everyone in black leather aboard dimly lit ships. 3D printer effects abound, dark and dreary. Those looking for this Superman to counterbalance the trend of angsty superheroes in dark movies will be sorely disappointed.

Henry Cavill is an excellent Superman, however. If sequels ensue, and things like the long rumored Justice League movie finally occur, we’re in good hands with him wearing the cape. He’s good-looking and charismatic, and for once we have a Superman actor who looks like he put in the requisite hours at the gym. Kevin Costner also shines as Pa Kent… he’s the emotional core of the film. Diane Lane was fine as a still young Ma Kent, but she wasn’t given the heavy lifting of the Kent parents. Amy Adams was passable as Lois Lane, though she may have been hindered by the film’s insistence on constantly shoehorning her character into illogical places for her to be. Frankly, I don’t think this production team knew WHAT to do with the Daily Planet, as Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White was an afterthought as well. Russell Crowe is fine as Jor-El, though I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of the opening sequence featuring Krypton’s demise. Finally, I have to confess to being disappointed at Michael Shannon’s General Zod. Shannon is a normally a force to be reckoned with, but he gave a constrained performance for the most part here. I’m certain that that’s a directorial choice, but I missed the bellowing, frightening Shannon that I expected.

I’ll touch on a couple of specific disappointments in a spoiler section. Please highlight below ONLY IF YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE. DISCUSSION OF THE END FOLLOWS!

I rolled my eyes at “Man of Steel” having Clark forego rescuing his father from certain death in order to protect his secret superpowers. It didn’t add up to me, and felt much too “Batman”. Did Superman need that level of parental angst?

Also, as a fan of the character of Superman, I was greatly disappointed by the film’s decision to have Superman ultimately defeat Zod by snapping his neck. It makes the film far too dark for children, betrays the nobility of the character, and contributes greatly to the “dark tone” I was discussing earlier. There have to have been other ways to choose to resolve the conflict. In spite of the immediacy of the situation, the Superman I know would not play executioner to someone. This isn’t your father’s Superman, boys and girls, and I for one, am sad about it.

With all of that said, “Man of Steel” is an epic, dramatic superhero film with great special effects, powerful action scenes, and a new iteration of one of the greatest superheroes of all time. As a comic-book fan and a fan of the character, I’m not 100% on board with the tone and some of the decisions they made for the character, but they definitely created the kind of heavily serious, new mythos film that Hollywood feels audiences crave.

A-

Daniel Fogarty

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123 thoughts on “Man of Steel

  1. Nice review. I hope to check this out soon. That’s disappointing to hear about Shannon. I think he’s one of the best actors working today and I was hoping he’d give a strong performance.

  2. I was disappointed in Shannon as well. He wasn’t allowed to really let loose until the very end, and I blame Snyder for that. Why cast someone as menacing as Shannon in such a badass role and not let him do his thing? Such a missed opportunity.

  3. I Haven’t Had The Chance To Go See This, YET, But My Nephew AND Brother Have Both Seen It And My Nephew Said, And I Quote, “The New Superman Was EPIC, Brad! You’ve Gotta See It, Sooooon!”
    Of Course, He Saw It In 3D, Something I Can’t Do ((I wear glasses and get nauseated when I try to watch 3D flicks)) BUT I’m Still Greatly Looking Forward To Checking It Out.
    Excellent Review, Dude!
    Can’t Wait To See It!!! :D
    -B.

    • Well, cool, Brad. I hope you enjoy it as much as they did. If you get a chance let me know what you thought. If you adjust yourself that its gonna be a dark film, and that there are a lot of scenes and flaws and stuff that you’ll have to forgive, then I think you’ll enjoy it!

  4. Seeing this tomorrow and can’t wait. But really disappointing about Shannon – I haven’t seen him give a bad performance yet so it’s a shame he doesn’t cut it here.

  5. An enjoyable film, over use of flashbacks, the demise of Krypton seemed derivative, ( Maybe it was because I rewatched the Star Trek reboot. Despite the fact that the actual scenes didn’t really match, I still felt like I was watching the destruction of Vulcan. ) as did the costuming of the Kryptonians. (I felt like I was looking at a cross between Timelords from before the Whovian reboot and Vulcans.) The reproductive practices were also straight out of a sci-fi novel I’m slogging my way through at the moment as well.

    Completely agree with your assessment of Lois Lane and the Daily Planet. It was like the writers were leaving it out because it didn’t fit and someone told them to go back and work it in because they needed all the elements in the film somewhere. The actor playing General Zod really needs to play Canigula or some other insane Roman emperor. He would be so perfect. Flashbacks were overused and eventually started to grate on my nerves.

    The best part of this film, aside from the fact that is was an entertaining movie, is that they finally found a good actor for the part of Superman and they were able to balance his personality and his abilities so he didn’t come off as to human and wishy washy or too god-like or able to deal with any and all problems just because he was better than humans.

    • Wow, you have comparative-itis, huh? Seeing as there’s nothing new under the sun, that must make movies rough for you… 8O

      The Daily Planet definitely felt like something the producers were shackled with and they didn’t know how to handle. It IS kind of an antiquated setting (newspapers aren’t exactly in their heyday) but they didn’t handle it well at all…

      LOL @ the thought of Michael Shannon playing Caligula, that would be awesome. :D

      I completely agree about Cavill. He was a fine choice to play Superman, and hopefully he’ll get a nice long run in the role!

    • Agreed. Hopefully they can lighten things up in the sequel and it will be even better. Of course, unfortunately, if it GETS a sequel, the producers will probably credit its dark and heavy tone as a reason for its success :roll:

      • I think the tone would work better if it had a truly menacing villain. Sadly, Shannon was not one. The movie did need to lighten up a little though.

  6. But when I see Clark and Jonathan in that Tornado scene, my tears almost burst, that’s the moment when I know why Clark choose to wear his red and blue costume, and I think that’s the strong foundation to begin Clark adventure :D

    • It WAS a touching moment, no doubt. SPOILER Pa Kent was such a great character, Costner knocked that one out of the park. But still, that’s not in the comics, so I questioned why it was necessary here.

      • Maybe Snyder, Goyer and Nolan want a different approach, a brave and more emotional approach. I dunno, but in comics Pa Kent dead because an ill, so Clark can’t save him because there’s no cure (correct me if I’m wrong) so maybe that the reason Snyder and co wants a new background for the death of Jonathan Kent, maybe, just sayin :D

  7. Good review, and I can agree with you for the most part. This was a decent first effort, though they really need to dial down on the overly serious tone. I was hoping for Snyder to bring aboard some of his usual camp with him, but sadly, that really wasn’t the case here.

    • Exactly. (mostly) is right. I struggled between the B+ and A- for awhile, actually, but at the end I had to give it its props. It did a lot of things really well in spite of my disappointments…

  8. You phrased that perfectly, “this isn’t your fathers Superman”, but I’m not completely torn up about that. A high bar was set with Dark Knight and I thought this was a great attempt to reach that level. The ending also bothered me. I said out-loud “Nooo, Supes!”. But I’m more surprised than disappointed. I think it will provide an additional layer of inner struggle/torment for the sequel(s).

    At first I did not like the flash-forward from baby Clark to sea-man Clark, then intermittent flashbacks to childhood. But, after the second or third I thought they were working in nicely and provided background at appropriate moments. Totally agree with you on Louis Lane. I also prefer the 1978 “reveal” at the fortress of solitude with Jor-El’s consciousness as more of a spirit-figure and Brando as Jor-El than how they did it in Man of Steel. That’s a big point in Kal-El’s life/story and I felt like they just rushed through it to get to the action.

    Nice review Fog’s. Love your writing and you draw out some great points here.

    • Thanks Gene! :D

      LOL @ Sea-Man Clark. That was his Aquaman phase ;)

      The Kryptonian crystals Jor-El worked 100 times better than the authentic hologram Jor-El here, no doubt.

      The Dark tone (including the controversial ending) is without a doubt my biggest complaint. I don’t think they know how to MAKE a superhero movie that’s not freaking brooding and mopey. :roll: I hope they clear that up before the next one. Still early yet, I wonder if that end is going to bother a lot of people or not…

  9. Good Review Fogs! I am very glad you liked it, I loved it too. For me it is the blockbuster of the summer so far! Not as epic as one might have expected but it is definitely great entertainment.

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I definitely enjoyed it. It definitely is amongst the best this summer so far, although in fairness, it’s been a really weak summer. Not the movie I had hoped for, but it was solid superhero entertainment.

  10. Pingback: Man of Steel (2013) Review | Tim's Film Reviews

  11. Good review, I just couldn’t believe the epicness of what I saw. After trailer 4 I stopped looking at anything superman related until I saw it in cinema and so it was just wow!

    I think with a sequel they will have room for a little humour and fun but damn seeing superman actually punch stuff is great to see :D

    • I hope they DO lighten up in the sequels, Tim, yeah. That would be great. They’ve already done a lot to establish him here, so I’m hoping the next movie cuts loose!

      And yeah, wasn’t it great watching the throwdowns in this flick? :D 8O

  12. I seem to be agreeing with most everyone’s thoughts on this. I can’t say it’s the perfect Superman movie, but it is probably the best and despite not being the best movie of the summer, I think it might be favorite based solely on the fact that Superman is given his proper justice. Really excited to see what comes next! :D

    • I…. need a little time before calling this the best Superman movie. It probably is better than “Superman”, and it’s just nostalgia holding me back, but that’s a pretty iconic film, I’m not going to be so quick to unseat it. :(

      Meanwhile, yeah, not the film I would have wanted for myself, but still a really good movie. I hope he gets a second chapter and we get a Justice League movie!

      • I’ll have to go back and watch some of the older ones sometime, hopefully they still hold up some. Before this the only real exposure I’ve had with the character was from the old Justice League cartoons I watched as a kid (which were great) and Superman Returns, which nearly put me to sleep.

        But I only ever hear good things about the old ones, so maybe they’re worth a watch. :)

      • Those Justice League cartoons were awesome. I wish Warner Brothers would make a movie half as good as those were :(

        I’m not sure how well the original Superman movies hold up though, William. Frankly, the new wave of modern Superhero movies makes them seem REALLY dated.

  13. Completely agree with you about Lois. Here am I going “the woman’s a reporter, it’s not feminism to put her in all those militaristic situations, it’s just ridiculous!” And yet my friend who’s a comic book fan thought she was too much of a wimp here. She also had a similar reaction to the ending, but I didn’t get why he was so upset there until she explained it to me.
    I do have to say I like the beginning though, all of that stuff with Krypton was really cool I thought. And with Clark growing up, not being able to defend himself because he’s too powerful. I didn’t think it was dark at all, but I suppose that’s because I was comparing it to Batman instead of other Superman films, which I have yet to see.
    The main thing that bothered me about the film was the constant fight scenes in the second half. I found it hard to keep focus after the first couple, especially when there was a clear part where it could have ended and then it didn’t.
    Am I right in guessing it redeemed superhero movies for you after you were disappointed with Iron Man 3?

    • Forget feminism, forget being a reporter. How is the military letting any civilian into those situations? They kind of try to give her an excuse by having her talk to Jor-El, but that’s lame too. They went way out of their way just to be sure Lois Lane was right where the action was :roll:

      I liked the scenes where Clark restrained himself. To me, that’s very Superman. What I didn’t like was the Krypton intro so much. They tried to jam too much into it, and I especially didn’t need to see Kal El being born. LOL

      You’re right about the fights scenes though, they did kind of blend didn’t they? LOL

      Finally, Superhero movies are still on a short leash I think. As much as I love the characters, I’m tiring of all these movies that can’t put a great movie together. Where’s the next Dark Knight already? Why do we have to keep making excuses for them? This wasn’t as bad as Iron Man 3, for sure, but there’s still a lot of issues with it :(

  14. A terrific review, fogs. I still haven’t spoiled it for myself, but I’m glad to see it still scored highly even with your reservations about it. Personally, I’m just glad to see superman be…. Super in the way we hoped he would be since those matrix sequels.

    • Thanks Rodney. Yeah, that’s exactly it. I had reservations, but in the end I had to admit it was worthy of a decent score.

      LOL. The flying fight scenes are something Neo would be proud of ;)

  15. Yeah, we’re definitely in agreement throughout here. Though my big problem with Jonathan Kent wasn’t so much the manner of his death (though most adaptations have it be heart attack or have him live into Clark’s adulthood, which I always thought worked best). What bothered me was the “Maybe”. The Jonathan Kent I grew up with would have said “no”.

    And I’m with you on how Zod was finally dealt with. Superman always finds another way, that’s who he is, even more than Batman. I did like his reaction to it afterward, though; I thought that redeemed it some. If he’d just shrugged it off, though, that would have been almost enough to render it a terrible film all by itself.

    So yeah. Too serious and sombre, but still fairly good. Hopefully the sequels don’t go into as dark a territory, but like you, I’m leery of Warner Brothers’ apparent inability to get that “Dark” and “Good” are different concepts.

    • Well, at least with Pa Kent’s “Maybe” it was in retrospect. So… it was just jawing. I can get past that.

      I didn’t necessarily think the Zod resolution was terrible. People coming in with no baggage will be fine with it, I’m sure. I wasn’t though.

      “Hopefully the sequels don’t go into as dark a territory, but like you, I’m leery of Warner Brothers’ apparent inability to get that “Dark” and “Good” are different concepts.” – I know, tell me about it. :roll:

      • I bought Pa’s “Maybe”. Costner’s delivery of that line was good enough that it was almost like Pa was testing it out for himself, to see if it was right. I bought that Pa was really struggling there.

      • I bought Pa Kent’s “Maybe” as well. The guy’s only human, not Jesus. And he’s overprotective of his son. It’s more in line with the Pa Kent from the Smallville TV show, I thought, and that’s pretty much the reigning portrayal of Superman these days.

        Besides, I don’t think Pa Kent meant it. When he risked his own life saving those people from a tornado, he more or less reversed what he said earlier. Saving people is the thing to do.

  16. I absolutely loved it, I’m not strictly attached to Superman as a character, so I thought the changes were fine. I also never felt like they were overly dark or angsty, at least not while watching the movie. I loved the scene with Jor-El and Lois in the ship, and personally I thought Crowe was fantastic in the part.

    • I dunno, I thought the Lois/Jor El scene was goofy. Why is he talking to her? (Correct answer: In order to give her an excuse to be in the finale) Speaking of, why did Zod call her onto the ship? Did she ever even speak to Zod? I could see if Zod wanted to threaten her to get at Superman, but my recollection is she went up to the ship and just wandered around… that whole thing struck me as goofy. LOL

      Surprised the dark angst got past you Bubba. It permeated the picture in my book!

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