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. Excellent review, but man I’m bummed to hear that Shannon isn’t a total badass. He is what I was looking forward to the most.

    • I know, I was disappointed. He’s fine, don’t get me wrong. But if I were going to make a list of all time greatest superhero movie villains I doubt Shannon’s Zod is even cracking my top… 20. :(

  2. There is so much that I agree with you on that it surprised me how generous you were with your rating. I think it is an effective action film and there are some parts I clearly liked more than you (The Krypton Sequences in Particular). The tone of the film is the big drag for me. There is a great deal of seriousness and the movie never jumps up and says “Let’s have some Fun!”.
    The sacrifice you mentioned seemed warranted to me given the time (It is hard to remember sequencing with the story structure) but you are absolutely right about the resolution with Zod. (Bet you wish Gene Hackman showed up now and added a little joy to this movie).
    It is not what I wanted, and it is not a bad film. I want to love it and right now I only like it. Maybe some additional screenings will modify my view.

    • I wanted to love it too and only liked it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who do love it though, some people have commented pretty enthusiastically about it so far. I have to be objective in the sense that most of my complaints were based around things I would have wanted to be different, not things that were bad per se.

      You’re right about it not having any fun though. I think my fear that the Nolan Goyer gang couldn’t divorce themselves from the brooding tone of Batman came true. :(

  3. Great review as usual except I wouldn’t read it before seeing the movie, too much of the plot is revealed, I think. Really, I went in to Man of Steel with basically zero knowledge of the plot and was glad I did. I was already infected, just a little, by all the talk about this Superman movie being humorless and, I have to say, that is really not true. There is some subtle humor, appropriate to context. I am surprised that Man of Steel wasn’t darker–which would have been a huge mistake. It is dark appropriate to the character. I had fun with this one and submit my own review for your consideration:

    • Thanks for commenting, Henry, but I don’t allow people to link drop here unless I specifically give the green light. I edited your comment…

      Meanwhile, I don’t know, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the tone. I would have liked this movie so much better if there was context appropriate humor and a tone more appropriate for Superman. :(

      • Thank you, as always. Sure, sure, no problem. I had assumed the link was okay or you’d approve or disapprove it. I’ll keep that in mind.

        I would be interested in what you think of reviews that can set the tone for other reviews. I’m thinking of EW’s review labeling this movie as humorless. I think that’s a bum rap since that implies there’s only one way to do Superman and, well, there’s only one way to convey humor. If this movie had more “humor,” critics would be pouncing on that. I also think that “dark” is too easy a label. This is a case of giving Superman a healthy dose of realism.

        Anyway, these reviews are fun to do and fun to take seriously and see what happens in a discussion.

      • Thanks Henry, yeah, reviewing films can be fun.

        In terms of influential reviews, I think Roger Ebert used to be able to have that kind of clout. EW? Yeah maybe. Personally I never read other reviews until I’ve written mine, so that that exact thing can’t happen. Knowing the Rotten Tomatoes score is bad enough.

        Still disagree with you though. This movie was desperately in need of some moments of levity. Not that I wanted a comedy, mind you, but it was suffocatingly serious about itself :roll:

  4. You are more generous than me–for sure! But as I am finishing up my review, I find that I am conflicted about Man of Steel. I wanna like more than I do–really!–and yet, I also wanna hate it more than I do. I’m in a pickle. :D It will be explained more in my post…hopefully. ;)

    I do agree about the future of the franchise and the Justice League (please! please!)–I think many things were done well enough to look forward to that.

    Costner is the best thing in the film, for me and I thought as “the emotional core of the film” he was needed more throughout–actually emotion (and YES! humor–some levity please!) was the main ingredient missing. I did not really care for any of these characters because I never got to know any of them–and their connections seem shallow (except for Pa Kent). I did not hate Shannon here–he was subdued but he also had a true purpose (this time around) and a villain with purpose is always better. More committed and focused. I agree that everyone else in the cast was okay–even Cavill is just okay–but I blame Goyer’s script for that. Well, I guess Christopher Reeves remains, for me, as the true embodiment of who Superman is suppose to be (even with the zany plot lines).

    And yes–this had action! Way TOO much for my taste. I was a bit bored by most of it though. Jeez! How many buildings can we demolish? A lot. Obviously. You have to have balance and Snyder seemed a little heavy handed in that area. Yet, the flying sequences?? Totally BADASS!

    See? Conflicted. But, bottom line? It’s a resounding…mediocre experience. No love. No real hate. Just okay. And a big what’s next?

    Always a pleasure! Later! :D

    • Costner IS the best part of the film, there’s no doubt. He was great. Not sure I’m 100% on board with his final scene, but that has little to do with him.

      I didn’t have a problem with Shannon here, he just didn’t measure up to my imagination when I heard “Michael Shannon has been cast as General Zod”.

      LOL, the action was a selling point for me, but I can see how people got tired of it. Wasn’t something that affected me, but I’ve seen a couple of people comment about how the action wore on them now. :(

      • About two or three too many “punch through buildings”, whatever was going on with that tentacle robot thing, Smallville battle a little long.

        That said, with Snyder at the helm I was expecting a lot worse, and none of that godforsaken under-/over-/under-crank punches, so I’ll call it a draw. :)

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  6. Fantastic review, Fogs! I just read one that crushed the film and I’m glad to hear that it’s not a general consensus.

    And I just love how you kept us from spoilers – will definitely come back to this once I see the film.

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  9. “This isn’t your father’s Superman, boys and girls, and I for one, am sad about it.”

    Very true. But could Snyder and Nolan have made the old Superman, considering the world we’re in now? I think it’s going to be hard to make any hero nowadays who isn’t pretty dark. Plus, they’ve got Tony Stark & Co. over at Marvel to bring the giggles. I think Nolan is trying to darken the superhero identity while trying to keep it pg-13, which of course I don’t like. If we’re going to make a really grim, realistic, dirty film, go all the way and make it R. Snyder did Watchmen, so I think another R hero film would be received pretty well. I would definitely go see it!

    That being said, I LOVED 99% of this movie. Special effects, casting (I was a Matt Bomer fan, but Henry is fantastic too:), soundtrack *drools*, action, even the touch with Clark reading Plato (my dad’s a philosophy teacher and he shrieked at that scene), it was all so moving and very very good. There was just something lacking, and I still can’t quite put my finger on it. It could be that Kal-El is, well, Kal-El. He’s not human, so I don’t sympathize with his struggle to fit in. Why fit in? To be who he truly is shouldn’t mean hiding out and letting himself be bullied. (Am I supposed to think about it this much? lol)

    • You know, the Megaplex has plenty of room for dark superhero movies, even R rated ones, like you mention. But Superman isn’t one of them. That would be a bastardization of a character that many people have already spent their lives with thinking of him in a different way. That’s not right.

      Glad to hear you’re such a fan, though, Livi. LOL Over thinking stuff is what we do when we take it out of the theatre and to the net ;) I know for me, there were a lot of things that kept me from loving it, so I don’t know what the “One thing” would be for you.

      The whole “why bother fitting in” argument has plagued Superman forever. Why bother with Clark Kent? In all honesty, this movie kind of chucked Clark (except for young Clark) out the window. LOL

      • I suppose if they ever go R rated, it won’t be Superman, and I can see why now, thanks :D He’s from Kansas, after all, he can’t be too bloody!

        I’ll still be very happy the day people decide to take superheroes in the general direction of Dredd! :)

  10. Glad to hear you have a change of heart about this one. I was thrilled to see you give it an A- :D I’m even more thrilled to hear you approve of Cavill, yay!! I knew he’s ridiculously gorgeous and charismatic, but I’m also glad he worked really well with the other actors. I tend to agree about Adams as Lois, though I like that her character’s given more to do in this adaptation. Sorry to hear you didn’t like Shannon as Zod. I actually like his more serious and less cheesy rendition, and the character is much more well-rounded as well.

    Now, about your quibble about Supes’ way of vanquishing Zod, I don’t know that it’s necessarily out of character as Supes did kill Zod in Superman 2 even though at that point he really didn’t have to as he’s been made human at that point. I think the fact that he was so heartbroken after he did that show that it was a really desperate move on his part.

    In any case, even the quibbles, I’m glad you still enjoyed it Fogs. I ended up going with a 4/5 rating myself, as I like it more the second time around :D

    • Well, to be honest, this is a case where I reviewed with my mind and not with my heart, Ruth. It isn’t a bad movie, and many people are going to love it (as evidenced by a sampling of the commenters here, as I’m sure was also the case on your review) I didn’t connect with it quite as much as the grade might indicate.

      Not that I didn’t like Shannon’s Zod, he’s just… not very noteworthy. Just kind of there. I had hoped he was going to be great, that was one thing I hoping for!

      In terms of the Zod finale, lets just say the Superman II dispatching was much more Disney. Frankly, isn’t it just a case of vanishing into a foggy crag? Do we even know for certain Zod died in that one? It’s quite a difference, in my book Ruth ;)

      I agree they made him look tormented over what he did, but I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with it.

      Glad you liked it too, I know you had your heart set on this one WAY more than I did! LOL :D

  11. Well, I’m not the caliber of half the people commenting, I don’t get deep into the acting and such. I loved the movie. I didn’t care for the other Supermans because they were, lack of better term, clean, wholesome, the evil in it was kindergarten evil. There was no conflict within Superman, nothing to make questions his background with his upbringing. This one brought the angst, the inner struggle not to show his powers.

    This movie did all that for me. It humanized Superman to show, yes, I have super powers, but I have feelings like a real human. I like the dark suit, it made him not look like he was running around in Underoos. Not putting down the Christopher Reeves films, they were funny but G-rated clean.

    I though Zod was good, not like Loki evil good, but he was good. I like the dark Kryptonian ships and suits. Reminded me more of the Necromongers in Riddick. Gave it a real evil appearance.

    • Please, man! No worries about “Calibre” of people here, your opinion is every bit as valid and welcome as anyone!

      You’re right, I’d have to waive the white flag that the old Superman films seemed like 50s sitcoms in terms of their wholesomeness. LOL. And I’m not saying we need to go back to that. But there should be a happy medium where Superman doesn’t have to turn into a cold, dark film.

      The Necromongers in Riddick is an excellent call. That totally does look like the Kryptonian shit here! LOL.

      Glad to hear you dug on it though, man, I knew a lot of people would!

  12. Just got back from seeing this and I was flat out wowed. Real good film, real good Superman. And while I dont disagree with your criticisms, they didn’t bother me that much. I did wonder if I had bought tickets to a replay of Avatar in the beginning, and I did laugh a bit at the Giant Robot Spider ships (for fans of Kevin Smith’s Stand up bits about the Superman movie there was a definite nod there), and also wondered if old Supes was going to get tentacle raped at one point, but all in all it was a whopping good time at the movies.

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  14. Lots of flaws, but they’ll be worked out be the second one for sure. Less talk, more fun action I say for this franchise….and we need a little more cat saving and a little less collateral damage.

    • LOL, that’s true. I’d love to see him doing some common stuff. :D

      I think a sequel could definitely be awesome, hopefully they don’t try to go “Even more epic” though :roll: you know?

  15. Saw it yesterday. I’m still digesting it a bit, but on the whole I think your review echoes my thoughts as well. I do thing Shannon’s Zod was better that you give him credit for, it was a more nuanced character than I was expecting, and was happy for it.

    Was pretty darn happy about the entire cast actually. I agree though, it felt like there was maybe 10 minutes worth of Daily Planet footage that may have gotten chopped at the last minute or something, which is a shame because my favorite non-Costner scene of the movie was the final one. Lois’s “Welcome to the Planet” line was perhaps my favorite line of the movie, and it seemed a Nolanish way to avoid the farce of Lois not figuring out that Clark is Superman. In particular, it seemed like the characters of Steve Lombard and “Jen” (whom I assuming should have been introduced as Jenny Olson) had material that was missing.

    What I’m really struggling with are two decisions the script had Superman make…

    SPOILERS……………

    …the destruction of the Kryptonian genesis ship and the killing of Zod. I get that this isn’t “my” Superman, and I don’t need it to be, but those are a couple things I don’t think any Superman should do. There should always be a clever way out of what would be for most people binary decisions. For Superman, there should almost never be only two options. What I’m trying to figure out is if those things are as much of a dealbreaker for me as Superman having a bastard child in the previous Superman movie was.

    I did appreciate that while the famous line was not used, in the end Superman was, in fact, kneeling before Zod.

    • The cast WAS good, even Shannon, who wasn’t bad per se, he just didn’t deliver on my hopes when I had heard he was cast in the role :(

      Superman having a super kid WAS a deal breaker for me in “Returns” (not a big deal, seeing as most of that film stinks anyways) but the ending here wasn’t. Do I wish they had done something else? Yes, but I guess I can live with it here. Every other action hero dispatches their villains somehow at the end. Maybe we’re just clinging to an ideal…

      It bothered me, but I can live with it.

      Meanwhile though, I still wish they used the line :(

    • Man, I really, really hope that “Jen” is not the new Jimmy Olson. Especially since all they did was create another “woman in peril” scenario. Did they think it would be weird to Superman (or other men) to be rescuing other dudes or something?

  16. Fogs, I went to see it last night, and I am such a dork that I wore my Superman shirt to the viewing. (After commenting on Twitter that I was the only one in the theater to do so, someone rightly pointed out that it’s like wearing a band shirt to a concert. Darn it, I KNEW I should’ve worn my Captain America shirt instead!)

    Now, going into this movie, I spoiled myself by reading AV Club’s negative review. (Look, it’s Superman. I make an exception regarding spoilers when it’s my fave superhero.) Then I read Mark Waid’s blog post about his disappointment. I know you don’t follow comics lately, but Waid has been one of the greatest Superman supporters in the last couple of decades, writing SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT (which this movie is based off of) an IRREDEEMIBLE (an indie title where a Superman-like hero named The Plutonian goes rogue and kills everyone; which effectively illustrates why Superman is such a hero). And in his blog he mentioned how he was in the theater muttering, “Don’t do it…. don’t do it…. DON’T DO IT…” at the final sequence and getting out of his seat at the end in disgust.

    I see where they’re coming from. And I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed myself. When friggin’ Iron Man acts more like Superman than Superman does, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

    But… I was won over by Henry Cavill. I thought he did a great job at blending in both the Christopher Reeve and Tom Welling elements. I loved the looks into Smallville and wished we’d spent much more time there. (And I think we will, if weget Lex in the next movie and it follows the blueprint built by SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT.) I loved how Superman was saving people in secret before he was Supeman, something they showed in the Smallville TV show. So his superhero cred is well established. I thought the ending was overstuffed, and I definitely agreed with Waid about being upset over several elements. But I thought the movie did fine in introducing Superman to a new, post 9-11 generation.

    Surprisingly, the thing my wife and I complained most loudly about was Lois. While most fans are taking up the “That’s not Superman” banner, we are decidedly in the “That’s not Lois” camp. I mean… she was waaaayyy too Lana Lang. In fact, Amy Adams should’ve just played Lana Lang! Lois is supposed to be an edgy, smart-tongued, in-your-face reporter type and here’s Amy Adams acting like a sweet little princess. I mean… come on! Every scene she was in, I could not buy that she was Lois. We were thinking that they should’ve just brought in Erica Durance, Smallville’s Lois and the true standard-bearer of the role. I just … urgh. Lois is almost a more key character to cast than Superman is. I’m going to say that they’ve never, ever screwed up casting Superman in his various incarnations, but Lois most definitely has. (Kate Bosworth, anyone?)

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