Man of Steel: A Review
[And see the update below…]
I write these reviews not for the casual fan, but for the comic book enthusiasts who probably have seen all the previous movies and want to know not just how good this movie may be but how it stacks up to the previous editions of the characters, including the ones in the comics.
I write these first paragraphs a few days before Man of Steel opens to express my expectations for the movie. I have seen all of Superman’s live-action movies, from his first two serials in the 1940s, Superman vs. The Mole Men which served as the pilot of the TV show in 1951, to the five Christopher Reeve movies (if you include Superman II The Donner Edition) and the awful Superman Returns (as a stalker).
I have viewed so many of the live-action (and animated) Kryptonian sequences explaining how and why Superman came to Earth in both the movies and the TV shows, including Lois and Clark and Smallville. I loved so much of the 1978 movie: the casting, the story, the effects and the attitude. I guess I could have done without the Otis character and would have preferred a stronger Lois Lane, but I would give that movie 3.5 stars out of 4. I know now that for the theatrical release of Superman II, they fired the director, Richard Donner, who had shot more than half of it concurrently with Superman, and made the second movie sillier with less impact. I gave that 2.5 stars. Just a few years ago, Warner’s released Superman II The Donner Edition, a wonderful 3.5 star movie that continues in tone and substance where the first one left off.
Superman and Superman II display Kal-El’s Kryptonian origins, the Phantom Zone and General Zod. Are we going to get anything new in Man of Steel? Will there be any originality in Man of Steel?
“This is no fantasy… no careless product of wild imagination” are Jor-El’s first words in the 1978 movie and you can see that this is where Man of Steel wants to be. And, as a comic book fan, for the most part it surprises me and succeeds.
As a comic book reader I have to adjust to the fact that there will always be a new Superman, and not the one I grew up with, not my 1960s comic book Superman. He will no longer fight for “truth, justice and the American way.” Thankfully, I can always find my Superman in the DVD’s of the TV show, the Blue-Rays of the Reeve movies and in those old comic books.
On a comic book scale of one to four stars, I give this movie 3 stars. For people not interested in comics, it’s probably closer to 2.5. This is a very different Superman, devoid of bright colors, humor and joy, which is replaced by action, violence and uninsightful dialogue. The movie is dark; even the skies are cloudy throughout the movie.
This is certainly not the Krypton of 1978. Instead it is a darker work, not made of crystal. Not just Superman’s father, Jor-El, knows that the planet will blow up, the entire population knows. In his earlier incarnations, Jor-El (here played well by Russell Crowe) argued with the elders of Krypton. Now his main antagonist is General Zod, played superbly and creepily by Michael Shannon.
To be honest, I would not have minded if a Superman movie opened with a rocket landing on Earth, dispensing with all of the Kryptonian backstory. Until the 1978 movie, Clark knew little of his past, other than he came from Krypton in a rocket. Now the TV shows and movies keep giving us a longer and longer backstory. Once again Jor-El interacts with his son as if he were still alive. Death in comics and in comic book movies is no longer fatal.
I did find that the 1980 Superman II movie did influence this production in several ways. In both movies, General Zod and his crew survive Krypton’s explosion by being placed into the Phantom Zone. Jor El has a long afterlife, being able to talk to his son long after he (Jor-El) dies. In Superman II, a woman named Ursa and a big guy called Non are Zod’s allies and they fight Superman in Metropolis. Here, Faoura-Ul (AntjeTraue) and a masked nameless guy have basically the same role. Kevin Costner as Pa Kent tells young Clark, as Glenn Ford did, “You were put here for a reason.” However, here Clark Kent has a harder time finding that reason than Jeff East (young Clark Kent) did in the 1978 flick.
Here and in the TV show Smallville, Lois does NOT meet Clark for the first time at the Daily Planet as she had in virtually every other version.
The movie intends on building a new foundation for ongoing stories and does its best to get in the major plot points and introduce the characters. Here, for me, is the biggest failure of the 2.5-hour movie. Characters, including Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni), Lana Lang, and Pete Ross are not given enough screen time or decent dialogue to develop their characters. Their characters are basically replaceable and not integral to the story. One assumes that they will be developed in the probable sequels yet to come. I understand many people complained that in Superman Returns there was not enough action. Here the fight scenes go on forever and there is too much of that.
Henry Cavill plays his super-straight, humorless character well. He looks like Superman and in some scenes, he looks like Christopher Reeve. The character is played a little too straight, a little too insecure for me, but by the end of the movie I was getting used to it. Amy Adams is just always good. She quickly becomes Superman’s protector and partner and it doesn’t take her 50 years to catch onto his identity. Yet, again, I wish more of her personality came through. The same can be said for the perfectly cast General Zod, Michael Shannon. Better dialogue would have helped. Yet I enjoyed it when he explained his motivations for trying to kill all life on Earth.
The John Williams score of the first movie (and adapted for the next few) was wonderful. It was at times dramatic, at times poetic, and gave us the perfect theme, the perfect opening march to the movie. Not so here. The music by Hans Zimmer was just loud and constant. I really wanted to shut it off at points. It’s true that he had no opening sequences, or for that matter slower sequences, like John Williams did, but he had opportunities that he missed.
I saw the movie in Imax and we deliberately went to the non 3D showing. This movie was primarily shot with a bumpy hand held camera and not in 3D. The 3D was added later. I am not thrilled with wearing the glasses and the post production 3D effects are not always great, so we just went to the big-screen showing.
But once again, the sound was overwhelmingly loud.
The theatre was about three-quarters filled for the afternoon show. There seemed to ba a bigger crowd for the late afternoon showing.
There was no Superboy in this Smallville, Kansas. We know it is Smallville because of the signs on the buses, water towers and Sears store. In flashbacks that featured Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) and Ma Kent (Diane Lane) we see the growth of the alien boy into the man of steel. There a few changes here too. Ma Kent does not make his costume; it is given to him by Jor-El. And, in a major flaw of the movie, Pa Kent tells Clark that he might have to let people die rather than reveal his identity. This is not the Pa Kent I knew, or wanted to know, and a major shift in the character.
There is now a “Marvelization” of the DC characters. While this started on Smallville, it gets deeper here. On Smallville, Pa Kent dies, Clark thinks, because of something he unintentionally does. And Clark, like Peter Parker after the death of his uncle, is tormented by it. Here, in a ridiculous and unneeded scene, Clark does something INTENTIONALLY that causes the death of Pa Kent. This is just wrong and a very bad fit for the movie. It becomes unreal and, frankly, the whole set up of that sequence makes NO sense whatsoever.
There was a Marvel Comics, Spider-Man influence in Batman Begins also. Young Bruce feels guilt about the death of his parents because they left the theater because of him and then were killed by a burglar.
As the super-beings destroy the city, the crowds appear and disappear on a regular basis. Also, we know in New York that it took 13 years to rebuild the World Trade center. Here, the damage is far more extensive, but I bet it will be repaired by the next movie.
Oh, before I forget: There were a few trucks that had “Lexcorp” signs on them, but there was no sign of Luthor in the movie.
As the buildings collapse, thousands of people must have died. We saw what that looked like on September 11, 2001. Here there are no bodies, no injuries, and we are relieved when one young girl is rescued. As in the Watchmen, thousands die and there are NO repercussions and no sadness.
You see, my Superman never would have done what Henry Cavill’s Superman does at the end of this movie, but shouldn’t have. The George Reeve’s Superman did it once and the early Superman did it a few times.
This is not my Superman. But he’ll have to do until the next one comes along.
Update: Major Spoiler Alert
Screenwriter David S. Goyer discusses the end of Man of Steel
One of the lessons that Chris and I learned from Batman was that if you’re going to revitalize an iconic figure like that, you have to be prepared to slay some sacred cows and you have to be prepared to weather the slings and arrows of some people. You have to respect the canon, but constantly question the canon. If you don’t reinvent these characters — and they are constantly being reinvented in the comic books — then they become stagnant and they cease being relevant. We were feeling — and I think a lot of people were feeling — that Superman was ceasing to be relevant.
Killing Zod was a big thing and that was something that Chris Nolan originally said there’s no way you can do this. That was a change. Originally, Zod got sucked into the Phantom Zone along with the others. I just felt it was unsatisfying and so did Zack. We started questioning and talked to some of the people at DC Comics and said, “Do you think there’s ever a way that Superman would kill someone.” At first they said, “No way. No way.” We said, “But what if he didn’t have a choice?” Originally, Chris didn’t even want to let us try to write it. Zack and I said, “We think we can figure out a way that you’ll buy it.” I came up with this idea of the heat vision and these people about to die. I wrote the scene and I gave it to Chris and he said, “OK, you convinced me. I buy it.”
I think it makes some people feel uncomfortable; other people say, “Right on.” That was the point. Hopefully what we’ve done with the end of the film is we’ve gotten people–the mainstream audience, not the geek audience–to question [the character]. Hopefully we’ve redefined Superman.