(Long Island, N. Y.) Yeah, so we have a new Superman movie on our hands. After the failure of director Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns, a well-meaning but somewhat misguided attempt to revive the franchise as a sequel to and (some would say overly) loving homage of the late 70’s Richard Donner Superman films, the series went into a limbo of sorts. In the interim, a number of high-profile superhero movies were made and released to critical acclaim and big box office numbers, and after a spell, the Hollywood bigwigs must have decided to dust off the guy in the cape for another go-around.
How does he fair this time? Well, that all depends on how you look at it.
Everyone knows Superman; the dude’s an American icon, after all. The last surviving member of the doomed planet Krypton, baby Kal-El was sent here in a rocket by his parents, where he was adopted by a mid-west farm couple and raised into adulthood under the alias of “Clark Kent.” His unique alien physiology, combined with the nourishing radiation given off by Earth’s yellow sun, combined to give Clark/Kal-El godlike superpowers which he selflessly uses to combat the forces of evil. Sounds like a pretty nice guy, huh?
After kicking around in the funny books since his debut in 1938, director Richard Donner helmed a breakthrough Superman film adaptation starring Christopher Reeve in 1978 that pretty much set the standard for all superhero films for years to come. The series that film spawned peaked with Superman 2, and then took a nosedive straight into the toilet as hack writers and directors got their ugly mitts into the works with the next two installments, effectively killing the franchise. However, Donner’s early legacy has remained, Singer’s somewhat divisive modern take on the subject matter years later aside.
It’s now 2013, and we have a Superman reboot on our hands, taking a ‘dark and gritty’ page out of producer Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series, and directed by Zack Snyder, known as one of the ultimate examples of a ‘style over substance’ guy that has ever been produced by the union of man and woman. However, a minor miracle has occurred- the film, entitled Man of Steel, is actually…good.
Yes, good…but not great. Man of Steel represents a quantum leap of quality for Snyder over 2011’s horrifically bad Sucker Punch, but only because Sucker Punch is one of the biggest pieces of garbage ever made in the history of anything ever. I’m assuming Nolan’s watchful eye served to keep Snyder in check. Somewhat, anyway.
When measuring comic book movies, Marvel’s Avengers (which is pretty much the current top of the heap, and will remain so for the foreseeable future) was much better. I know that Avengers had some plot holes and whatever, but I didn’t care because I liked it so much. But while I liked Man of Steel, I was already nitpicking it when I was walking out of the theater.
The film took a slightly different take on the mythos by featuring an extended opening on the planet Krypton, and while this gave the movie a refreshing feel from your usual reboot, the Krypton scenes completely sucked because everything about them were SO RUSHED. In rapid-fire succession a series of events unfold and before you know it, Krypton is blowing up and little Kal is on his way to Earth. Not one quiet second to get you to know who the heck any of these people you just saw are, just blind action and pretty CG sets and explosions…if I wasn’t familiar with the comic and had seen the old movies I would have had no idea whatsoever what the hell was going on.
Luckily, the pace slowed significantly one Kal reaches Earth and concentrated a tiny bit more on establishing Kal/Clark’s character; I found these scenes to be actually somewhat charming and entertaining. It wasn’t deep or anything, but it was a hell of a lot better than the mess Krypton was. I also liked how they skipped the usual linear origin story in favor of showing Superman’s upbringing via short little flashbacks. It made going through his story less of a chore than it usually is in reboots.
British actor Henry Cavill played Supes this time around, and he was really good…probably the best thing about the movie. He didn’t make me think of Chris Reeves at all. In fact, Cavill was very likable, looked the part, and held his British accent in check like a pro. Great job, and he’s what holds the movie together in its weakest moments.
Backing Cavill up is an impressive cast that tried their best to do something with a script and direction that is suspect at best. I liked Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father. A lot, actually. And Christopher Meloni plays an Army Colonel in a role that was actually bigger than I thought. Probably my second favorite thing about this movie. Dude’s awesome.
Amy Adams plays spunky newspaper reporter Lois Lane, Superman’s classic love interest. I liked her. She’s cute in a non-Hollywood, realistic kind of way. I mean, she’s got some wrinkles and creases going on instead of flawless, porcelain skin. I almost couldn’t believe such a non-perfect person could have been cast in a major movie like this. It was actually refreshing. I also dug her investigation of the urban myths that had sprung up around Clark’s comings and goings over the years as she was attempting to uncover the mystery of this “super man” who goes around saving people and then disappearing. That was kinda cool.
Michael Shannon was pretty solid as the evil General Zod, the antagonist of the film despite his odd little lisp. He and his followers are the last surviving Kryptonians come to Earth to take over the planet and use Superman to develop a new race of their people. Shannon manages to avoid a direct comparison to the man who originated his role in 1980’s Superman 2, the great Terrance Stamp, although if you did place them side-by-side, it is indeed Shannon who would kneel to Stamp; not the other way around.
But other than maybe some minor character development for Supes, pretty much everyone was flat, one-dimensional, and pretty much soulless. But I expected that from Snyder, but still, would it hurt to raise the bar just a little? That said, Snyder is still very much a “visuals” kind of guy. Characters obviously come second, although the actors, as previously mentioned, tried their best to overcome Snyder’s disinterest in them in favor of more eyeball-searing CG effects.
And yes, the movie is beautiful. But every movie is nowadays. No need to dwell on the obvious.
I liked how they represented Supes’ powers- the flight, speed, punches, heat vision, the combat, all that stuff was cool, and something that was lacking in all previous Superman movies, mostly due to previous technology limitations of the eras they were created in. I also liked how they showed him trying to come to grips with his powers as a kid; I feel this movie has come the closest to really portraying the Superman of the comics in this respect.
However, one thing REALLY bugs me about Man of Steel- the fact that Superman was obviously responsible for killing probably thousands and thousands of people during his various battles is just something that I can’t get past. There are two MAJOR battle scenes in this movie, one in Superman’s hometown of Smallville and one in the city of Metropolis, and all those buildings Supes and Zod (and Zod’s underlings) destroyed in each ferocious battle HAD to have had people in them, and those people were likely all doomed. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was watching. In the comics and previous films Supes always had a keen awareness for civilians in danger and always went out of his way to protect them, but not here. I mean, the fights in Man of Steel were all pretty rad and all, but this Superman is a mass-murderer, plain and simple.
Of course, this wouldn’t occur to Zack Snyder, who’s just concerned with getting to the next pretty shot.
Honestly, I’m getting very, very tired of every superhero movie having to be a bigger spectacle and causing more insane, widespread destruction than the last one. I’m getting pretty numb to it, actually. It felt a bit more organic to the plot in Avengers because they build up to the crazy stuff happening at the end, whereas in Man of Steel it was just EXTREME DESTRUCTION from the opening onward with little-to-no build-up. They basically destroyed Smallville AND Metropolis in this movie, how do you outdo that in the sequel? Supes’ll have to punch the planet in half in Man of Steel 2 to even begin to compare. It’s getting old.
Overall, Man of Steel is a good but not great movie packed with a lot of cool action, Hollywood summer blockbuster clichés, and the occasional moment of warmth and charm that quickly gets smothered in favor of Superman punching something or Zod blowing something up. I must point out that I’m not the biggest Superman fan on the planet, so if you are you can feel free to add a half-star to my rating.
It’s missing the humor of the Reeves movies, but the action is obviously much better; Man of Steel is fun but ultimately cold and not really all that memorable.