Man of Steel
After weeks of feeling ambivalent about it I went ahead and saw Man of Steel
. I didn’t have high hopes for it. Normally I’m down for any comic hero movie but I just wasn’t too interested in this one; and not just because no one will ever top Christopher Reeve as Superman. Given that, I will say that Henry Cavill did an excellent job as Clark Kent/Kal-El (Superman).
Normally my reviews are pretty spoiler free but this one will be an exception. There are major spoilers ahead. Do yourself a favor and don’t read this until after you see the movie. Ok?
The movie opens with Laura giving birth to a tiny, cute Kal-El. This was off-putting to me at first. Then they explained it and that made it work and work well. While maybe they didn’t have to show it, it was important to the plot and made sense.
From there on in, almost all the way, the movie is amazing. The scenes of Krypton are gorgeously realized and the technology is spectacular. Everything hangs together internally and it’s masterfully done. In fact it could be one of the best science fiction/fantasy movies outside of Star Trek that I’ve seen in a very long time.
They way they treat Clark Kent on Earth is exceptionally well done too. They build this character up scene by scene as a believable and more importantly, especially for Superman, relatable person. He is someone very much adrift in a world that doesn’t seem ready to accept him just yet, if ever. I’m sure that a lot of people can relate to that feeling and it is a mark of how well done the movie is that they are able to explore that part of human existence in a character as super human as Superman.
I loved the odd jobs he had. I found it quite interesting to see Clark Kent working as a greenhorn on a crab boat, or as a busboy in an out of the way truck stop. A man always searching for who he is, always trying to help but set apart by powers and abilities he doesn’t know where they came from nor asked for is a powerful story and it is mostly well told in Man of Steel.
I was delighted to see Amy Adams cast as Lois Lane. I’m becoming a fan of hers and she did a fabulous job. I loved her as Amelia Earhart in Night At The Museum: Battle for The Smithsonian and as Julie in Julie and Julia. I really liked her as Lois Lane too.
Michael Shannon as General Zod was brilliant casting. He really just looked shiveringly evil for the whole movie. And that was even before he went completely insane. Which, given the brilliant backstory was not entirely his fault. You would think it would be difficult to feel sorry for a xenophobic, xenoracist, genocidal maniac and yet I kind of do. He was made the way he was and really had no choice in the matter and that is really the heart and soul of this movie.
Diane Lane as Martha Kent was fabulous and I have been a long time fan of Kevin Costner. Yes I even watched Waterworld. Yes it was awful but only because the main character wasn’t very sympathetic, many other things were well done about that movie. But that’s another review.
If only the writers had written Superman to be as mentally strong as he is physically superior. If only they hadn’t written Kal-El as intellectually passive, then I would have no quibbles with this movie. I would gladly let slide the plot complications wherein a being that can breathe vacuum has trouble with certain kinds of atmospheres. I would have gladly looked the other way regarding the energy demands laser eyes make on a nervous system and the time differentials between the amount of sunlight a body can absorb in a couple of days as opposed to 33 years. Even though I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly hurt myself, I would have even overlooked the obligatory kissing scene. I would have let it all slide because so much else was done so well.
The tragedy of outposts left to perish and of survivors searching for other survivors only to find withered death everywhere they searched was worthy of the best science fiction I’ve ever read and spectacularly visualized. The horror and real world ramifications of terraforming an already populated planet were terrifyingly rendered before our eyes on the big screen. I’ve watched far worse movies and counted them enjoyable for glimpses of these kinds of things and this movie delivered them in high definition meticulously rendered CGI.
And yet they threw it all away in the final 20 minutes of the movie. They took what would have been a masterpiece and ruined it. How? By making it clear that Superman is Jethro Clampett in a cape. Physically he’s a perfect specimen, mentally he’s tapioca. I just find the idea of reducing heroes to their muscles as offensive as reducing women to their breasts. Superman should never be a mimbo nor should he be intellectually passive and yet that’s what they did to him.
In the final battle scene, after spending two hours making sure we knew that nothing on Earth could harm a Kryptonian hopped up on our sun’s light, they decided to have General Zod and Superman have a fist fight in the middle of an already decimated Metropolis. Honestly it was so unnecessary, so gratuitous and the outcome such a foregone conclusion that it exceeded my capacity to suspend my disbelief.
In a movie where a man has laser eyes, can fly, can survive without an environmental suit outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, can bend metal with his bare hands and walk through fire; that scene exceeded my capacity to suspend disbelief. In an otherwise grown-up movie this scene was the Kryptonian equivalent to “my daddy can beat up your daddy.” It was pointless and felt forced. They had to do it for the fanboys. It was actually offensive to have this substandard, forced, plot point in a movie that had otherwise been so very good.
I could have forgiven it if they had taken any of several opportunities to show Superman thinking his way out of anything. General Zod offers up several philosophical softballs and Superman whiffs on every one. He doesn’t even try. General Zod mocks Kal-El by saying, “I trained my whole life as a warrior. What have you trained as—A farmer?” Why couldn’t Superman have said something? Some bit of wisdom from his dad? Some salt of the Earth observation—anything? No, he just throws the next punch because apparently that’s all he’s got.
There were others, when Zod talks about how his only reason for existing is to protect Kryptionians. Superman could have said something about how important choice and free will are. That was the whole reason his Kryptonian parents had him and saved him, yet he remains silent; content it seems to answer every thought with physical violence.
Sure he’s a kind and sensitive soul but does he have to be as mentally passive as he is physically aggressive? He was shown reading Plato as a teen but when a Zod minion tells him that they are superior evolutionarily because they have no morals he has no answer. That’s a gimme. Even just a, “You’re wrong,” would have sufficed. Some commentary about how programmed drones don’t require morality, only sentient creatures with free will do and how the flexibility of choice would prove to be better evolutionarily speaking would have been even better. I just am not satisfied by brawn with no brains. In The Hulk they can get away with it because he’s some kind of primal mutational transformation of a normally brilliant guy. Superman does not have that excuse.
Given that Superman could not reason his way out of a wet paper bag (so it’s a good thing he can punch through reinforced concrete), I would have to call the final battle for General Zod, even in an insanity fueled rage fest. Given equal strength and superhuman abilities the battle should go to the one who is the superior tactician and that would have to be General Zod. Of course that is not how it went or the movie would be called General Zod’s Revenge or something like that. But I left the theatre feeling cheated. Not that the movie wasn’t worth the money, just that the last 20 minutes really detracted from the brilliance that had gone before. I also think that if the previous 2 hours hadn’t been quite so good, the battle scene with Zod and Superman wouldn’t have felt so out of place and unnecessary.
Oh and one last thing. A lot of hype has been made about drawing parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ. They’re really reaching on those. Sure, I guess, if you really want to see it you can force it, but there are a lot of other, better, explanations within the story for those few shots.
Overall Man of Steel is still a first rate movie. I almost forgot the trailers. R.I.P.D. looks like it could be good. Pacific Rim, oh yes. I cannot wait to see Pacific Rim, please, oh, please don’t let them screw that one up. But then with Guillermo Del Torro directing, I feel we’re in safe hands for that movie. The Lone Ranger, I know I shouldn’t but I kinda want to see it. K.