Man Of Steel Review: Up, Up and Away!

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“You’ll believe a man can fly”

-Superman (1978)

There will be spoilers. 

Let me say upfront that I liked this movie.  I didn’t love it, but I really did enjoy it immensely.  I liked it because it was redemption time for the Man of Steel in the new millennium after the dismal reception of Bryan Singer’s ode to Richard Donner, Superman Returns.  I didn’t hate his movie so much as it had many, many, many more problems than the current installment.  MOS was a good start to a franchise that had three progressively bad sequels.  This is NOT going to replace The Avengers as the best comic book movie and quite frankly, I think it’s a bit of an overreach if someone tries to make that comparison.  Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios have smartly taken two different approaches to making their movies in tone and grandeur and I think that serves both properties well.

Superman – as American as apple pie.  The iconic image of the Kryptonian symbol of hope that we symbolize as the “S” for Superman, has been a part of the American consciousness since 1938 when two Ohio kids came up with an idea of a man from space with downhome sensibilities.  The thing that is iconic, but also really corny about the modern-day Superman is his downhome, Boy Scout-like sensibilities.  It was one of the reasons why I never really got into the character in comics, and had a passing fascination with him in the various takes on him in movies, on TV, most notably 10 seasons of Smallville.  However, with that said, I don’t think there’s a character more iconic or recognizable in the world than Superman (Batman, a very close second) and I was eager to see how Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) was going to revamp/retool/restore this classic character.

As stated before, I liked the movie overall, but I did have a few issues with this film.  For one, the pacing was just not crisp and was kind of distracting at times.  I think Zack has a great grasp of drama, but he doesn’t always have a good grasp on time sequencing and how that either moves the story forward or hinders it.  It was a little difficult sometimes to get a sense of where you were in the story and how one scene flowed to the next.  Again, it wasn’t always like that, but occasionally I had to mentally shift to get back into the proper context of the scene at hand.

Another issue I had with the story was how easily Lois Lane (Amy Adams) could follow the clues and figure things out, but billions of dollars of technology and hundreds of military men and analysts couldn’t piece together the simple and sloppy clues Clark left behind to find out where he grew up, who he was and those he grew up with?  However, Lois Lane could figure it all out seemingly in days? (Again, this is where the pacing issues seemed to really annoy me.)  I get that there is a level of suspension of belief you have to have going into these sorts of movies, but the PiS (plot-induced stupidity) seemed to really hamper down the story a bit.  From a CiS (character-induced stupidity) standpoint, Superman TELLS the military that they will never be able to find him BUT tells them he grew up in Kansas?  HUNH?  On top of the fact he never really hid his face or made it difficult for anyone to figure out that he had superpowers.

With that said, what I really enjoyed about this movie were the background stories.  The movie literally starts off with the birth of Kal-El on the dying planet Krypton.  It seems that the Kryptonians gave up natural child birth centuries ago and Kal-el is the first natural (and illegal) child birth in many years – as well as the last.  Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) don’t agree on much, but what they do agree on is that Krypton is doomed and the fate of the Kryptonian race depends on who can get ahold of the Codex – the biological remnant of ancient Kryptonians that is used to infuse genetically grown Kryptonian fetuses with their predetermined role in society as a soldier, scientist, leader, etc.  In a coup by General Zod, he plans on destroying what’s left of the Kryptonian leadership and building a new Kryptonian society on another world using the Codex.  The battle that ensues sees the death of Jor-El, the infusion of the Codex within the cells of the baby Kal-El, the launching of space pod towards Earth, the capture of General Zod and his men, they being sent into the Phantom Zone and Lara-El facing the destruction of Krypton alone.

The other prominent backstory enlisted the superb acting skills of Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Diane Lane as Martha Kent.  This was actually the highlight of the movie for me.  Mostly because this is where you got to see how the heart of a hero was formed.  John Kent was a simple farmer, but he had his own brand of wisdom and honor and wanted to instill it in the only son he had ever known.  He, like any father, wanted to keep his son safe and free from prejudice, fear and hate.  He knew his son wasn’t from this world and was destined for great things, but he also knew people weren’t just going to accept him and knew that for good or for bad; Clark was going to have to make a choice one day as to what kind of man he was going to be.  Thus, he discouraged his son from using his powers, out of anger and even times to save the ones he loved (which struck a real chord with me when John Kent died – a POWERFUL scene and the best in the movie IMO) because he knew that once his existence was revealed – it would change the world forever.  Like Jonathan, Jor-el sacrificed himself similarly to make sure his son would be in a place where he would live and giving him the only thing any father can give his child – a chance.  In a weird sort of way, Man Of Steel was a special kind of Father’s Day story that spanned galaxies.

Unfortunately, with the destruction of Krypton, the Phantom Zone released General Zod and his minions to search the stars, looking for Kal-El and the Codex.  After the military stumbles upon one of the Kryptonian seed ships that landed on Earth tens of thousands of years ago during the Kryptonian colonization days, Clark is reunited with the consciousness of his father, his heritage and his legacy.  However, this also signals the location of Kal-El to Zod and he comes ready to claim what he feels is rightfully his.  In the ensuing battle, Superman has to come face-to-face with his people, his destiny and the fate of mankind.  With help from Lois Lane and others, they band together to fight the tide of an army of Supermen that are as strong, but with more military combat than Clark.  The battle for Earth has begun, and Superman has no easy choices to make.

What this movie SORELY needed was a clip at the end of the movie and unfortunately there isn’t one.  I don’t know if that’s because Warner Brothers doesn’t want to seem like they’re ripping off Marvel Studios, but I do believe a small 1-minute clip at the end would have been appropriate.  Maybe a scene that teased Bruce Wayne reading a paper about Superman and him telling Alfred “Ready the jet Alfred, I have some business in Metropolis to attend to.”, or maybe even a scene where we see the eyes and mouth of Darkseid smile and he sees a huge spike on his monitor that tells him of a powerful being discovered would have been appropriate.  Something to show that the stakes have gotten a little higher and that the birth of superheroes means that more attention is being brought on to Earth.

Also, there’s this silly idea on the internet and amongst even sillier critics that think this took too much of a Dark Knight, dark, brooding tone.  Please stop being so obtuse (Shawshank, anyone?).  What this movie did, under the watchful eyes of Christopher Nolan was raise the stakes.  Again, the Richard Donner movies were classics, but even by 1980’s standards, Superman II was considered a DARK movie.  What Nolan and Snyder did was take off the glossy lenses people seem to have put on those first two films and bring the dire nature of the threats that Superman has to face and consequences of Superman’s actions to bear.  They said, let this movie not be a love song to some inflated ideal, but take the brakes off of this train and make a movie that will bring Superman into the 21st century properly.  In THIS, they succeeded and I can’t wait for the sequel that seems to fast-tracking to a release in 2014 with a 2015 Justice League (yay) movie right behind it.

This movie is worth seeing.  Yes, there were some subliminal messages thrown in around destruction of natural resources, Jesus and good ol’ American sentimentality, but those are minor issues and ones that don’t take away from the movie unless you just have a corn cob up where the sun don’t shine that needs to unlodged *cough*Ann Hornaday*cough*.  This movie also has some issues.  It’s not perfect and could have used about 1-2 more edits, but I’d see this movie again because it gave me what I didn’t get with Superman Returns – Superman doing SUPER things.  That was worth paying $18 at a 3D IMAX.

Enjoy the movies and the popcorn.  Save me some Milk Duds.

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7 thoughts on “Man Of Steel Review: Up, Up and Away!

  1. I wonder if, as time goes by, you feel the same way about Man of Steel now as you did back then. I was thing about it in the car today… i’ve not watched that movie since i saw it in the theater. No desire to. Wouldn’t show my sons that movie either where as they have both already seen the 1978 one. This reminds me of Spider-Man 3 in that i convinced myself in the theater that it was really good but never watched it on DVD or cable. Just doesn’t exist as far as i’m concerned. Neither should Man of Steel. DC editorial should have gotten to this early in the process and selected a different screenplay. Maybe something that made the worlds first and best superhero seem… I don’t know… heroic?!?

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    1. I’ll with stick my initial assessment, but I’m not in love with the movie as I was back then. It’s diminished some, especially with all the troublesome sequel news about the last 6 or so months. With that said though, this is movie had more troubling spots as I rewatched it multiple times and other ideas began to form. However, it still was going in the right direction. The biggest problem this franchise has is that the side cast is more important and talented than the lead. That doesn’t bode well for a Superman movie unfortunately.

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  2. Well done, Sir, well done!…

    I totally agree, it definitely needed a 1-2 minute bonus scene at the end to raise the anticipation, but I guess WB and the team felt all the Easter eggs would do the job to let you know what may be coming next.

    Also, totally feel you on the secret identity and “being from Kansas” revelation. I anticipate a possible Superman/Military relationship similar to what we saw in the “The Dark Knight Returns” storyline, where Supes eventually becomes an agent of the US government to a certain degree, since he shares a unique concern for protecting America’s interest. That could be cause for the Justice League to form in response to the possible threat that Superman could represent? Interesting thought…hmmm. Definitely prefer Darkseid or Lex Luthor/Brainac as the next villain.

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    1. I definitely agree with maybe a Brainiac oriented story. Maybe one of those floating pods gets loose during the battle, merges itself with a computer and becomes sentient, turning itself into Brainiac. I’m down for that.

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  3. Excellent review! I had many of the same issues, including a seemingly dying, faded, yellow sun rather than a red one. The ending, while more in your face, was much more emotional and remorseful than the way it happened in Superman 2. With a character as iconic as Superman, it is hard to get the perfect portrayal that will make everyone happy, but they did a helluva job trying! I must disagree that this does not replace Avengers as the greatest CBM. I loved Avengers, but this movie was a game changer in its own right. It had more action than I’ve seen in any movie, heart and it touched on a lot of important social issues. Bullying, religion, government and military trust issues, making decisions that affect everyone, etc. The scale of this movie was incredible, and it was epic in every sense. I loved it and can’t wait to see it again.

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