Movie Review: Man Of Steel (Warner)

MOS-OneShtI can remember watching Superman the Movie as a kid.  I had, up to that point, watched him in cartoons, wore his Underoo’s, ran around the house using blankets as capes, and even had a crocheted doll my Mom had made me as one of the stuffed animals lining my bed.  But when I saw Christopher Reeve grab that falling helicopter in one hand and Margot Kidder in the other, there was nothing better.

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It was with this lens of awe and wonderment that I watched and judged each Superman movie after Richard Donner’s original (Even part 2, after seeing the Donner Cut.  There was nothing like the first.).  Whether it was subconsciously or consciously, I compared each movie to the first and each movie paled in comparison…until this past Sunday.

I took my wife and daughters to see Man of Steel (it was Father’s Day which was how I got my wife to go when I asked, sort of like asking Don Corleone a favor on Connie’s wedding day, she couldn’t say ‘no’).  More importantly than being flanked by my kids and wife, I had decided to watch Zach Snyder’s telling of the Man of Steel on its own merits and not with 30 years’ worth of lingering nostalgia.

It helped knowing that Christopher Nolan was producing and David Goyer had written the screenplay.  Both men have done wonders for the landscape of comic book movies especially for DC’s other superhero icon, Batman.  I was excited to see what the two of them and Zach Snyder could do for the Last Son of Krypton.

I was not disappointed.

While it was yet another comic book origin story, it had to be told.  Since 1978, every fanboy and girl has been using Reeve/Brando/Hackman as their benchmark for a Superman movie.  In order to break that critical default, Man of Steel had to be an origin story.  One of the failings (among the many) or maybe the trappings of 2006’s Superman Returns, was its setting in the timeline.  It was taking place after the events of Superman II.  Also it was the movie’s insistence on referring back to Richard Donner’s movies with lines from those movies and using John Williams’ orchestral theme in it.  All of those things only made us miss the original movies, compare Brandon Routh to Christopher Reeve, and negate Superman Returns’ ability to fly on its own.  It is also, in my opinion, why the movie is titled, Man of Steel and not Superman, to further distance itself from its predecessors.

So watching Krypton’s destruction, baby Kal-El being rocketed off the planet, going back to Smallville, and doing away with those damn crystals, was all very necessary if Man of Steel had any sort of chance at success.

Plus, after 75 years of Siegel and Shuster’s telling of Superman’s origin, it was time for an update; something that has been done quite well in comic book movies as of late.  Iron Man, Amazing Spiderman, Batman, all have been able to retain critical parts of their origins while integrating them successfully in the 21st Century.  Goyer, Nolan, and Snyder did the same thing with Superman.

The screenplay takes elements of Mark Waid’s ‘Birthright’ and Geoff Johns’ ‘Last Son’ (for General Zod) as well as adding in its own voice.  The running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes never seemed too long and visually, the movie was appealing. For a planet moments away from total destruction, Krypton has never looked better.

As for the acting.  Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Michael Shannon as General Zod were perfectly cast.  Man_of_Steel_37095Each one embodied the characters.  Each one was believable in a movie where the audience willingly suspended disbelief from start to finish.  You knew each actor was the character they were portraying.  Kevin Costner and Diane Lane fulfilled their roles as the Kents dutifully, and Lawrence Fishburne, in limited screen time as Perry White, was fine.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane was unconvincing.  First was the red hair.  Admittedly, a minor point, but Lois Lane should have black hair.  She was only without her trade mark ebony locks for a portion of the 80’s and 90’s (when it was brown) and was only ever a red head in the original Sunday paper strips.  Also, Amy Adams didn’t convey Lois’ grit, determination, and strength that has been a hallmark of her character for almost 60 years (she was a bit more submissive in her first appearances probably due to attitudes towards women in the 1930’s and 40’s).  While her portrayal didn’t take away from the movie, the role could have been better with an actress who could exude the confidence and strength of Lois more effectively.  And then there was Superman himself, Henry Cavill. He captured the innocence, want to do good, naiveté, of Clark Kent as he searched to not only find out about himself and his past.  He played the newly crowned Superman with the excitement and lack of confidence one would expect from a character who just realized he can fly might be feeling.  He also was able to physically pull off being Superman which helped greatly.

Missing was Jimmy Olsen, although rumor has it, actress Rebecca Buller, who was saved from the rubble by Perry White, was playing Jenny Olsen.  Also missing and conspicuous by his absence was Lex Luthor.  In an interview with Screen Rant, David Goyer had this to say:

“When questioned about why Lex Luthor wasn’t included in the film, Goyer responded, “I don’t think anyone has ever confirmed that we haven’t included him.” Not a surprising that he is being vague: It’s long been suspected that like Batman Begins, Man of Steel would focus more on the central character in the first chapter, while setting up the primary antagonist for the second chapter.”

But Superman’s arch rival and main antagonist since 1940 was not in the movie though his company, LexCorp, made at least two appearances in the movie.  And if there is any true issue that should be taken with the movie, it is Luthor’s absence (much the same lexcorpbuilding-man-of-steelfeeling I had when Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne got no mention in the Avengers movie last year).  As we saw what The Amazing Spiderman did with Norman Osborne (mentioned/referred to/referenced but unseen) so too could have been done with a character etched so deeply in the Superman mythos, especially with inevitable sequels on the way (Man of Steel 2 already being greenlit and working towards a 2014 release).

The only other issue I had with Man of Steel was its ending.

SPOILER ALERT 

Superman kills Zod.  Superman does not kill. Outside of non-canon comic book stories, and John Byrne’s run on the comic in the 1980’s, Superman doesn’t kill.  It was the impetus for his disappearance in Alan Moore’s, ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow’.  In Action Comics #775, ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way’, Superman went out of his way to show the pitfalls of killing the Elite.  It is a core value to the character and one that even updates and modernization shouldn’t be allowed to change.  What was worse about Superman breaking Zod’s neck, how it was then handled.  Superman is obviously guilt ridden about what he has just done, on his knees and being cradled by Lois yet in the next scene, a few days later, completely unaffected by the events.  No mention of it.  No newly enacted code of “I’ll never kill again” not to mention ruining his credibility as he tries to convince the US military of his altruism in the end. If anything hurt Man of Steel, it was these last 10 minutes of the movie.

Despite this and missing Lex, overall, Man of Steel is as strong of a movie as the title indicates.  The CGI, for the most part, was interwoven seamlessly in to the live action of the movie.  There were some shots of Superman and Zod fighting that were noticeably worked but kudos for Superman’s heat vision and the destruction of Metropolis.  The frontal shots of Cavill flying were most likely served best on a 3-D dish (point of note:  with 4 of us going to the movie, this fanboy was far too cheap to spring for the cost of 3-D tickets).  The story moved along well.  The cuts between present and flashbacks worked.  And the story (75 years young), as mentioned above, was brought in to present day effectively.

His 1938 premiere in Action Comics #1, Superman ushered in the Golden Age of Comics* and opened the flood gate for new superheroes to emerge.  Not only is Man of Steel the kind of movie that can be the bridge which opens the doors to the DC characters we have been waiting to see (outside of Batman) on the big screen, more importantly, it was a movie that erased the shadow cast by its 1978 predecessor and was able to fly on its own.

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*This according to the History Detectives at pbs.org: http://to.pbs.org/11uNlDL

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