Man of Steel

Man of Steel PosterAs Superman tells Lois Lane in Man of Steel, the “S”-like symbol on his chest represents “Hope” in Kryptonian. My own hopes for this film would have resembled a roller coaster ride if charted out over the years since its announcement. Initially I was glad, hopeful that it would provide a new start to the franchise after the disappointing Superman Returns. Then when I heard Zack Snyder was attached, I became a bit skeptical; I’ve never been a big fan of the director. When Christopher Nolan was attached to produce, I remained unsure; I have a lot of faith in Nolan, given his history, but I wasn’t sure he would be able to bring the right tone to a Superman movie. Superman needs something of a different tone than Batman, and as time went on, the more it sounded like Warner Brothers was moving in a dark, Batman-esque direction for the film. Promotional materials started to come out, and I started to become pessimistic; it not only looked very dark, it also looked to be very self-important. The first teaser trailer, debuting in front of The Dark Knight Rises, was easily the most pretentious trailer I’d ever seen for a superhero film. But the last few trailers before the film’s release started to turn things around, to make it look like there might be a decent film in the works after all. So I went to the midnight screening of the film with a sense of guarded — very guarded — optimism. I had, at this point, some hopes for a good film and worries of a bad one (or even worse, a popular one that I personally wouldn’t like), but was no longer sure exactly what to expect.

Man of Steel Clothesline

I was, however, reasonably sure it wouldn’t just be this kid running around.

The film, much like my anticipation, was a mixture of good and bad. It is self-important in some ways, but fortunately nowhere near as much as the early trailers suggested. Really, it’s about in line with most Superman movies in that respect. There’s an attempt to inspire awe and wonder, as there should be, and some moralizing, which is also as it should be, but it doesn’t delve so far into it that it comes across as faux-philosophy. It also manages to find a balance between having a dark villain and not having a dark story or dark hero. General Zod (Michael Shannon) is even more impressive here than he was in Superman II, and the raw power of the Kryptonian invaders is on display in a manner it never was before. Awe-inspiring is the word that comes to mind. Zod himself is given an extra level of depth in his motivations which makes him more understandable without running the risk of making him more sympathetic; he’s still an undeniably villainous character, but his actions have a sense of purpose to them in this film, and Shannon instills him with a strength of passion that makes him an entertaining villain to watch. His subordinate Faora (Antje Traue) has a more coolly logical disposition, providing the other side of the evil coin, and calling back to the portrayal of Ursa in Superman II.

But while the villains are dark, and the story is often dark, Superman himself thankfully is not. There’s a scene near the end that I disliked for the action taken, but it was a mild dislike, and largely mitigated by Superman’s reaction to it. The personality of Superman from the comic books and previous adaptations is largely intact, which had been my greatest concern. He’s a character who was meant to inspire hope, and he does so; he comes across here as a beacon of light in the darkness of the events, even if the people around him need to learn to see him as such. A large part of this is down to Henry Cavill, the actor who plays him; the character’s basic honesty and decency comes through in most scenes, as well as his humanity. I said to a friend a few days back that I didn’t think anybody would ever displace Christopher Reeve as the iconic Superman, and I stand by that statement. However, Cavill, whose Clark Kent is almost reminiscent of a young Tom Hanks, is well-suited to become the Superman for a new generation.

Man of Steel Cavill

It helped that his accent never slipped. A British-sounding Kansas farmboy just wouldn’t work.

Those people surrounding him are, for the most part, similarly uplifting. Amy Adams captures the spirit of Lois Lane quite well, giving her a determination and spirit to go along with her sense of righteousness in her investigations. It’s easy to picture her as the intrepid journalist. Christopher Meloni is likely to be a fan-favorite character in the film thanks to his own display of heroics as a soldier involved in the fight. And Russell Crowe gets more screen time than probably any incarnation of Jor-El has gotten in any medium, giving a great sense of the personality that Kal-El’s father had. It’s a very humanizing portrayal of the character, and shows his influence on Superman even though he wasn’t able to raise him. The one issue I had with characterization is that it felt a little as if Snyder, et al, emphasized the importance of Kal-El’s Kryptonian father at the expense of Clark’s human father. While Kevin Costner was perfectly cast as Jonathan Kent, the writing for the character felt off, at least at moments. It is impossible to picture Jonathan Kent from the comics (at least in the modern era, I can’t vouch for early Silver Age comics) ever placing secrecy over somebody’s life. However, like some of the other complaints I have with the film, it’s mitigated by what it does right. The senior Kent gets his own moment of heroism, and the relationship the Kents have with their adopted son is heartwarming to see, particularly Cavill’s interactions with Diane Lane as Martha Kent. They really succeed at getting the idea across that he really is just the basic all-American boy at heart.

Before viewing this film, I was skeptical of Zack Snyder’s ability to direct a good Superman movie. In previous films (fellow comic-book adaptations 300 and Watchmen in particular), he has shown himself to have a distinct directorial style, and I did not feel it would fit the character and story of Superman. But while there are definitely some “Snyder-ish” elements to this film, Snyder adapted his style to suit the film, rather than adapting the film to suit his style. Action sequences are fast and frenetic, without the slow-motion punches that populated his earlier action films, yet still allowing the audience to see what is going on. The flying sequences, always a critical element of a Superman film, are handled skillfully, not only allowing us to believe a man can fly, but showing that it’s not as easy as it looks. There was some use of the shaky cam, but it didn’t seem as obnoxious as in a lot of other action films; I mostly noticed it when it was appropriate to notice it, such as in scenes when buildings were supposed to be shaking.

That said, there are some definite issues with the film, and most of them can be laid at Snyder’s feet. Clark Kent’s background as a boy growing up is intercut into the main narrative via flashbacks. While I understand the reason for this — it allows Snyder to show his upbringing while also allowing him to get to the action as soon as possible — it typically disrupted the flow of the main narrative. A dream sequence, in which Zod communicates his plans to Kal-El, had the same issue and additionally was very corny. I was also left with a feeling that Snyder needed to have had a stronger sense of what the audience didn’t need to see. This impression was actually my first thought on the film, as the movie opens with a scene of Kal-El’s Kryptonian mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) in the midst of childbirth.

Man of Steel House of El

This is as early as the origin of Superman needs to start, and as much exposure as the infant Kal-El needs.

These flaws were sufficient to prevent me from fully buying into the film all the way through… but they weren’t sufficient to prevent me from enjoying it. My hopes, going into the film, were that at worst I’d be debating between four stars and five. My fears were that I’d be debating much, much lower scores. After watching it, I was debating three and four stars, but was leaning heavily towards the latter. What tipped the scale, ultimately, is this: Man of Steel is both a film and the start of a revitalized film franchise. Though it has to stand on its own feet to get a good rating, part of its purpose is to establish a foundation for the future films. And the flaws that it has are, in many cases, apt to become irrelevant with sequels. Taken as a film by itself, Man of Steel is a good movie, not great, but good enough to get more than a grudging pass. Taken as the rebirth of a franchise, it provides a solid foundation for future films. It isn’t a five-star film in and of itself, but it makes me believe there’s the potential for a five-star film to come.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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35 Responses to Man of Steel

  1. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I hope to watch this film in the next week or so.

  2. fhings says:

    I was fearing they wouldn’t give Russel Crowe enough screen but it’s very comforting to know that they did. Great Post.Looking forward to the movie.

  3. Chris says:

    Oh, there definitely was potential for a five star here, and I actually felt the film wasn’t Snyder-ish enough. Had he really unleashed his style in full force here, I really think this could’ve been a classic, rather than the overly somber and restrained film that we got. Still, not a bad movie, though. Good review. πŸ™‚

  4. LOL, you’re definitely right, Snyder didn’t need to open with Superman being freaking born πŸ™„

    I think we’re at about the same place here. Is it the movie I would want? No. Is it still a pretty good movie? Yes. I think it actually IS a little too self-important (nice choice there) and overly serious, but there was a lot to like here. For the most part the action scenes were great, and Cavill was a really good Superman.

    Hopefully in the sequels they’ll lighten up some and then everything will click. πŸ˜‰

    • Yeah, it sounds like we’re in agreement on all counts. I’ll swing by to check out your full review in a bit, but I don’t think we’re going to have any major disagreements on this one. Absolutely right that it’s not the one we were hoping for, but is still pretty good. A few tweaks for the sequel could bring things up to the level they need to be.

      Maybe we’ll get lucky, and it’ll be an inverse of the Dark Knight trilogy, where the first is just OK and the rest are great.

  5. Bubbawheat says:

    Since it happened at the very beginning, I had pretty much forgotten about the birth scene at the beginning. Though I do have to say that they do make a big deal out of the fact that he was the first natural childbirth in centuries, so it is an important factor to that side of the story. Personally, I thought a lot of those sort of complaints actually worked within the constraints of this particular movie, if not in the grander scheme of Superman as a multimedia character. I really loved it and am looking forward to more DC Universe movies. Green Lantern 2 would work great in this kind of style I think.

    • Telling about the childbirth is moderately important, but I think actually showing it was unnecessary. Truthfully, childbirth just isn’t a scene that most movies can carry well at all, and I don’t feel it worked here.

      As far as the science-fiction tones, I think Green Lantern would work well in this style, yes. This tone would still be a bit on the dark side for it, though — though it wouldn’t be quite as bad there, as Green Lantern does have some dark overtones to it considering the entire notion of the Corps it that they overcome darkness.

  6. Good review Morgan, glad you liked the film. I think with a sequel they can move onto a lighter tone (slightly) and they can make a glorious sequel…with more explosions mwahahhahahahaha! xD

  7. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Morgan. Beautiful to look at and moody, but not much else other than a couple of fun set-pieces.

  8. ruth says:

    Great review Morgan!! We agree on many things here. I do like that Zod has more of a sense of purpose here instead of simply being a megalomaniac, in fact that scene of him on his knees (no quip about ‘kneel before Zod’ thankfully), saying that he was made for this purpose to preserve Krypton is quite powerful and heart-wrenching. I think Cavill’s done a great job to portray a convincing and engaging Superman, and his American accent is spot on!

    • I wouldn’t say spot on… it was more of a “flat American accent” (newscaster accent) than a “Kansas farmboy accent”.. but it was good enough for the film, and as much as could be expected.

      I liked Zod’s sense of purpose as well. It’s always good when the villain has a reason for their actions beyond “I’m Evil”.

  9. The only thing I like about Snyder is his directorial style so for me the action sequences although they were more than plentiful were a huge disappointment.

    I enjoyed the Superman back story and the the flashbacks, where the film lost me was with the redonkulous dialogue, the lack of chemistry between Lane and Superman and the whole lets revisit General Zod again plot line of the film. Really General Zod? Sort of the same gripe I have about Star Trek Into Darkness, why redo what has already been done? Why not instead take this character in a new direction and show us a new villain. In the comics Zod does not show up for almost 20 years worth of issues in 1961.

    • It’s funny, Snyder’s usual directorial style is exactly what I don’t like about him.

      I didn’t think the dialogue was too bad, although it was certainly a bit goofy in places. I agree that Lois and Superman lacked chemistry, but it wasn’t a big issue since they didn’t really interact romantically much in the film. Maybe they can work on that for the sequel.

      I agree about reusing Zod. That was one of my concerns from the beginning, especially since Superman Returns had reused the “Lex Luthor Land Grab” plot from Superman. It’s more than a little silly that the first and second Superman movies since the Reeve movies reuse the plots from the first and second Reeve movies.

  10. You and I were on the same boat with are reactions to the making of “Man of Steel”. Like you mostly liked the movie with a few negatives, most of which are thanks to Snyder.

    Good point about giving Zod a motivation people can understand, but at the same time not sympathize with.

  11. Spikor says:

    This one kind of tore me up. I went into it wanting a good action movie, and nothing more. But I found that, for the first hour or so, they were knocking it out of the park on every level.

    So by the time everything goes down the crapper, I was so disappointed. By the time I got to the end, I was almost heartbroken at how awfully the movie’s story was handled.

    Great write up, though, and I’m glad to see that for most this movie was very enjoyable. Any other character… any of them, and this could have become my #1 Super Hero movie of all time, I think. Which I find so strange, because I’m not at all attached to Superman as a character… but think that as a symbol it’s important he… maintain… I guess is the best word to describe it.

    • I think I see what you’re saying here. The symbolic value of Superman definitely takes a beating in the second half, and that’s one of my main complaints. From the sound of things, though — just reading a David Goyer interview about you-know-what-action — it sounds like they’re using that to be the reason why he establishes his more traditional stance going forward.

      • Spikor says:

        If it bothered him so much, he shouldn’t have been cracking wise with the General in the very next scene.

        Total failure handling that situation, in my opinion.

        • Not really. He immediately breaks down afterward. Cracking wise with the General was after a scene transition — implied to be at least a few days later.

          Not that I liked the scene in question either, just saying they definitely showed it having a negative impact.

        • Spikor says:

          As much of a negative impact as Darth Vader learning about Padme in Episode 3. A (in my opinion) cheesy impact that is glossed over in the next scene.

          On the whole, it was a poor choice that could, and should have been handled entirely differently.

          And I know you’re just saying you hated it less than I did. πŸ˜‰

  12. Excellent review, Morgan. I’m glad that you liked it. I agree that some of the, shall we say, “Snyder-isms” kept it from being fully enjoyable. But def not horrible!

    Cavill was spot on too.

    • “Snyder-isms”. Nice. πŸ˜€

      But yeah, flawed but not horrible. And I suspect that people who are newer fans, or just movie fans, won’t have some of the same issues as a long-time superhero fan.

  13. Pingback: Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014 | Morgan on Media

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