Saturday AM Review: Man of Steel

NOTE: This review was originally published June 2013 on

So, I had built up an insane amount of desire and need to see Man of Steel prior to the films' launch. In fact, it was quite stunning how, despite how old I am (I'm OLD ya'll) , I was just hitting a fever pitch of anticipation once the Nokia Superman trailer came out. It reminded me a lot of the Dark Knight Rises spot that Nokia did last summer and it just took me. Something about that Zimmer score (the big DUN DUN DUN), the beautiful cinematography and the listing of Christopher Nolan's name--it made me scream into the air like Zod instead I was yelling "I--WILL--SEE--THIS!!" MAN OF STEEL BECAME  A MAJOR PRIORITY FOR JUNE (which is sad considering how incredibly broke I am)

For those of you who know my desire to see a good JLA film and how I feel Marvel has tried to deliberately confuse the average movie fan into adopting their versions of characters over DC's (Quicksilver before a FLASH movie??)--then you know that going to see Man of Steel was almost required of me. Even with Massively Multiplayer World of GHOSTS getting close to launch, I made plans for what was already a busy weekend. While Pacific Rim's trailer looks like something I might check out and This is the END seems fun--really, nothing this summer has moved me and Man of Steel only started to fire on all cylinders for me over the last six weeks. So, while my plans felt right it wasn't like a long obsession and more to the point-=I grew weary right before the movie after reviews (from trusted sources) seemed lukewarm at best.

So I saw it.

I saw Man of Steel by Zac Snyder, produced by Christoper Nolan and starring Henry Cavill and my thought was summed up by a rather hurt feeling like this was such a lost opportunity!  

Let's start with the PRO's:

  1. KRYPTON SEQUENCE---loved the environment, Zod's introduction and the fantastic Lara Zor El (Ayelet Zurer)--who has never really been given much time in previous incarnations. I loved how the movie opened with an action sequence even if the ending pissed me off.
  2. CLARK's JOURNEY --- while Nolan's footprint are all over this portion ---it's also the BEST PART OF THE FILM. Watching Cavill (who is physically HUGE and IS CLARK KENT/ SUPERMAN) actually act (special shout out to the younger Clark's who are really fantastic) and attempt to show the actual real-life difficulty in being Superman is something that is modern and right for the mythos. He should struggle with his power and he should be 'awkward' around people precisely due to his difficulty managing his senses as much as his strength. 
  3.  ACTING -- great kudo's to everyone --- I felt that this film had big league talent and the film's seriousness in the face of such outlandish things was another Nolan-ism that maintained itself well here (and actually helps offset Marvel's more breezy films). Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner. Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburn, Christopher Meloni, Antje Traue (steals the show from Zod) and Ayelet Zurer all really class up the film for the two main leads--Supes and Lois.
  4. SUIT -- the arguments about the suit baffle me---it looks FANTASTIC! More to the point, it looks so good that you never question Superman in it (given how serious the movie is) and more to the point -- the cape is ASTONISHING. I believe the cape is CGI but trust me when I tell you it's such good CGI that no one will think it's fake.
  5. SFX -- Finally, the cape is a good segue way because the biggest thing that any Superman movie needs is the FLYING and this film does a fantastic job. Superman floats instead of picking himself up, he glides and he levitates when the ground beneath him falls---this is FLYING the way every fanboy has ever dreamed it. It reminded me of Amazing Spiderman--Marc Webb nailed the signature Spidey poses and swinging. But they didn't stop there---the heat vision, super speed and X-ray vision are TOP-NOTCH. In fact, I would go so far to say that they are not just GEEK-GASM but they are TERRIFYING!
  6. CLARK'S SECRET IDENTITY --   since I am all for realism and supporting the modern woman--then THANK THE GOD'S that they DO NOT make Lois an idiot. This woman is a reporter and this silliness of her not knowing who Clark is has been jettisoned for a more modern take.
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Let's understand that those positives are GREAT! Superman Returns fell apart for many of these reasons--over the top acting, still doing 1970's era Donner version Clark in a modern time and a suit that seemed slightly cheesy (like a tougher form of spandex). So that Man of Steel got so much right how could it have then fallen so far off track?

Let's NOW talk about the CONS: 

  1. LOIS -- I don't know what to say here--Amy Adams is beautiful and a fine actress but she just does not feel like Lois Lane. Her voice, her mannerisms all scream Pam from the Office vs. the conniving, tough, chain smoking and sexually confident Lois from most media interpretations. This is a perfect con to start with because the overriding theme is missed opportunities. When you finally get Lois right in the script to have her be a reporter first--Superman swooner second then go all out with it both in casting as well as in story beats. I didn't understand why Lois needed to be in this movie actually--it would have been better if Metropolis showed up at the end and we simply learn Lois is tracking Clark because---none of the Daily PLanet are given any personalities to make any of the film's climactic moments mean anything. In other words, this version of Superman did not need a love story with Lois Lane.
  2.  JOR-EL-- wow, I knew we were in trouble with the Krypton sequence. I LOVED IT, true--but when Jor El became an action superhero and began jumping off cliffs and wielding guns and then DIES only to have Zod captured moments later--it became obvious that this script was all over the place. Why did Jor El need to die? It never comes up again in the film (in terms of Clark's understanding) so revenge is not a story point. Why have Zod kill him when he gets captured anyway--why not just the coup and Jor El says no and the coup ends with a whimper and Zod is sentenced--allowing us to see that Jor El possesses morals that we know are part of Superman's DNA. That the writers (and in this case Nolan) were willing to systematically rob the classic Superman story of one of it's chief/ iconic moments (Kal-El's birth parents SACRIFICING themselves for him vs. Bruce Wayne's parents being TAKEN from him) for NO REASON--just pretty much told me to get ready for some shoddy Superman shenanigans. I honestly got that Superman Returns vibe when Superman Returns to Earth and learns Lois has a kid---why???? THE WORST PART---JOR EL pops up three more times in the movie and has action scenes??? Was that part of Russell Crowe's contract??
  3.  JONATHAN KENT--well, if I hated Jor-El's moments---Jonathan Kent's just about made me leave the theatre. Now, I'm no religious comic book fan. Like most, I saw that first trailer where Jonathan Kent says 'maybe' and thought this was going to be a good, well-acted Superman movie with consequences and not some pollyanna Richard Donner (no offense, Superman the movie was the bomb yo) vision that so many creators seem enamored with---well I should have joined the comic book fans because THAT WAS NOT JONATHAN KENT. His death scene was so ridiculous--he basically waives Clark away from helping him (and maybe saving others) out of some misguided fear that Clark would be discovered or that something would happen to he and Martha. It was so pointless and just seemed paint by numbers from Goyer. We need a tragic moment for Clark---it could have been the dog or it could have STILL been Jonathan where Clark is off helping people on an oil rig far away (something Jonathan evidently doesn't want) and Jonathan dies in a freak accident or even the Twister but to do it by having Superman NOT ACT is just not a choice that seems right.
  4. BRAINIAC -- Why was he not in this? I'm always amazed how Hollywood gets away with this--Nolan and Goyer are credited with the story when this is really just Superman: Birthright by Mark WaidWhy not have Brainiac be the Kalyx (sic)? I mean, with all of Krypton's knowledge that Zod is searching for and that becomes sentient later and attacks Superman? We get two ridiculous moments where Clark fights a robot on a Krypton ship and a second one where he fights an odd tentacled creature that protects the terraform station (called World Crusher or something). These could have been Brainiac and just helped to get fanboys excited and also make seemingly random SFX moments into something more connected and eventually (in a sequel) SINISTER. It's fanboy rage in me--I KNOW but seriously--why do a comic book movie and then jettison the elements of the comic? It's like how the CW gets the Green Arrow TV show: I can accept calling it Arrow and him the HOOD in the show but why change his city, (an admittedly silly name) STAR City into the more horrendous STARling city. That's just silly change of the comic book property for no reason and since Nolan and Goyer are borrowing from Birthright--why not just take the brilliant change from Superman the Animated Series regarding Brainiac's connection to Krypton.
  5.  DESTRUCTION PORN -- After seeing Superman Returns where Singer and his writer's worked overboard to make Superman do nothing cool in the whole film, I feel like Man of Steel does the opposite---they have him doing a lot of cool non-superman things in what is incredibly cinematic devastation. Where is the awesome scene from Donner's film where Superman drills into the ground? Where is the saving the helicopter from Superman the Movie or the Airplane from Superman Returns? I bring this up because in this movie--Superman literally causes MASSIVE DAMAGE and forgets to do anything super for the innocent people caught in the crossfire. I mean, this is best summed up when during the climactic battle over the dual terraforming machines--Superman defeats one machine -- on the other side of the world, that is completely isolated (no people around) while the one in Metropolis literally kills millions of people--and when Superman arrives--(to save Lois from certain death btw) the handful of survivors (which include Perry White) thank him for saving them???  The lesson in all of this for filmmakers is that yes, it is impressive that those of you who grew up on comics and anime are now determined to give us the images that we've always wanted to see. HOWEVER. just because you can show something amazing--doesn't mean you should. In other words, once we can all now visualize the impossible--then the problem becomes that the STORY MATTERS EVEN MORE and in this regard the destruction of Metropolis just seems silly.
  6. SUPERMAN KILLS-- And this is where I truly wanted to leave the film. Batman didn't even kill in Nolan's Dark Knight films but with Superman he literally is too dumb to think of anything else other than killing Zod? Zod massacres millions with his terraforming machines and his fight with Superman but only now does Superman believe that he has no choice than to snap Zod's neck? He couldn't super breathe into his head--maybe make Zod Brain dead--or throw him into the sun? Anything but snap his neck. I'm sorry but screaming afterwards was not enough of a dramatic tension because two scenes later Superman is getting a job at the Daily Planet. The thing that angers me is that this is just sloppiness. They could have done away with two minutes of the boring repetitive fight scene to offer various points of dialogue and scenes that would have sold Clark's conflict over Zod and his choice of protecting his human race even if it meant extinguishing his true lineage. None of that mattered though and what we got was a 45 minute death parade that is sure to delight fans who enjoyed the Transformers movies but not those who love Superman. Which there is a lot of those fans. I guess I'm officially old because the support this film has gotten has surprised me--people saying Superman now kicks ass and do what he has to do. Is that where we've come? I'm all for seeing Superman tear down someone but good lord the giant robot who fights him with Faora--never is shown again--why couldn't we have gotten Superman ripping off his arms and beating him with it since y'know he's a robot?

Verdict: Man of Steel is not the film or art that Nolan's Batman films were nor is it the best Superman movie but it is an action-packed, well acted approach to the story for a new (disaster-porn loving) generation of comic book fans.