The latest Superman (Henry Cavill) movie, Man of Steel has had a polarizing effect on fans and comic creators. While everyone was looking forward to the reboot of the franchise, and hoping for Christopher Nolan‘s (writer, with David S. Goyer) influence to give us a Superman and a Metropolis that melded with his vision of Gotham and Batman. Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) gave us something different. He shuffled the card deck around to move away from the 35-year-old Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve version of Superman to give us a different and unintentionally destructive Clark Kent. There are things to criticize about the movie, but as a fan of a wide swath of Superman stories throughout the years, Man of Steel sets the stage for a DC Cinematic Universe that can rival The Avengers movies across the street.
This isn’t my first review of the Man of Steel, but one written after reading other criticisms and listening to podcasts all around the Internet. Please check out Steve’s insightful critique at ADAPATION NATION on this very site. I’ve seen the movie twice, once at the Boston preview with press and excited contest winners and my fellow podcasters. The second was a Sunday matinee, in 3D this past weekend.
Though the movie has been out for two weeks, I will present this column as having spoilers.
For my fresh out the cinema, and non-spoilery review, please go here.
The cinematics are specatacular in this superhero movie. Perhaps the best yet. While aping parts of Inception and The Avengers and Transformers 3 at points on the scale of big city fights, with glass and brick exploding everywhere, we are still given what we come to expect from a sci-fi movie with cutting edge CGI. Standout features of how the movie looks are the techno organic society that makes up the Krypton homeworld of Jor-El (Russell Crowe), Lara-El (Ayelet Zurer), and Zod (Michael Shannon). Costume design, including the muted but textured Superman ‘armor’ seemed spot on to me, and the Zod/Faura battle armor was a highlight of the overall design.
All of the Kryptonian ships, armor and Phantom Projector scenes are redesigned from the ground up, and make for space scenes that rival last summer’s Prometheus and both of the recent Star Trek films.
A critique of the film is that this is more of a sci-fi film than it is a superhero movie. I can understand that, but laying the foundation for and growing attached to the doomed planet of Krypton makes for better Superman stories.
He is an orphan, can never find his real home, but has his adoptive parents (and Lois) on Earth to care for him.
Zod is the key to pushing this movie into hyperdrive. Those of us fans of his creepy masochistic (former) Agent Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire project similar feelings onto his evil motivations for both characters. Van Alden sneakily breaks the rules if it benefits him to do so, and this Kryptonian general is following his military objectives to continue to perpetuate the Kryptonian race at whatever cost. It is not his fault he was born this way!
A gripe I have about the marketing for this movie was that with all of the trailers leading up to the release, there was not enough Zod.
If attempting to make a darker storyline appeal to a more modern audience, why not party with ad campaigns based on the villain? The viral video campaign of Zod taking over the airwaves was pretty bad-ass and comic book-like, so kudos for that.
There are plenty of jump cut scenes with Ma (Diane Lane) and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) dealing with a super powered son in the non-linear narrative of the film. Costner nails being a protective father and the generous, kindly and hard working man that lives up to our expectations, rivaled only by our recent memory of John Schneider in the role. This Smallville, KS main streets look more like any old small town street (NH for example) and less like the eponymous television show version. The Kent Farm looks mostly like every other version we’ve seen before but also like Superman/Batman Apocolypse, the farmhouse and barn are both destroyed in a gigantic fight. Looks like Clark has a weekend project coming up!
Smallville and Metropolis are just background in the movie, not necessarily ‘characters’.
Gotham, however, in the Nolan films is a dark lady, and Krypton is an alien world that we don’t get to know well enough!
Henry Cavill is much more of a bulked up larger than life actor than his predecessor Brandon Routh was in Superman Returns. His story after leaving Smallville leads him to be a fisherman and a wanderer, hiding his powers until the time is right.
Our traditional Superboy turned reporter storyline is ditched in favor of a Bruce Banner wandering from town to town vibe.
This is not a tack I’ve seen before, but it works here in service of the story. The Daily Planet action comes later for Clark as Lois Lane has discovered his secret identity way before he works for the Planet. Lois (Amy Adams) in this movie has her hands in the action, another shining example of how different this movie is from every other iteration. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White really worked for me, love that guy and he’s a more realistic editor than J.K. Simmons as the cartoon of J. Jonah Jameson was in the Spider-Man film series (though he was equally brilliant).
I have tried my best not to be as enthusiastic about this movie just because it stars Superman.
My first step in super-humility was paying attention to what critics are saying, but mostly what people who have had a role in Superman’s history had to say.
Mark Waid (Superman: Birthright) has both a short and long form version of his criticisms at the Thrillbent Blog. Some of his Birthright elements are integrated into the dialogue and main beats of the story and he’s a ‘proud-papa’. He also says, “It’s a good science-fiction movie, but it’s very cold”.
Our pal MC Chris (see below!) didn’t like the Jesus allegory stuff (agreed) and has a great review at his tumblr. Our favorite quote (sic), “Go see it, it’s long as fuck, so if you see it at midnight when you come of theater it will be dawn. ” truth.
Ever been an obsessive comic book fan, needing to collect them all?
Of course, The League has our opinions on a recent episode, listen to ours before the AMC one, it’s one hour of me cheering while Jaush fidgets and sighs about the thing. Link below.
Oh, and Stacey needs me to mention that Zod’s compatriot Faora-UI is literally the best. Who wins in a fight between Faora and Black Widow? We think Faora.
iFanboy’s Paul Montgomery and Dave Accampo take on Man of Steel in their most recent post as well. This explores the biggest questions I had about the movie. Can I un-attach myself from my Superman to enjoy this Superman? Podcast here.
5by5′s Moisés Chiullan has a yet-to-be released Giant Size roundtable about Man of Steel (I listened live!) that we will link to here soon, but check out his show, he is a talented dude! If you subscribe, the episode will be delivered to you free of charge! Can’t wait? Try The Incomparable #146 (5by5 Podcast Network) on the movie – Bashing Two Action Figures Together
That rounds out my roundup, and also my 1,000,000th review of the thing. I can’t wait to watch this on the home system and tear it apart some more. I already watch Superman II once a month…for sport!
In conclusion I will state that in a world where Smallville, Superman: The Movie, endless story arcs in the comics, and Elseworlds tales, Man Of Steel adds to the mythos of Superman for me in a mostly positive way. I don’t believe that Superman should kill or destroy cities in a wanton manner for the heck of it, and I do like my Clark Kent a little slouchy. Overall, I can’t complain about Henry Cavill’s manliness or his character’s choice at the end of the film.
I would have written Zod’s final scene differently and sent him to the Phantom Zone.
League of Ordinary Gentlemen Podcast Episode #156 — Man of Disagreement!
Jaush and Clay are joined by Stacey to review Man Of Steel, Thumbs Up and Sideways. Also, Superman Unchained was expensive and Batman #21 – Zero Year was worth the giant penny. Also, Jaush and Stacey are excited about The Last of Us for PS3.
Read Clay’s in depth Man Of Steel review over at Forces of Geek!
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