Review - Man of Steel

Man of Steel (2013), PG-13, 143 minutes - This review probably should have been posted a week ago when I saw the film, but life's been a little bit hectic this past week and I'm just now getting a chance to get some thoughts out.  Anyway, Man of Steel is the latest attempt at revamping the Superman franchise.  It comes seven years after 2006's Superman Returns, which was a bit of a mixed bag for most people (and that's probably the nicest way to put it).  Before I get into my actual review for Man of Steel, a couple disclaimers:  I don't really follow Superman in the comic medium.  I was introduced to the character as a kid thanks to the Christopher Reeve starring Richard Donner films.  That incarnation is, to this day, what I think of when I think of Superman.  Because I don't religiously keep up with the comics, I think I'm more accepting of any changes or inaccuracies that take place in the films.  Superman Returns wasn't amazing by any stretch, but I would sit through it again before some other superhero movies (a fact that, absurd as it sounds, ruined a friendship...sounds like something from The Big Bang Theory huh?).  It was a nice little love letter to the Donner Era of Superman films, but other than that, it definitely had its issues.  Enough of Superman Returns, you're here to find out about Man of Steel.

Just about everyone knows the basic story behind the origin of Superman: alien baby is sent towards Earth in an escape pod as his native planet (Krypton) meets its destruction.  Alien baby is found in a corn field in Smallville, Kansas by Jonathan and Martha Kent.  They raise the humanoid baby as their own and as he ages, he discovers that his alien body absorbs the rays of Earth's yellow sun, giving him extraordinary strength and powers that he would not have had on his native planet, which leads him to becoming Superman.  Man of Steel takes that story and tweaks it just a bit, pulling concepts from classic comic book arcs like John Byrne's 'The Man of Steel' from 1986 and Mark Waid's 'Superman: Birthright' from 2003.  The tweaks that are made to the origin story work well for the story being told in the film in my opinion.

I've heard a number of differing opinions about this film over the past week, ranging anywhere from it being great to people feeling like it wasted two and a half hours of their lives.  I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed this film.  There were a couple of things that seemed a little off to me (I'll touch on those a bit later), but overall, it's an entertaining movie.  I especially liked the way they wove the flashback sequences into the narrative, repetitively used them as examples of why Superman feels or reacts the way he does in different situations.

Christopher Reeve was, is, and always will be the standard that everyone is held to when it comes to portraying Superman, but Henry Cavill does a good job bringing this nomadic Clark Kent to life.  He's also the most cut Clark Kent/Superman ever.  Amy Adams is a very good Lois Lane, a driven, headstrong, award winning journalist.  There are a couple of times that she plays the part of the woman in peril but not because she's a helpless person.  She wouldn't be Lois Lane if she didn't get herself into a little trouble right?  For the most part, I felt like she could take care of herself more than some of her prior incarnations (Margo Kidder, Kate Bosworth).  Much like Cavill, Michael Shannon had huge shoes to fill in his portrayal of General Zod (previously played by Terrence Stamp in the Donner films).  I felt that he was successful, and even benefited slightly from the new twist that he was genetically destined to be the protector of Krypton.  That brings me to Superman's Kryptonian father Jor-El (Russell Crowe).  This version of Jor-El isn't just a scientist, but an overall bad ass.  He flys on dragon-like creatures, pulls off James Bond-like moves, and holds his own in hand to hand combat first with Zod's men, then with Zod himself.  He plays a key role later in the film as an almost omniscient hologram that teaches his son Kal (Superman) about his Kryptonian heritage.  Not to be left out, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are both excellent as Jonathan and Martha Kent (even if Jonathan acts a bit differently than he is generally portrayed).  The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by Antje Traue (Faora-Ul), Harry Lennix (General Swanwick), Richard Schiff (Dr. Emil Hamilton), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Nathan Hardy), and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White). No sign of Jimmy Olsen in Man of Steel, but there is a Jimmy-like analog named Jenny played by Rebecca Buller.

DC and Warner Brothers are hoping to be able to build off of Man of Steel in an effort to create a cinematic universe for their characters in much the same way Marvel has done.  To do this, they paired director Zack Snyder with producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer (both known for The Dark Knight trilogy among other things).  The result is a Superman film that, like the recent Batman trilogy, is darker in tone than any Superman film before it.  There is much more action and violence.  Widespread destruction of two cities - one small and one large - with very little concern shown for bystanders.  This is one of the problems I have with Man of Steel (the other can be found in the spoiler section below).  First why doesn't Superman show compassion for these people at all?  And second, if that much damage can be done to the world between Superman and one of his villains (I digress, another super-powered Kryptonian is at the extreme end of the spectrum), then what sort of threat/damage can we expect from a potential Justice League movie?  A film that would require such a threat to the Earth as to lead to a number of heroes joining forces (i.e. Marvel's The Avengers).

I don't want to dwell on my concerns too much because I really did enjoy Man of Steel.  I think that they accomplished what they set out to do: reboot Superman with a darker tone in a more universe building friendly way than they did with The Dark Knight trilogy.  The film is absolutely gorgeous and the effects are great, even if it feels like you're watching a video game at times (the fight scenes specifically).  The cast is top notch and it sets up things to come while telling a good stand alone story.  If you're looking for a summer time flick with lots of action, Man of Steel is the film for you.  If you're a die hard Supes fan, well, you've probably already seen it and you're probably ready to argue with me.  But before you do, take a look at my one other issue with the film in the spoiler section below.  It may not be perfect, but I enjoyed it and will be looking forward to what comes next.

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*****SPOILERS*****

- Ok, first things first.  My biggest problem with Man of Steel: Superman wouldn't snap Zod's neck.  Maybe, maybe as an absolute last resort, but not in the situation in which he did.  I'm not even going to speculate on the number of other things Superman could have done instead given his powers.  Let's focus on the fact that the innocent bystanders that Zod was firing his laser vision at weren't trapped in any way (pinned by debris, etc).  They were just standing there.  Don't be scared to help yourselves.  Ugh.  I know that Superman has killed in previous incarnations, and it isn't so much that he did here, it's more that the situation just didn't call for it.

- When Superman and Zod are fighting in Metropolis, they at one point end up in a construction site.  There's an 'Accident free for 108 days' sign.  Superman is thrown into it by Zod and the 1 and 8 drop off.  It was quick and goofy, but I laughed.

- I loved that Clark Kent, at different times in the film, wore Kansas University and Kansas City Royals t-shirts.  It was a nice touch that also helped back his conversation with General Swanwick at the end of the film ('I was raised in Kansas, it doesn't get much more American than that').

- When Zod sent Faora-Ul and another (as far as I can tell) unnamed Kryptonian down to the streets of Smallville to battle Superman, I loved the fact that the second Kryptonian was a large, lumbering, beast of a man that didn't communicate vocally other than by grunting.  It made me think immediately of Ursa and Non from Superman and Superman II.

- I really liked that Lois figured out who Superman as while researching her story, so that when Clark shows up at The Daily Planet at the end of the film, she already knows his secret.  It always really bugged me that someone that close to either/both Clark Kent and Superman could be stumped for as long as she was (in previous films and comics), especially with her being an award winning journalist.  At least this way, others working at The Daily Planet who have not had the same contact with Superman are still in the dark.  Still a stretch, but a bit more believable.

- I also really liked the twists made to Krypton and its history.  The fact that Kryptonians were genetically engineered for a specific purpose worked well for the story.  Not only was Superman even more of a symbol of freedom (being the first naturally born Kryptonian in ages), but Zod's actions were made in an effort to restore Krypton and its way of life, as he was destined to, as opposed to just trying to enact revenge on Jor-El. 

- I really, really expected Superman to come to the rescue at some point and clear the wreckage from around Jenny.  Even if it was after he dealt with Zod and the World Engine.  It just seemed like something Superman would do.

- So what exactly do they benefit from not having Jimmy Olsen?  Or by including a Jimmy Olsen analog that's a woman?  I don't have any issue with making changes to characters if the changes can be used to help the story, I just don't see it here, other than maybe having one less 'known' character to flesh out.  But then again, Perry White had very little screen time as well.





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