Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel (SPOILERS)

I have been really excited to see this movie over the past month.  The first two trailers didn't really grab me, and then the third trailer was released and we really saw a lot of the action that was going to take place.  That hooked me. Then everything we saw after that was action packed, and we still hadn't seen everything.  There were moments in the film that genuinely surprised me, and I felt like I had seen ALL of the promotional material.  In the week before this film's release the review embargo was lifted and I read a few reviews.  I came away with the impression that there were two types of critics reviewing the film.  Critics who were attached to the Christopher Reeve Superman films, and those that weren't.  I'll be upfront and say that even though I own the Reeve/Donner Superman films on DVD, I've maybe seen them one or two times.  I distinctly remember seeing Superman IV: A Quest for Peace a lot as a child, but I think it was on TV a lot back then.  So I'm not necessarily attached to Christopher Reeve as Superman, nor anyone else who has played him.  I've seen the Reeve films, grew up watching Lois & Clark with my Mom and Dad, and then spent the last 10 years watching Tom Welling as Clark Kent on Smallville.  I liked all of these actors, and wasn't really affected that they cast a new guy in the suit for this film. It seems they've done that for every iteration of it.  I am however a enormous Chris Nolan fan. I adore his Batman films as well as The Prestige, and Inception. In fact, because of his success with Batman, I'll probably watch every Chris Nolan film he directs from now on.  So, I have a little bit of bias going into Man of Steel because Chris Nolan produced it with the same team as his Batman films, as well as some affection for Zack Snyder, of 300 and Watchmen fame.

Onto the film itself.  SPOILERS from here on out.  I won't go into too much detail, but I will touch on one part of the film that seems to have affected dedicated Superman fans and split them from the movie.

Still here? Great!  I enjoyed this film.  There was clapping at the end of it in my theater, but I did not feel the same emotional satisfaction as I did when Batman Begins, or any of The Dark Knight trilogy ended.  I like most things about this movie, but in particular I don't know that I can pick out anything that I don't like.  It's strange.  I love the cast.  Henry Cavill is a good Superman. I definitely felt his loneliness and longing to belong.  Amy Adams is a great choice for Lois Lane.  She's more like the Teri Hatcher Lois, spunky, resourceful, except she doesn't get kidnapped nearly as much as Teri Hatcher's did.  Michael Shannon was great as General Zod. He wasn't so much evil, as just narrow-minded and singular in purpose. It made sense.
Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) were good choices for me. I saw some critics disliking Kevin Costner's performance, saying he came across as annoyed by Clark, but I didn't take it that way at all.  Most times Pa Kent came off as concerned.  He's more concerned for keeping his son's secrets hidden, for the good of his son than anything, but he still wants his son to make good decisions.  Pa Kent here knew that in time, Clark would have to come out to the world, and he wanted this son to be ready, even if the world wasn't.

I think one of the great victories of the film is its sequence on Krypton.  The film opens with Kal-El's birth on Krypton, and its subsequent destruction.  But instead of just rehashing the same old crystal motif here again, we see a more fully fleshed out Krypton. We see Jor-El atop a Kryptonian dragonfly-beast, as he rides it from the council chamber to the launching pad. We see the Kryptonian military with General Zod, we see the ruling Council. Everything here is new.  The costume designs are amazingly alien, and make sense in a world with such rich history that they are clinging too as their world dies.  I like the idea that Krypton was once an immense empire, spanning galaxies and setting up colonies and exploring new worlds.  It lends credence to the fact that Jor-El knows where to send Kal-El.  He didn't just land here by accident, and Jor-El isn't just hoping his son survives somewhere.  It makes Krypton a lot more plausible than the magic growing crystals of the Donner films and Smallville.  I want to go back to the Krypton of this film.  I'd like another extended flashback, or a prequel film, or animated series.  It was a stunning opening to a film, and made you forget any incarnation of Superman that had come before.

Another thing I liked is the idea of Kal-El as a symbol of hope.  His "S" is a glyph for hope in the Kryptonian language, and only we earthlings see it as an "S" and then assume his name needs to start with an "S", thus arriving at Superman.  Kal-El doesn't assign this name to himself like in the Donner movies, the people of earth do.  He's going to continue to be a symbol for hope as best he can. He's not perfect, he can't do it all, we have to participate in saving ourselves as well.  That's another thing I liked in Man of Steel.  Superman wasn't a perfect hero. He's only one man.  Even though he can do all of these great things he still cannot be two places at once.  During the film there are two Kryptonian machines terraforming the earth to match Krypton. One is in India, the other in Metropolis.  Superman leaves to stop the one in India, while leaving the very capable American Military to send the Zod and his minions back to the Phantom Zone.  Yes, the military still struggles against the superior alien technology, but we still find a way to do it.  We persevere.  The film takes the line that Jor-El says "in time, they will join you in the sun" and executes it.  Its great. At no point in time does anyone say to Superman "You have to save us" or "You have to stop them," it's "how can WE stop them?" Superman inspires us and we strive to join him in the sun.

That may tie into one of the things longtime Superman fans probably hate about the film.  Superman isn't perfect.  Lots of people die.  The Kryptonian terraforming machine in metropolis levels what looks to be a few square miles of the city.  Buildings rise, fall, and then get flattened to dust, block by block. We see other buildings topple over, which may strike some 9/11 feelings when we watched that horrific event on television.  Many critics have not liked the "umpteenth" 9/11 scene, but I don't know what films they have been watching.  This is the first time I've seen this 9/11 level of destruction, in detail, from the ground up.  It took my breath away watching it, not because the CGI was so incredible, but because as Americans we have this horrific shared experience. My breath was taken away in shock, in terror.  Because of this, I really felt invested in the film.  This is just my experience, I'm not a New Yorker, and didn't know anyone in New York or on the planes on 9/11. Others who did may have a different experience, depending on your sensitivities.  Buildings, and presumably people also die when Superman and Zod pummel each other in the city.  One thing that always happens in the comics is after the first punch, Superman takes the fight to the skies, or some other empty spaces, to avoid the kind of destruction showcased here.  Something I always wondered was who told Superman to do this? How did he learn it? I think it will be interesting in the next film to see Superman do the same thing, because of his experience in this film. In the aftermath, Superman can learn just HOW powerful he is, and what it can do to his environment.  Longtime Superman fans might say "Superman saves everyone, he doesn't let people die, he doesn't kill."  Well, in my opinion, he just became Superman, he hasn't made the rules, doesn't know the extent of his powers, so how can we expect him to be the perfect hero right out of the gate? C'mon. A baseball player doesn't hit a home run on his first at bat, he needs to know how to identify what is a good home run pitch and what isn't.  I'll apply the same argument to how Superman deals with Zod in the film.  Zod says to Superman, "either you die, or I do!"  Then they fly around in the climactic battle until they land in a train station, and Zod sees a family sheltering in a corner. Superman grabs him from behind in a headlock, and Zod uses his heat vision and threatens the family.  He tells Superman that he dies or the family dies.  Superman then snaps Zod's neck.  Realizing that he's: a) killed a person, b) killed the last kryptonian other than him, and c) failed to save other people in the battle Superman screams. I know for my buddy Raph, this moment ruined the movie for him based on the "Superman doesn't kill" argument.  I'm kind of okay with this moment.  Superman hasn't yet learned how to make these decisions. Every life or death situation for him up until now was some sort of natural disaster where he could save human lives and not get hurt.  This was unprecedented.  Superman is not perfect, and I hate the fans who think he has to be.  I know Batman doesn't kill deliberately or use guns because he knows what killing and a gun did to him and his psyche, but Superman's made no such vow.  I'm pretty sure Jor-El killed a few of Zod's soldiers in the opening, and Pa Kent essentially kills himself to keep Clark's secret.  Superman's fathers have not taught him not to kill, so how else is he going to learn this lesson? I may be reading too much into it, but that is my take on it.

After this moment is where the movie falls flat for me.  Immediately after this scene we get some humor thrown at us to lighten the moment, but it's exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Even though I liked the fact that Superman had to kill Zod, I didn't like the handling of it. Another thing the film could have used is some more humor.  Batman is funny in Nolan's films, he and Alfred trade barbs at each other from time to time, and I feel like Man of Steel could use some more moments like that. Don't get me wrong, there is some humor in the film, but not enough.  Its clear why Jimmy Olsen serves a purpose, and could have served a purpose in this film as well if he was not included.

All in all Man of Steel is a great 2.3 hours in the multiplex.  I would avoid 3D if possible, as a lot of it his handheld and so much is moving to fast to probably make the 3D worthwhile.  See Cinemablend's 3D review for more detail on that.  There are lots of things to like in this film, a few to love (like the casting and Hans Zimmer's score), and a few things to dislike.

4 out of 5 Stars


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