Review: ‘Man of Steel’ (a Superman for 2013)

Forget all of the Supermen of the past.

Mining the planet’s core for energy has made the distant alien world of Krypton unstable. For centuries, children have been grown (in a very Matrix-like way) and pre-programmed for their role in society, causing stagnation of innovation and inspiration. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) knows this; against tradition, his natural-born child can be whatever he chooses, and he intends to send him far away to start anew. General Zod (Michael Shannon) also knows of the planet’s impending doom but chooses a military action to hold Krypton’s ruling council responsible. Soon after Jor-El sends his son to Earth, Zod is captured and banished, yet both are the last acts of a doomed world. Years later on Earth, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with having super powers but not knowing what to do with them. When an ancient Kryptonian scout ship buried beneath an ice flow is found by scientists, Clark discovers his true alien origins. What he doesn’t know is that an old foe has been alerted to his existence, and it’s not just revenge he’s coming for.

Wow, is there a lot going on here! But first things first; this isn’t your father’s Superman, nor your grandfather’s or great grandfather’s. DC already tried to reboot what they thought audiences wanted – a Christopher Reeve clone – and it fell flat… for many, many reasons. Man of Steel is a reinvention and a fresh start for 2013, the story of a lost soul from a dead world struggling to be a good man with abilities he doesn’t understand. After his terrestrial father dies (Kevin Costner), Clark drifts from place to place (not unlike the old “Hulk” television series) to find himself; this is just one instance where the exemplary cast shines, from Diane Lane’s Martha Kent to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. The modern world is a darker, post-911, NSA-is-watching-you kind of place; being told to serve as an example for an entire race is a bit of a burden on a farm boy from Kansas… or anyone, Kryptonian or not. Here and now is the time and place that producer Christopher Nolan, writer David S. Goyer, and director Zack Snyder created their story in because modern audiences won’t accept an antiquated, four-color Zipatone world.

So, on to the nitpickers. Half of the movie critics are savaging the film, an even divide both for and against. Those overwhelmingly against seem convinced that any new films must strive for a Reeve-esque innocence and grounded in light-hearted fun. Unfortunately, this reboot follows The Matrix films, The X-men franchise, two different Spider-Man trilogies, and the Marvel Phase I initiative that put The Avengers into the box office record books while revealing writer/director Joss Whedon’s existence to the rest of the world – insert random Darth Maul joke here. So, Reeves-worshippers aside, what’s the problem? The story is solid, the performances serve it, and the special effects can keep up with what makes Superman so super. If anything, some of the combat sequences stretch on, but there is very little screen time without something amazing to see.

A word about faith: it’s here. Heck, in a scene set in a church, Clark even confesses his alien nature to a random priest, but is this Superman served up to be a Christ allegory? No more than Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Still, the idea of being an ideal, of being a living example to aspire to in a world lacking in belief, to represent hope when all seems lost, that’s VERY Superman-like. Forget truth, justice, and the American way; this incarnation is for hope, trust, and helping out whenever and however you can.

Also seldom seen in these films is an effective military – no, really! – doing everything they can and holding the line no matter the cost. Amidst all the CGI wizardry, the most powerful scenes are the intimate ones where motivations are revealed. What will you do? How far are you willing to go? Can you live with the consequences of your actions and decisions? The cast, especially Michael Shannon as Zod, put real emotion behind the destructive forces being unleashed. It’s dark, the darkest Superman you’ve ever seen on-screen – just look at the muted colors of his costume – but Cavill manages to keep the Big Blue Boy Scout earnestly in check even when things are as bad as they can get. Everyone loved Christopher Reeve’s Superman, but Superman Returns felt hollow trying to duplicate his portrayal and the innocence of those films while also reinventing them for a modern audience; it was a doomed idea from the start. Like it or not, purists, Man of Steel is the kind of theatrical reboot Superman has needed for a while.

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)
3.5 out of four skulls

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17 responses to “Review: ‘Man of Steel’ (a Superman for 2013)

  1. I think it’s crass of you to trivialize the criticisms this film has received as little more than nitpicks. You can write and articulate your thoughts well enough, so I can only assume that you’re choosing to dismiss these criticisms simply because they don’t align with your view of the film.

    • Yes, I enjoyed the film, and it was only very recently I was even convinced to bother seeing it. What specifically did you believe I trivialized? Are you talking about fans wanting a Reeves clone, a missing innocence, or the Christ allegory?

  2. Excellent post! I always enjoy a good movie review, though I didn’t really end up liking the movie, but the premises here were interesting. If you are interested, and I am not trying to spam you here (though I’m sure that exactly what spammers say :) ) , then head on over to The Disorder here on WordPress (http://thedisorderpodcast.wordpress.com) and check out our take on the superman movie (or just Superman in general). The rest of the site is us trying to be funny and we would really appreciate feedback if you have the time! I try to go around and comment on blogs because I know how difficult getting comments can be! Anyway, I’m sure I’ve taken up a lot of your time but I enjoyed this and just wanted to let you know!

  3. Too many critics are in fact tearing this movie a new one because it does not mimic the spirit of the Reeves movies/performance.

    That is a real shame because there are so many other things to dislike this movie that are more legitimate.

    Given the cost of a trip to the movies these days I suppose I should be glad that so many films are stretching out longer and longer. On the other hand as seen with so many other commerical entertainments ‘LESS IS MORE’. A tightly written movie or book will always be more effective than a longer one that is a mess.

    The action scenes lived up to the hype. They were as good or better than any ever filmed in the genre. Except they were so overdone and over-long that they just got tedious/boring. Didn’t help that we just didn’t have much emotional connection to any of the characters outside of who they were supposed to be for those with a strong history with the property.

    Bottom line: the opening on Krypton should have been half as long. The never ending series of battles should have been half as long. There were too many shortcuts by the writers and damn near deus ex machina solutions to problems.

    Snyder is only capable of visual wizardry and I don’t think Nolan was the right choice to shepard this project. From the get go a ‘darker’ Superman misses the point of the character.

    Darker villains, yes. But Superman need not be a faithful to the Donner films remake to still be Superman.

    • Did you really think that Superman was darker? I thought he was ina dark place, but I never saw him as dark himself. That’s kind of what I meant by that; no matter how dark everything got, he was still positive. The real difference in this film is that we got to see Kal-El still wrestling with that choice, not hurting someone when he really wanted to. It’s different, yes, and I think meeting Zod may have done wonders to set him on his current path.

  4. i loved the movie. i do not understand why all the criticism. it is an excellent film with a bit more action than was required but still i loved it.

  5. I just hope this film sets up not only a DC Cinematic Universe, but an excellent portrayal of Lex Luthor for the fast-tracked sequel. With the story in this film, we have the potential for Luthor as he was reimagined for the comics: motivated by seething envy of Superman and the conviction that the Kryptonian is the true threat.

    The only complaints I have is that the flashbacks seemed awkwardly placed, nowhere near as adriot as in Batman Begins, and the effects and action can go overboard. All in all, about as good as Superman film as you can get after divorcing itself completely from the past efforts.

  6. This just in from EW (spoilers!)

    http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/06/15/man-of-steel-superman-zod-death

    At the bottom of the article, the writer suggests that the filmmakers don’t “get” Superman because he is given an impossible decision and forced to make an terrible choice: he has to kill. Cries of “Superman doesn’t kill!” have been erupting all over the Internet, but this is a re-invention of the character. What if this one event is what *sets* him on his new path, that he’ll never allow himself to be put in the position where killing is his only remaining option? It was practically the last thing he does and it devastated him; who knows how it will affect him going forward. Why is Superman never allowed to make this mistake? Kudos to the filmmakers for taking this chance, but the proof will be in what is done with it going forward.

  7. When I saw Man Of Steel, I was stunned by the stark contrast between my view of the movie and the critics. I felt like we were not watching the same movie. I turned to my boyfriend and asked them “What? Do they want Superman saving cats from trees and fighting Lex Luthor until the end of time?”
    I feel like the fans of the old Superman are so biased that they can’t see the forest for the trees. I felt this was a great Superman reboot, and one that addressed moral dilemmas that older Superman movies refused to even think about. And THANK GOD FOR NO KRYPTONITE!

    • With all the hints of Luthorcorp and Wayne Industries sprinkled through the film, more than a few familiarities will make there way into future films. Green Kryptonite never bothered me as much as every other color of the rainbow: “Look out, Superman! That thug has sparkly Fleckstone kryptonite! It’ll make your beard grow and ruin your manicure!”

    • Yes I am! But clearly I’m not an editor such as yourself.

      I’d offer you a job, but being the Grim Reaper pays dick; I only make two cents per corpse unless I find some loose change in their pockets.

  8. In my review, I suggested that the “neck snap heard ’round the world” (as stated in EW) was a character-shaping moment done intentionally to set the new Supes on his Big Blue Boy Scout path. The filmmakers have since confirmed exactly this.

    http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/06/19/zack-snyder-david-goyer-christopher-nolan-man-of-steel-ending/

    Goyer frames the decision to have Superman kill as a modernizing tactic. “If you don’t reinvent these characters…then they become stagnant, and they cease being relevant…hopefully, we’ve redefined Superman.” Snyder, however, goes a little bit deeper in his exploration of Superman’s decision. The director of such films as Sucker Punch and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole explains that he wanted to specifically explore Superman’s Zod-killing in the context of his development as a superhero. “If it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained,” says Snyder, continuing:

    I felt like, if we could find a way of making it impossible for him — Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out — I felt like that could also make you go, “This is the why of him never killing again.” He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it, and he’s just, like, “How could I ever kill again?”

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