Saturday, June 15, 2013


The new Superman movie MAN OF STEEL is good. Real good. I might even love the movie but there is still a lot that I am processing of what I just saw. The issue that's bothering me the most is that by the end of the movie I was getting mentally exhausted by the special effects. MAN OF STEEL is a brawler super hero film and I love that; however, I found myself getting very disconnected with the conflict between Superman and General Zod because of the amazing special effects. With everything happing so fast I found myself getting bored. It made me immediately start to think that the Metropolis fight scene in SUPERMAN II was a lot more interesting because less is more. Making it way more exciting because the film is relying more on performance rather than CGI.

The structure of MAN OF STEEL took some getting use to. First of all this is not the Donner-verse and there are zero traces of those films or SUPERMAN RETURNS. Some are already panning MAN OF STEEL from going away from archetype of the 1978 film. This new reinvention of Superman isn't going to be for everyone. Even I'm on the fence, but the comic book kid within me felt that MAN OF STEEL was a bad ass Superman story. The movie geek within felt that the action got a little tiresome with all the special effects. This side of me was also thinking that filmmaker Richard Donner is still correct 35 years later by stating Superman fighting/brawling some big alien/monster thing will get boring fast on the silver screen. Superman in a fight has zero conflict because he's Superman. In adapting a comic book movie some things should just be left in the comic books.

Okay so I got my nitpick about CGI fighting out of the way and the comic book kid and movie geek have both come to the conclusion that MAN OF STEEL rocks! Forget everything you know about the previous films and just enjoy the ride. Audiences were ready and willing for BATMAN BEGINS to wipe the slate clean for the cinematic tales of the Caped Crusader and the same should be said and expected for MAN OF STEEL.

MAN OF STEEL is heavy science fiction and filled with crazy super powers. The film opens on Krypton and immediately the pages of the comic book came to life. I was reminded of John Byrne's comic book mini series that reinvented the character of Superman in the mid to late 80's. I wish the movie spent a little more time on Krypton, very interesting stuff going on visually.

Jor-El and his wife Lara send their baby boy Kal-El to earth so that he may live. His alien craft lands in the Kent farm and is raised to adulthood by earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. This films reinvention plays up the idea of Clark Kent being a stranger in a strange land. He doesn't fit in, he's an alien, an outsider. The origin of this “Man of Steel” picks up with Clark in adulthood drifting from odd job to odd job and really soul searching. Through flashbacks we see his childhood and parental lessons that made him who he is today. With comic books, the 1978 film, and the television show SMALLVILLE it's very clear that the origin of Superman is well established in pop culture so it was nice how director Zack Snyder handled all the child and teenage years in his film. Lots of visual story and character development going on here instead of boring exposition that most people buying a ticket to MAN OF STEEL probably know anyway.

Reporter Lois Lane is developing a story about someone, a drifter out there exhibiting amazing feats of strength. She eventually tracks Clark down and instantly their friendship/romance begins. Hands down Amy Adams is the best big screen, heck even small screen iteration of the character. I loved the chemistry between the two. It was very convincing how much these two characters need each other.

Clark finds his 'fortress of solitude' and meets his biological father Jor-El. The next to final piece of Clark's/Kal-El's destiny is complete. The ending of the film is where he truly becomes Superman. At least that's what I got out of the ending. Very similar to BATMAN BEGINS but different cinematic universe. The new films take on Superman was an interesting departure to the well known American boy scout attitude that is mostly associated with the character. I liked how the filmmakers focused on him being a very introverted character and alone. They nailed how normal people would react to a “freak” with abilities like Clark has. Henry Cavill is a great Superman. While Brandon Routh was channeling Christopher Reeve in SUPERMAN RETURNS I felt that Cavill was bringing a Tom Welling from SAMALLVILLE vibe. Could be a coicidence but maybe this was intentional on the producers part, you know to reel in the younger crowd? Who knows?

It is around this time that Zod and the rest of the Phantom Zone criminals track down Kal-El and announces to the fine people of Earth that Kal-El is a traitor and if they do not hand him over/he surrenders to Zod, then Earth will perish. Micheal Shannon is one of the greatest working actors of today. His intensity he brings to every role he's done is absolutely amazing. His General Zod is perfectly convincing. You know he's gone mad with his plans for coup d'etat, but you also feel sorry for him a little bit because he's just doing his duty, doing what he was engineered to do and that is the preservation of his people. Micheal Shannon totally sells it.

What happens next is awesome; but yet, the films greatest weakness is the endless fighting. It's amazing visuals. Zack Snyder succeeded in making a Superman brawler film. Except toward the end some of the action was getting boring because the emotional connection was getting lost in the CGI. Just like it did in Snyder's last film SUCKER PUNCH. I shouldn't complain because for years I've wanted a Superman film of this scale. We're talking Godzilla magnitudes of destruction and while it is overkill in parts, the sum is comic book movie gold. These scenes would have benefited better if they had added some scenes of Superman saving some civilians here and there. Because when you think about it millions of innocent people in Metropolis just died and I think we only see him save Lois a few times. In the sequel it'd be nice if this is why and how they set up the rivalry between Superman and Lex Luther. Lex convinces Metropolis and the world that Superman is not the symbol of hope that he claims to be but a villain instead.

Now onto the ending of the film which is becoming very divided among fans. Should Superman have killed Zod? Yes. Zod was a mad dog that needed to be put down and to be honest he put himself in a position where Superman had no choice but to kill him. Superman does not kill. Maybe it was a mistake not to have Zod sent back into the Phantom Zone? It's clear that Superman did not want to kill Zod but had to. But maybe the filmmakers have now painted themselves in a corner with future baddie s such as Brainiac or Darkseid. All of whom are more threating than Zod. So now is it justified that he kills them as well? Sorry for the flip flopping, bottom line is Superman should not kill.

I think I've said enough. Go see MAN OF STEEL, the more I think about it the higher I want to recommend it. With The Dark Knight trilogy and now a new Superman movie Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder are making movies that have potential to stand the test of time. As much as I love MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS in time I just think the movie will seem dated when compared to the Nolan Batman movies and now MAN OF STEEL.


Aaron said...

You begin your review by mentioning how exhaustive the last act of the movie is, with the never ending fight scene between Superman and Zod. I agree with you 100% when you say this film fails to connect the audience to the characters in the same way Superman II did. But I don't think it's because, as you say, "the film is relying more on performance rather than CGI." We've seen many talented directors over the last 15 years who have managed to, along with their actors and the tremendous talent of their special effects teams, get wonderful performances using CGI and motion capture technology. Just think of any movie you've ever seen Andy Serkis in. I believe that we have considerable acting talent in this segment of Man of Steel with Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon, and we certainly have an incredibly talented special effects team bringing this vision to life. What's lacking is the fact that in no movie ever has Zack Snyder managed to make a meaningful connection between the characters of his films and the audience who is viewing them.

We all complained about Superman Returns and the low stakes that Bryan Singer brought to the table for a Superman movie. And I don't think we were wrong to. But Bryan Singer at least understood character dynamics, and not just those between the characters on screen, but what made those characters connect to the audience. So we were all excited to see such a great cast and the promise of a Superman movie that will finally deliver on the tremendously high stakes that the character lends himself to. And this is a great idea, but unfortunately one that Zack Snyder handles with all of the grace and finesse of a child, Superman action figure in one hand and Zod action figure in the other hand, banging them together over and over again for 30 minutes until he finally wares himself out and falls asleep in a puddle of his own drool.

The problem with the action scenes isn't that CGI took away from the performances of the characters, it's that Zack Snyder was never interested in the performances of the characters. He approaches action the same way Michael Bay does in his Transformers movies. And for little 3 second clips that you see in a trailer, it looks fantastic. But in the context of the film, it's an incomprehensible mess.

To be continued...

Aaron said...

And that seems to be the only part of the film that Zack Snyder's interested in. The first 2/3 of the movie is just sludging through the plot so that Snyder can finally justify his grand finale.

Do you think Snyder's actually interested in these characters? I don't think he even understands them. There's a guy who lost his parents, doesn't know how he fits into the world...he is always the outsider. When he comes of age, he leaves home, traveling far and wide. "Soul searching", as you said. Wait a second. You can't fool me. This is Batman with a new suit. This self-serious tone is one that Superman or the film featuring him never lets up from. And it's not true to Superman. Which I'm actually okay with. If Zack Snyder thinks he can reinvent Superman, that's long as he can deliver a good story with interesting characters. What we get is an alien Batman. One that's even more stoic that Christian Bale's Batman (at least he had his lighter moments as Bruce Wayne), and far less interesting.

And now that I've got all of that out of the way, I'll conclude with a little nit pick. Remember the self serious tone I pointed out? Given the tone of Donner's Superman movie, I am able to accept that when Kal-El puts on his glasses and becomes Clark Kent, everybody is none the wiser. However, at the end of this film, when Superman has been shown to be the biggest revelation to all of mankind, showing the world that we're not alone in the universe...being televised all over the world, surrendering to Zod and destroying half of Metropolis in the aforementioned yawn-inducing battle...his face must be the most well known face in the entire world! And he walks into the Daily Planet in a pair of glasses and only Lois recognizes him. That's the first time that trope has ever bothered me.

The only satisfaction Man of Steel brings comes from the delicious pancakes from your local IHOP which you will no doubt crave after watching.