Movie Review – Man of Steel
Genre – Comic Book, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Director – Zack Synder
Cast – Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner
Alluring element – It’s Christopher Nolan’s Superman. That should be enough.
Check it out if you liked – The Dark Knight trilogy, The original Superman films, comic books
SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):
Plot – 9
Acting – 9
Representation of Genre – 10
Cinematography – 8
Effects/Environment – 9
Captivity – 8
Logical consistency – 8
Originality/Creativity – 7
Soundtrack/Music – 8
Overall awesomeness – 9
I’ve hi-jacked the movie reviews to write about Man of Steel, the newest reboot of the iconic Superman character. After a wildly successful run in the late 70’s and 80’s with Christopher Reeves as Superman, the Big Blue Boy Scout has really had trouble getting any traction in a decent movie. After the forgettable Superman Returns in 2006, fans of comics and movies alike were excited to hear that this story would be the vision of the great Christopher Nolan, whose mind-blowing Dark Knight trilogy had breathed new life into the Caped Crusader and helped propel comic book movies back into the mainstream. As a disclaimer, I must say that I am, unequivocally, a Batman fan. I have always loved the internal struggle and have always related to heroes with tortured souls. For this reason, it has been hard for me to really enjoy Superman in comics and on screen, where seemingly the biggest problem he has is that he is just too plain awesome to fit in with normal people. Having got that initial bias out in the open, I really enjoyed Man of Steel. It’s a bad-ass action film, wrapped in some sci-fi and fantasy.
Man of Steel follows the formula of an origin storyline, but with plenty of Walking Dead-esque twists so you can usually guess but never really predict what will happen next. It’s a nice quality that I think even the biggest comic book hipsters can agree adds more to the experience than straight-from-the-pages adaptation would. Unlike the original film, which tried to stuff as much Superman knowledge as they could into it, there was decidedly less Super-stuff in Man of Steel. More than anything, main focus of the film is the identity crisis of Kal/Clark/Superduperman; having three names is enough to give anybody confusion about who they are. This adds an endearing quality to the film, as you can relate to childhood Clark as he puts up with bullies, notably “Dicksplash,” who makes multiple appearances throughout the film. It’s as a child that you really see the transparency of the Man of Steel. He wants to help people, he wants to fit in, and he goes on a long journey full of great short scenes to try to do so, but never really stays in one place long enough to make the audience feel a part of the experience.
In terms of acting, I think they really hit it out the ballpark on this one. Henry Cavill is the perfect Superman. He displays his emotions on his cape with a calm demeanor, much as Superman should. Lois Lane is portrayed adequately by Amy Adams (I still can’t believe they cast a redhead as Lane. The nerve! LOL) and Kevin Costner takes a break from Ocean Therapy Solutions to put on a good act as Jonathan Kent. What really stole the show was the great portrayal of Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon as Jor-El and Zod, respectively. Crowe plays Superman’s Kryptonian father in a capacity that we really hadn’t seen in this medium. It’s such a good performance that you almost forgive him for being in Man With the Iron Fists. Almost. Michael Shannon is great at playing total a-holes. From Revolutionary Road to Boardwalk Empire, Shannon has made me quite the fan, and he feels right at home with crazy ol’ General Zod. The only gripe I have here is that past the above-mentioned characters, nobody really has enough screen time to merit any attachment. The end of the movie left me wanting more Daily Planet, more Clark Kent as a child, more awkward childhood gaffes and more focus on the Kents. MORE MORE MORE. In a positive light, it gives the writers plenty to explore when the next installment comes out.
It might go without saying for a story that begins with a great civilization not listening to their eminent scientist when he says that the world is about to explode, but there are a lot of dumb choices made by a lot of different characters throughout the movie. At the beginning of the movie, Lois Lane says, “I get writer’s block if I’m not wearing a bulletproof vest.” This cannot be more true as she is always putting herself right in harm’s way, screaming and falling and I’m sick of it. Where is feisty Lois Lane? Why is she so easily knocked off her game? Johnathan”Pa” Kent also makes some poor choices, in action and words, that seem out of character. Remember in the commercial trailers, when Clark asks whether or not he should have let those kids on the bus die, and Pa responds with, “Maybe?” Yeah, well there’s really no more extent to that conversation… Ma & Pa Kent are the entire reason for Clark’s moral compass; why marginalize that to focus on the fact that he’s alone and misunderstood? And how can you choke a Kryptonian if they don’t need Oxygen to breathe? You can’t, but they do it anyway. Because it’s cool.
If you’re a fan of subtle gestures, there are Easter-eggs galore here. Somebody did their homework! LexCorp trucks, a peak at the fortress of solitude, along with a nod to the ridiculous product placement of the original film (and many other neat details) all add up to a film that really lets the fanboys feel like they’re appreciated. One great fire-starting dialogue I’ve wanted to start is the topic of gender-roles in comics. Since their New 52 launch a couple years ago, DC Comics apparently has an agenda to reboot more characters that were traditionally male as females. I’m not saying this is a poor choice, but it only works when those female characters have an impact. Case in point, Jenny Olsen. Jimmy Olsen has long been Lois Lane’s protégé/lackey in the comics, television shows and movies. He’s full of corny “gee-golly” and “oh boy” banter, but not in this movie. In this movie, he is a she, and she adds absolutely nothing to the film. If we’re changing characters from men to women to make a point, then make a point! Another theme I found in the movie, which was not so subtle, is the comparison of Superman to Jesus Christ. Lost son, performer of miracles, incredibly good hair. I don’t want to spoil anything about the film, but it could perhaps explain why Superman can be such a difficult character to relate to. I feel like it’s their way to really start the conversation of religion in comics. To sum all that nonsense up, it’s clear that Man of Steel has more to say than what the dialogue suggests and the subtleties make it an enjoyable film multiple times.
The fight scenes are grand in scale, totaling Smallville and Metropolis in ways that, as an adult, really have you wondering, “Now who is going to pay for that??” Especially enjoyable about the action in Man of Steel is the ability to make the fights look like super-humans fighting, with lightning quick movements and earth-shattering hits. As a result of this, the height of the fight scenes can look like a cluttered CGI mess at times. The cameras during the movie are very shaky, likely to help synthesize the fast and loud nature of the film. This can be a bit of a distraction from the events of the film, or even cause a bit of motion sickness if you have to sit at the front of the theater. Overall, the cinematography is jaw-dropping. Kandor (the capital of Kryton) looks like it belongs in Naboo. And don’t even get me started on Jor-El’s cool ride; it’s a freaking butterfly-dragon! I also love Zod’s force in their legitimately frightening Helghast-like masks and the “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” PSA had me about to fall out of my seat.
For the first time in a long time, I truly felt like I was seeing an origin story. A brand new spin on a character I felt going in that I knew so well. While I won’t be trading in my cowl for rimmed glasses anytime soon, I definitely can revel in the fact that another sensational comic book movie has been released. While I have my personal bleats about what makes a Superman story, I love Nolan’s interpretation of The Man of Tomorrow and I think a Justice League movie would look great with Henry Cavill leading the way. Please go see this impressive film!
Written by Sherif Elkhatib