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Man of Steel - Spoiler-free review

Nathan Strum



Yep. Sitting in a theater again, waiting for a movie to start. But this is one I really have no expectations for, one way or the other. I'll admit I didn't have high hopes when I first heard they were rebooting the Superman movies, since after all - it's Superman. How much can you really do with it? Besides, DC's track record for movies is generally pretty bad. But some of the trailers looked pretty good. So in just a few minutes here, I guess I'll find out. The theater is mostly empty though, save for a handful of late stragglers coming in. But then, it's an 11:30pm showing, and most crowds will probably be at World War Z tonight. Anyway, time to go. See you in... wait... this movie is 2 hours and 33 minutes?!?


(2 hours, 33 minutes, and about 100 movie trailers later...)


Okay... I'm going to slightly break my no-spoiler rule, but only in referring to common knowledge about Superman's established backstory that's repeated in the film. So if you're not up on Superman at all, consider yourself warned. Otherwise, I'll be as vague as ever. ;)


In a nutshell, if it was about an hour shorter it'd probably be a really good movie.


Part of the problem, is that it spends entirely too much time on Krypton setting up the backstory. Krypton is well-established in the movie to be a space-faring race, so it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that everyone on the planet is somehow "doomed". Yes, Superman is an alien, from an alien world, with advanced technology, and I get all of that. But it spent so much time on that, it felt more like a sci-fi movie than a superhero one. At least until we finally got to Earth.


Admittedly, some of what they (over) explained about Krypton made sense much, much later in the film (particularly in regards to General Zod), but it still could've been shorter. A lot shorter.


That said, once they did get to Earth, I thought the way they covered Superman/Kal-El/Clark's early years was interesting. Instead of being strictly linear, they jumped around a bit to different times of his life, and wove it into the current storyline that was happening. While it could get a little confusing, for the most part it worked well.


From a plot standpoint, it's essentially combining parts of the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films. Because of that, and that Superman's all-too-familiar origin is being retold for the billionth time, the movie can't help but feel somewhat derivative. They manage to take the film in some new directions which helps it to feel fresher than the franchise has in a very long time, but the sci-fi elements often felt out-of-place. Also, the ease with which the people of Earth just sort of accepted everything that was going on didn't seem very well grounded to me.


There are the typical plot holes in the film, which I suppose is par for the course in superhero films, but it's still disappointing. For example, how did Superman get his costume? We see him getting it, but it shouldn't have been there, unless it was made right there and then, and there was no indication of that. And why blue when every other Kryptonian wore black? Why the red cape? It wasn't explained at all. Just presented. Boom. Here you go - blue rubber tights.


Other issues which are typical to Superman stories include why did the villains take Lois Lane to their lair? They didn't need her there (and of course, the typical shenanigans ensue). And if Superman's powers came from years of absorbing our sun's radiation, how could he completely lose those powers in mere seconds, and regain them just as fast? And the list goes on.


The biggest problem with Superman though is that he's effectively indestructible. Sure, you see him grunting and straining at times, but you never really feel he's in danger. Everyone around him is though, and I guess that's what his real weakness is. He's a bull in a china shop, fighting other bulls. Because of his powers, the filmmakers feel they have to make the stakes ridiculously high in order for him to be truly heroic. That's too bad, because before he becomes Superman, we see him doing heroic things on a much more human level, and it's far more interesting. I would've rather seen more of that in the movie, and less of the "save the world" level stuff.


That said, despite the film's problems, I have to admit that overall I liked it. There are two reasons for this: First, the cast is excellent. Henry Cavill makes for a genuinely likable Superman. Not an easy task (just ask Brandon Routh). Amy Adams makes a good Lois Lane, and the relationship between the two of them is the smartest approach I can recall seeing with those two characters. Michael Shannon is excellent as General Zod, and even manages to bring a certain empathy to the character. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are also first-rate as the Kents. Less successful is Russell Crowe as Jor-El, but part of that may be because he's playing a hologram throughout a good chunk of the film (like Marlon Brando did).


The second reason I liked it is because of the fight scenes. Finally - it felt like I was really watching Superman in a super fight. The destruction was ridiculous and spectacular and everything a comic book fight should be. It reminded me very much of Eclipse's one-shot Destroy!! in which two Superman-like characters have a 30-page brawl and take out half of Manhattan in the process. Of course this brings us back to the problem that now that we know what punishment Superman is capable of taking, what do they do to ramp it up in the next film? Maybe they shouldn't have started out with the bar so high in this film.


(There is a brief shot of the Lexcorp logo in the film, so that's likely where they're going for the sequel.)



In the end, I'd have to call this a successful reboot. They've found a good actor in Henry Cavill to carry the franchise forward. He's his own version of Superman while still being faithful to the character, he's likable, believable, and has genuine charisma. He also has (potentially) good chemistry with Amy Adams. The real problem is what challenge to give him next? I think they should scale it back. Find something more human for him to do. Not something that requires invulnerability and Earth-shattering strength, but maybe making it more about being in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. More Man than Super. What helps this film work is we like the guy before he ever puts the blue rubber tights on.


Man of Steel gets DC back on track after the disastrous Green Lantern and mediocre-at-best Dark Knight Rises, and gets a 7/10.


(I should point out that Man of Steel apparently borrows heavily from John Byrne's 1986 The Man of Steel DC Comic mini-series, but since it's been 27 years since I've read it, I've largely forgotten it and therefore can't really make any comparisons.)



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Never saw it. Is that the Bruce Willis film with this old secret ops guy coming out of retirement? I had no idea it was a comic book related film. Even so, my comment was intended more towards their superhero franchises. Dark Knight Rises was on a free preview weekend recently, so I watched parts of it again. If I had to re-rate it, it would get less than a 5/10. Green Lantern was on TV as well, and I'd rate that lower than I originally did too.


I tend to be too kind to movies when I've just seen them in the theater. I suppose part of my response is tempered by the theater-going experience itself. Maybe I should go back and do a revisionist history index for my movie reviews. :ponder:

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Very spoiler-y comment below:



So, I was just reading how some people are up-in-arms about Superman killing General Zod - should he have killed him, should he have found another way out, whatever. Obviously, the point of the scene was that Supes had to make a choice he didn't want to make - to kill someone or not. But in order to save three or four people who were too stupid to duck under Zod's heat vision, he had to kill him. Fine. But what struck me as odd, were all of the buildings that were destroyed during their fight (in no small part by Supes punching/flying Zod through said buildings), and all of the thousands if not tens of thousands of people killed or injured in the resulting collapses and falling debris. He didn't really go out of his way to stop any of that from happening. I guess he was too busy repeatedly punching Zod through the sound barrier to notice.


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