Man of Steel (Film Review)

So it’s nearly one in the morning here and I just finally saw Man of Steel, the much-hyped, much-anticipated reboot of Superman that already made a bunch of money two weeks ago.

So why am I writing about it now? Well, it took me a while to see it, mostly because I had one friend who really wanted to see it with me and we kept having to push back due to conflicts. But tonight, we went ahead and did it and it was a fun experience.

The movie itself? Well, as I’ve thought for months, it’s good, in some parts, it’s really good. Great? Well, that I’m not sure about yet.

Much like The Avengers, this is a movie where I tried to steer clear of any spoilers as much as possible, although since I’m plugged into the Superman fan scene (I’m TomCon on the Superman Homepage if anyone’s interested), that was a bit harder to do.

Thankfully, because Superman’s origin is so well known, not much really remains to be spoiled except for the particulars and how the villain battling is handled.

So then: after a long prologue on Krypton–and I mean long; this is probably the most time anyone’s spent on Krypton in any non-comics media–where we learn how Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) were once united against the ineffective ruling council in their determination to avoid environmental collapse but are now enemies, with Zod–and his henchwoman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) attempting an ultimately unsuccessful coup, we see Jor-El and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) blast their son into space, along with sealing something called the Codex away with him.(The bits on Krypton actually reminded me a lot of Kevin Anderson’s great novel The Last Days of Krypton, which is all about how Lara and Jor-El meet; it has that same SF tone as here)

We then see the rocket land in Kansas, but we don’t see Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) find him. We cut to the present day where 33-year old Clark (Henry Cavill) is bumming around Canada doing odd jobs. That’s the template for the rest of the film: scenes in the present day interspersed with flashbacks to Clark’s troubled Kansas childhood and teendom. As far as setups go, that’s actually pretty unique; definitely something no other blockbuster is doing.

Anyway, Clark is bumming around Canada, doing odd jobs like fishing crewman and busboy while helping out people on the side (the busboy scene has him confront a trucker that reminds one of the famous diner bits from Superman II). One of these jobs is for Arctic Cargo, which is contracted to bring a whole bunch of Army equipment and personnel, including Col. Hardy (Christopher Meloni of Law & Order SVU) and Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff), as well as plucky Pulitzer-winning reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) up to the near-Arctic to analyze a strange alien craft found in the ice that’s apparently 20,000 years old. Where it came from, and what it has to do with another UFO that crops up, make up the rest of the story.

At 2 1/2 hours long, this is probably the longest Superman movie made yet, and it feels like it sometimes. Sometimes the action scenes and shots of things getting destroyed go on a bit longer than they should. That ordinarily could be blamed on director Zack Snyder–he is the man who brought us 300, a movie with amazing action-bits and hilariously bad talking-bits–but here, he’s restrained, working in a muted color palette and steady camera under the guiding hand of producer Christopher Nolan.

Nolan also co-wrote the story for the film along with David S. Goyer, who handles the screenplay. Goyer’s script, partially due to its interesting structure and partially due to its dystopian military sci-fi reimagining of Krypton, is like nothing ever seen in a Superman movie before. And that’s a good thing. We also get probably the most real insight I’ve ever seen anywhere as to how horrifying it must have been for a young Clark to have his powers manifest, and it adds real depth to the story. However, like other Nolan-related movies, things are overly explained that don’t need to be explained.

The cast, however, makes it all work. Cavill is stupendous as Superman, just tremendous. He’s not silent and broody like Brandon Routh and he’s not as instantly iconic as Christopher Reeve, but he makes the character his own, really giving the sense of Superman as this shaman-like wanderer looking for his place in society.

Adams is steely to a hilt as Lois Lane, which is tremendously engaging; a lot of people have said her and Cavill don’t have any chemistry, but I’d put the blame on the script before them.

Costner and Lane are great as the Kents. Granted, this is stuff they could do in their sleep, but they sell the concerned parents bit really well. Speaking of parents, Crowe and Zurer are quite good as Jor-El and Lara, with Crowe making Jor-El something of a saint, while Zurer actually gives Lara some depth for the first time ever.

Shannon is an absolute joy as General Zod. While not as immediately gripping as Heath Ledger’s Joker, he owns every minute he’s on screen. He plays the histrionic villain and the tortured soldier bits equally well, setting himself apart from Terrence Stamp in a welcome way. As Faora, Traue sells the fanaticism just right and manages to make the whole “sexy villainess” angle believable.

Hans Zimmer’s score, which I’m listening to right now on Spotify as I write this, is also great, constantly weaving in and out and providing a pulsating soundtrack to what we see on screen. I just might pick this album up.

Overall, I liked this movie a lot; it didn’t have fireworks of joy going off in my head like the 1978 movie did, but it’s a different animal and I should treat it as such. As is, it’s an engaging, entertaining, thrilling blockbuster that actually has some substance and depth and should start some discussions. Recommended.

What’s that? You want me to discuss the BIG moment at the end? Well, tell you what; I’ll put it in all-white text below, so if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t highlight. Ok? OK.

OK, so Superman killing Zod at the end? Does it go too far? Well, I don’t know; the thing to remember is that this is not only a modern Superman, this is a Superman who grew up in the post-9/11 world. When you take that and couple it with David Goyer’s neocon principles (this IS the man who had Superman renounce his American citizenship in a story and who wrote the story for Call of Duty: All Non-Whites Are Bad 2012 Edition you know), you get a situation where that might be considered acceptable. Is that MY Superman? Well, of course not; he doesn’t kill. Nor should he. But, in the light of context, is it understandable? Well, yes, honestly, though I suspect I’ll rethink my position on this as time goes on.

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