Man of Steel

After Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness I went into this movie with very low expectations.  Which meant I enjoyed Man of Steel more then I expected.  Henry Cavill was superb as Clark/Kal-El.  The didn’t try to find a clone of Chris Reeves, but he looked very much like Superman from the comics.  Amy Adams was an inspired choice as Lois Lane.  She is so appealing and David Goyer did a good job of updating that character to make her a modern woman

I was rather dreading this film because it was another damn origin story, but I found the 20 or some minutes on Krypton to be cool.  I’m interested in that world, and why they abandoned all their colonies?  Why they decided to make like the Qunari in Dragon Age and breed people for certain tasks and force them to stay in those places?  I also really liked Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

Goyer found a more interesting way to show us Clark’s childhood by using flashbacks (which I normally hate, but worked in this case) while Clark worked a series of blue collar jobs.

Michael Shannon was powerful and menacing as General Zod.  Diane Lane and Kevin Costner were fine as ma and pa Kent.  But that’s where my problems started.

The scene where Clark doesn’t rescue his dad from the tornado really bothered me.  I could have bought it if Clark had been 9 or 13 and he obeyed his father’s command that he remain hidden, but Clark was a grown man at this point and he let his dad die.  I discussed this with Carl Keim and he had an interesting interpretation of that scene — that that was the scene where Jonathan gave his son a final lesson about self-sacrifice.  That has some resonance for me, but if that was the point of the scene it never paid off.  We never see Clark/Superman make a supreme sacrifice.  And dad was sacrificing his life for his son’s anonymity?

I also had an awww come on reaction that kicked me out of the movie for a really mundane reason.  My grandmother was a rancher and a farmer.  Farmers are not sentimental about animals.  They would have felt bad about the dog, but they would not have risked a human life for a dog.  That’s just so out of character.

So then Clark in a paroxysm of guilt leaves his mother to work a farm alone and goes off to wander the U.S. in search of… what exactly?

The lost scout ship was a cool idea, and I liked how they got Lois into the action.  She was aggressive and smart and felt very modern.  Jor-El appears and gives Clark a lecture that was cool in the moment, but as my friend, Gregory pointed out, didn’t make a lot of sense when you stopped to think about it.  So Jor-El and Mrs. Jor decide to have a naturally born child so chance could take a hand, but then they preserve all of the DNA templates of all the pre-selected children in Clark’s blood.  So, how was that breaking with the past?  But at the time I skated past that, and went on to enjoy watching Lois be smart while she tracked down Clark.

Bad guys arrive.  The world is going to be destroyed (of course, why do we always have to threaten the entire planet in these movies?), and Clark overcomes the effect of Krypton’s atmosphere and gravity (how exactly) to knock down the gravity machine in the Indian Ocean.  And why was Zod trying to recreate Krypton’s environment when living on Earth would make you a superbeing?  Why not have all the baby Kryptonites become supermen and women?

And then we got into the endless CGI fight sequence.  I’m bored with these.  I really am.  Is there no other way to defeat a bad guy?  And as I watched first Smallville and then Metropolis get destroyed all I could think about was the horrendous body count that was being racked up.  Which undercut Superman as I understand the character.  He would have found a way to take the fight into space or Siberia or somewhere where innocent people wouldn’t have been endangered.

Which made Superman’s horrible, awful, very bad, emotionally wrenching decision to kill Zod seem sort of stupid.  During their fight they probably killed thousands of people  what with skyscrapers falling down and explosions and cars flying so why is this guy’s death so gut wrenching?  Because Clark had to do it so up close and personally?  Another friend, Terry England, made the point on Twitter that “death is sterile” in movies.  He’s right, and it shouldn’t be.  There should be consequences.

And can we please agree that no hero or villain, in short no man is ever going to scream, or yell NOOOOOOOOOOOOO while moving in slow motion  in a movie ever again?  I can almost take the heroine screaming all the time over the males bellowing.  I’m having a flashback of Spock screaming KIIIIIIRRRRRKKKKK in Into Darkness now.

But back to this movie..  I liked the coda where Lois knows Clark is Superman because I just don’t think the secret identity can work any longer, and this Lois is too savvy to deliberately blind herself to this obvious reality.

I realize I’ve been listing a lot of negatives for a movie that I supposedly enjoyed.  I think it was the performances and the often nuanced dialogue, and flashes of dry humor that made this work for me.  And the fact that I like Superman.  He is the embodiment of what we think of as American virtues.  Though this superman is a little ragged around the edges and how he’s going to be differentiated from Batman in the upcoming film seems a bit problematic.

Truthfully, I really want a movie set on Krypton where we get to explore that weird culture.

3 Responses to Man of Steel

  • De M. Stapp says:

    I appreciate your being detailed in your review. Such quality gives those of us who hasn’t really paid attention to the underlying story a new perspective to just “exactly” what is going on in all the action. I can’t believe that Superman couldn’t somehow saved his dad and still maintained his anonymity. Also, I’m sure his mom could manage the farm very well, even though it does take more than one person to keep a farm profitable. If Clark had discussed that fact with his mother and stayed until a knowledable person could be found that would given a better example of putting his “burdens” and need to understand them on hold until a loved one or even a friend isn’t left holding such once dual responsibilities alone. Nonetheless, I didn’t write or direct the script – so maybe the above was addressed and the results are stored in a “take out” file somewhere. I like your idea about a movie about Krypton’s cultural development. Decades ago, while driving to work, I was listening to a NPR program that contained information about a sucessful experiment in cloning a human/ape being. The host asked just what would these beings be needed for in our society and the researcher/scientist/doctor said, “To do work that humans do not want to do.” With that answer a question popped into my mind; “Well, if they are intelligent enough to learn any job a human would’nt want to perform, they’ll also be intelligent enough to not want to do it as well.” So, began my manuscript “Our Rights Reserved.” Well I’ve taken enough of what little time you have, so I’ll sign off now. Thanks for your candid review – it was gooood.

  • JaniceG says:

    Completely agree that I wanted more Krypton, which was the best part of the movie and had spectacular set design – I really hope someone nominates it for Art Direction.

    Besides the impressive opening on Krypton, is mostly battles featuring pyrotechnics and massive property damage, interrupted occasionally by lengthy and pretentious expository lumps.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the flashbacks to the young Clark, having to deal with all of his super-senses hitting him at once without understanding what it all means, which I thought was a nice touch. I was pleasantly surprised by Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe as Superman’s adopted dad and dad, but a little disappointed with Michael Shannon as General Zod. Completely disagree with you about Amy Adams, who didn’t seem to me to be world-weary enough to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.

    I found the plot to be really stupid and my attention kept wandering to questions like “Are there really only five people in the entire US Air Force?” and “Given that an intrepid reporter was able to discover Superman’s secret identity in a week or so, why can’t the government manage to do the same?” and “Why is it that Superman and Lois just happen to land after the cataclysm involving the entire metropolitan area only about 10 feet from the Daily Planet people who were trying to rescue a trapped co-worker?” and “How did Lois find Superman in the museum with Zod just in time for the end of the battle?” and “Given the massive destruction of the entire downtown of Metropolis, including its own building, how was the Daily Planet so calmly back in business at the end?”

    I was so bored that during the endless battle scenes I actually looked at my watch to see how much longer I had to suffer before it was over. Not the best sign for a comic book action movie…

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I’m willing to give big summer movies some benefit of the doubt and not nickpick every plot hole. Since I write these things I know how hard it is to cross every T and dot every I in a two hour script. Also you need to stick with the same characters so it doesn’t confusing and to improve audience identification. If we kept meeting new Air Force people it would have been way too dislocating. But the fight scene was way too long, and it undermined the essential nature of Superman which is what really bothered me.

    Sorry, I loved Amy Adams. She wasn’t all gushy over him, and she didn’t just scream all the time like most heroines in superhero movies. And Lois found him because she saw him in the ship doing impossible things. At that point the government didn’t know he existed when she starts her inquiries. And she had a place to start — a name of that truck driver.

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