MAN OF STEEL (review)
Review by Clay N Ferno
Superman, though not in the title, and only spoken once in the movie has returned in Man of Steel.
Starring Henry Cavill as Clark/Kal/Superman, Amy Adams as a smart and engaging Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as our villain, last seen in the comics or Superman II,General Zod of Krypton.
Kevin Costner is an earnest, sensitive and sensible Jonathan Kent, Kal’s adoptive father with Diane Lane as Martha Kent by his side. Laurence Fishburne stars as the Daily Planet’s Chief, Perry White.
The film opens on doomed planet Krypton, Russell Crowe as Jor-El helps deliver his son to Lara Lor-Van played by Ayelet Zurer.
With a cast like this, we can’t go wrong, right?
I tend to love almost everything superhero related and this movie was no exception. After cramming in a Dark Knight trilogy over the weekend, I was well prepared for this Man of Steelscreening. To be honest, I thought the bridge would be there for me like the Timmverse versions of the characters. Batman first. Superman second. One dark. One light. Similar vibe. I was happy to be half correct in that assumption. This is a modern looking film, and perfect for our time. Snyder and Nolan are different stylistically, and I appreciate that.
Having Christopher Nolan as a producer did inform the look of Metropolis somewhat, and the collective success of Dark Knight did get the wheels turning for Superman. I’m happy this all worked out the way it did.
They tell a different sort of origin story with pacing, flashbacks and nonlinear jumps in Man of Steel. Breaking the predictable pattern was welcome, and allowed for more time spent on the story of Krypton as a planet and it’s fate. Zod and Jor-El open the movie fighting and it is this fight over the fate of Kryptonians and their last son that drives the plot.
Krypton is an organic alien planet filled with strange rounded spaceships, elaborate birdcage steampunk costumes, and Giger-esque (or, more recently and to the point, Prometheus) settings and ships. The time we spend on Krypton is delightful, and much different from the crystalline palace of Brando’s Jor-El.
They’re doing it right with the Houses of Krypton and the General Zod-ness of Krypton just before the explosion. The “S” seal of the House of El is in tact and standing for “hope” in Kryptonian (‘borrowed’ from Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright). Zod seems to have another pentagon-shaped sigil on his chest, not exactly a “Z”, more of a horseshoe tilted 45 degrees. Heck, I’m no translator! The Kryptonian letters are also different from that of Smallville and comics versions. Spend half a day over at Kryptonian.info if you are curious.
It couldn’t be Zod without The Phantom Zone exile, The Phantom (Zone) Projector and some bitter allies. He’s got that in a bad-ass Faora (sorry, Ursa fans, a new/old girl is in town—and she can fight!).
On Earth, as Clark grows up he’s initially freaked out by his powers until he grows older and starts to roam the world, TV-Hulk style (or JMS: Grounded style, for the snarky). All the while he chooses to do good, save people and shun bullies.
Ma and Pa Kent do their best to protect the young boy Clark from revealing his secret before the world is ready and there are great moments of father son bonding between Jonathan and young Clark (Dylan Sprayberry). Jonathan assures Clark that people are afraid of what they don’t understand.
Missing Smallville pals? Don’t worry, you’ve got Pete Ross and Lana Lang keeping Clark company…and perhaps his secrets? You know Pete is always gonna keep his lips tight. Smallville varsity football kids even pick on Clark with the traditional maroon and yellow jackets. Go Crows!
Slight spoilers, though don’t expect many from this review. Lois has figured out Clark’s secret before she’s even met him through the doors of the Daily Planet. He saves her as they both are investigating an ancient Kryptonian scout ship on the North Pole (Fortress of Solitude?). It’s a different Lois, and as I think she also likes pink very much, Amy Adams brings an intelligence and powerful female to her performance. Lois is in the middle of the action and helps take down the baddies in the end. We don’t get the feeling that she’s putting herself in harms way to bait Superman’s enemies or to be saved. Lois is willing and able to fight with her wits against a Kryptonian army, and that’s respectable.
Origins of Kryptonian births, and how Krypton found Earth are revealed by Jor-El’s consciousness projection when near Kryptonian tech. Much more than the ghost head of Jor-El in the Reeve films, this Jor-El walks and talks and interacts with both Kal and Lois. He’s not alive…but his spirit or memory or virtual reality is very much a real being. This expansion of the relationship Jor-El gets to have with Kal makes it more direct than previous ‘man behind the curtain’ interactions (Smallville, Superman I, II).
After donning the costume (sorry ladies, no red undies!) Jor-El coaches Kal on flying, or at least using his powers to the full potential. It’s tough not to recall both Spider-Man movie versions as Superman first takes flight like a klutz and crashes through a mountaintop.
The flight? Just right. Hovers? Perfect. Floating parallel to the ground? OK, never seen that before, so you must be doing it right. Our imagination leaping from the comic page and the recollection of blue screen Christopher Reeve on a glass cube days are long gone. I would say a huge selling point to comic fans is that the powers are right. The Powers are Right. THE POWERS ARE RIGHT! Heat vision, X-ray vision, impervious to bullets (and anything else) coupled with flight makes for great superhero moviemaking. Batman was all about the Tumbler and The Bat and Bat-Pod. Here, we can believe a man can fly…finally! Sonic BOOM!
Speaking of Spider-Man (both versions) Ma Kent and Aunt May have a lot in common. Probably hard to separate thinking about the history of other superhero movies while watching this one. Diane Lane is fantastic, and does not dote over Clark. She encourages him to reveal himself when the time is right.
Zod’s motivation is to take over the Earth and repopulate Krypton with stored DNA from a Krypton artifact. In the process he’d terraform and kill all humans. This is a standard story for a bad guy but the buildup from the opening sequence was way more satisfying compared to Nero’s motivations in the first Star Trek (2009).
As a Superman fan, and one that doesn’t wish to spoil anything more than necessary for the purposes of this review, I have both praise and criticisms.
I applaud every effort to include major and minor fan service moments, characters, re-imaginings (Jenny Olsen instead of Jimmy, Kryptonian atmosphere affecting Kal instead of Kryptonite proper), LexCorp trucks and Wayne Enterprises artifacts. Digging deep into the history of Superman by keeping true to the main players is important and approachable. The new tone of the movie (a darker palette in set design and for mood) is a welcome update as well.
Let Donner be Donner. Let Smallville and Geoff Johns comics be those things. This is a new thing. Were this movie to take major liberties with Krypton, Kal and the Ma and Pa Kent dynamic I would be offended. Even Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a masterwork in my opinion, felt at times too based in reality.
Man of Steel scratches the itch of a sci-fi fan in a modern film context while inserting the aesthetic of a news camera crew or reality show when appropriate. Big action here. Elaborate ships and Kryptonian armor texture the movie with fantasy. Inception and Avengers style of building destruction shows us just how real and elaborate CGI has become. Do I need to mention that the Hans Zimmer score is amazing? Though I wish I could have the movie at home now so that I can mash up the John Williams score with 10 minutes of Cavill flying scenes….for my own use!
On to the criticisms of the film, from a fan of Superman in all forms. I could have used a but more brightness on the camera settings. Though not every shot, I’m disappointed in the use of filters on some of the film processing. Hey, I’m no expert but my untrained eye was put off by the “Instagramification” of some scenes in the film.
Maybe this is the trend, a stylistic choice by Snyder, or something beyond my comprehension. To contradict an earlier statement somewhat, Nolan’s lens is more clean, crisp and cinematic. Some emotional scenes in this film were given a post production filter to break the scene visually from the action, but it took me out a bit. A small complaint on my part, really. Overall with visual effects and CGI, I still would give this movie 5 stars.
Superman doesn’t exactly stand for truth, justice, and the American way in 2013. In Man of Steel, Clark stands for what’s right, his family, and believing in himself to do good. I might be missing something in there but that’s the general idea. He’s only on his first ‘missions’ as a superhero, so he has growing up to do. My major (and for some, the make it or break it) opinion about his victory over Zod in the end had me asking these questions. What exactly does a 75 year-old hero mean in a modern context. Were curveballs thrown at the audience to see how much they can take? Is the world seen through “Instagram X-Pro II” colored glasses? I just don’t have the answer to that, except that for just 5 minutes of the film, I wanted a Christopher Reeve to be there in his red undies instead of the equally handsome Henry Cavill fighting off Zod’s newfound Earth-based uncontrolled heat vision.
This is Superman. You must see this movie in the theatre and enjoy an HD copy at home when the time comes. Just imagine the binge you can have with a Dark Knight Trilogy and Man of Steelmarathon. I may sidestep sleep and any social engagements to do just that again this weekend. If there is any doubt in your mind, Henry Cavill is Superman, he deserves the cape for the DC Cinematic Universe and fan drawings on Tumblr. I believe he can fly. Michael Shannon’s Zod is an assertive villain and worth watching every moment he is on the screen.