Movie Review – “Man of Steel”

The Man of Steel is back on the big screen again. So far, his theatrical releases have included more misses than hits. Which one is this?

Cast and Crew Information

Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Michael Shannon as General Zod
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Antje Traue as Faora-Ul
Harry Lennix as General Swanwick
Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton
Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
Dylan Sprayberry as Clark Kent (13 Years Old)
Cooper Timberline as Clark Kent (9 Years Old)
Richard Cetrone as Tor-An
Mackenzie Gray as Jax-Ur
Julian Richings as Lor-Em
Michael Kelly as Steve Lombard
Christina Wren as Major Carrie Farris
Alessandro Juliani as Officer Sekowsky
Tahmoh Penikett as Jed Eubanks
Jadin Gould as Lana Lang
Robert Gerdisch as Whitney Fordman
Jack Foley as Teenage Pete Ross
Joseph Cranford as Adult Pete Ross

Written by David S. Goyer (story and screenplay) and Christopher Nolan (story)
Directed by Zack Snyder

Premise

Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van save their only son from the destruction of their homeworld of Krypton by sending him to Earth. There, he is raised by a couple from Kansas, and he develops abilities possessed by no one else on Earth. As an adult, he is forced to decide what to do with those abilities.

High Point

It’s been 35 years since we’ve had a truly great Superman film, but they’ve finally done it again.

Low Point

There is one moment at some point in the film that really sticks in my craw. I cannot go into further details without delving into spoiler territory, but those who are familiar with Superman in any other incarnation will know it when they see it.

Notes for Parents

This movie is about as gritty as Superman can get. It’s still significantly lighter than any of the Nolan Batman films, but it has moments of darkness, mass carnage, and some vocabulary that is mild by many standards but still unexpected from a Superman film. This is most definitely a PG-13 film in my opinion. The MPAA agrees, but Canadian ratings boards and others merely rated it PG rather than 14A or the like.

Notes on the 3D

In about 10% of cases these days, I find that the 3D effects truly add to the experience. (I keep going to 3D theatres for assigned seating rather than the 3D.) That said, I consider this film to be part of the 90% majority of films in which the 2D version would probably be just fine.

The Review

This is a fairly original take on the character. Unlike Bryan Singer’s love letter to Richard Donner, this film is telling a story about its own Superman in its own way. There are also changes to the canon which, for the most part, are akin to Spider-Man’s organic webshooters, maintaining the spirit of the source material while altering details. However, unlike previous superhero adaptations, there is no doubt in my mind that the creators involved familiarized themselves with the source material. They simply came up with their own version of Krypton, their own connection between Krypton and Earth, and so forth. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were plentiful but primarily seamless. Although there are elements which are plainly CGI, it is not always easy to find the borders between CGI and live action. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is not one that has been told in this manner. Typically, we get the origin of Superman in the first act, and then move on from there. In this incarnation, the entire film truly serves as the origin, and takes some paths along the way that haven’t been done before in live action. The goal seems to be realism; this is the most plausible reaction that the planet Earth would have to the presence of Superman to date. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting was generally very good. Cavill does a great job without aping Christopher Reeve, Amy Adams is the most believable Lois Lane yet, and Shannon makes a very effective Zod. Diane Lane is a very humanizing Martha Kent, and Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer are strong and believable Kryptonian parents and/or computer algorithms. I found about half of Kevin Costner’s performance just didn’t grab me, though he has the disadvantage of being compared to Glenn Ford in the role. Laurence Fishburne simply didn’t have a lot to work with, though what he did was enjoyable. As it is the triumvirate of Cavill, Adams and Shannon that comprise much of the emotional core of the film, with support from Lane, the movie as a whole works well. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is well done. This is a crew that was going out of its way to make its own version of Superman. I’ve heard complaints about the speed of the editing making it difficult to follow the action, but I had no such problems myself. Hans Zimmer composed a powerful score quite unlike that of John Williams’, which further helps to distance this from that incarnation. If anything, this is more influenced by the Fleischer animated style than any of the live action predecessors. In what is perhaps the most telling part of the production, the 143 minute runtime felt more like 100 minutes, while only feeling rushed at points during the most familiar portions of the origin story. That may actually be better for the film, as many fans are tired of the same origin being retold. (The origin they use has unique elements, so that fatigue doesn’t really set it.) I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is great. Most of the film is exactly what I was hoping for. My favorite aspect of Superman is the inspirational effect he has on those around him, and this is largely about the way humans react to his existence. The low point (you’ll know it when you see it) drove me right out of the film at a critical moment, which is the major detriment here. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s the strongest Superman movie we’ve had in over 30 years. See it and enjoy it. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Man of Steel receives 33 out of 42.

8 replies on “Movie Review – “Man of Steel””

  1. Fez says:

    We saw it at a 7pm 2D “sneak preview” showing last night and I thought it was amazing. In particular, I was impressed with how they moved and fought, especially Faora. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, but I’ll try to add a little more here.

    I assume by the low point, you mean the Tornado? That is what stood out for me. I can sort of see why they did that, but really… it just didn’t feel right.

    I didn’t see anything that stood out as something that might be particularly impressive in 3D. I did spot a couple scenes, such as the bit between the buildings toward the end, that seemed to exist mostly to pander to 3D though. I have yet to see a 3D movie in the theater and I also have yet to feel like I have ever missed anything because of that fact. I’ll stick to 2D.

    There were a couple times when the shaky-cam style irked me, but it wasn’t constant. There were also plenty of Lens Flares, but nowhere near J.J. Abrhams territory.

    A few other random notes, I’ll try to keep them low-spoiler. Mostly good things, a couple nits, nothing bad:
    * I really liked Amy Adams as Lois, and it was good to see her in-the-know from the start.
    * Dr. Emil from Smallville was assisting Dr. Emil in the movie. Coincidence? I think not.
    * My wife spotted a couple other shared actors from Smallville in the cast also. Amy Adams of course, Tahmoh Penikett, and some other random people who were “Monster-of-the-Week” types.
    * He really _is_ more powerful than a locomotive.
    * That was seriously some Powerpuff Girls-level destruction of Metropolis. The place looked like Townsville when they were done with it.
    * I think the failed human attacks on Kryptonians did more damage to Smallville than the Kryptonians did.
    * He almost went full Wolverine when hiding in Alaska/Canada/Wherever.
    * Did anyone else spot the LexCorp tanker truck at the end?
    * Nice nods to the kids (Pete, Lana, “The Fordman Boy”, etc)
    * Jenny Olson wasn’t as big a deal as some were making it out to be, but the part was very small, and I don’t recall them ever mentioning her last name.
    * Quite a few obvious and less-obvious product placements. IHOP in Smallville? Really? Plus, 7-11, Sears, Nikon, and others… Some of them seemed to go out of the way to get the logo in the shot.
    * There was no Kneel before Zod! moment but I didn’t spot a time when it would have made sense for him to say either.
    * The hair+glasses+suit disguise makes even less sense in this version, but that’s Supes for ya.
    * There were a couple instances when the pacing was a little slow but not enough to recall any specific time in particular.
    * The Kryptonian hologram displays looked gorgeous, but … monochrome?
    * I lost count of the number of Matrix references/similarities, but maybe my mind was just going that way since Morpheus was playing Perry White.
    * I don’t think they adequately explained why the outposts failed, perhaps that will come back in a sequel, perhaps not.
    * I really liked the bit where Jor-El was escorting Lois around and giving her directions/commands in the ship.
    * There was nothing after the credits. We stayed all the way to the end, just to be sure.

    • No, that wasn’t the low point. That one, I could accept. It was closer to the end. Seriously, if anyone reading this hasn’t seen the movie, don’t peek! Superman killed Zod. Superman ALWAYS finds another way in my books. Yeah, it clearly bothered him in the moment, but still, he’d have found another way.

      • Fez says:

        Ah, that. I couldn’t see any way for him to get out of that one. The way to imprison him again was already gone, and there was no way to contain him or neutralize him. Given the way Zod was talking I was actually almost suspecting he might have killed himself, falling on his own sword for failing in his mission since there was now no hope for him to ever succeed. I didn’t think they’d go _that_ dark, however.

        • There were other ways. In the moment, I was expecting him to fly up, or to change direction to work with Zod and fly down through the floor, or to use his own heat vision to break off parts of the ceiling to act as a shield or obstacle to buy more time, or to use his own heat vision on Zod to break his concentration. That’s what I came up with in those seconds, and my mind doesn’t move fast enough to handle the speeds Superman moves at, so he should have been able to come up with those options and more. I kept expecting the motivational speechifying, telling Zod that it’s time to try forging a new path, and offering to help him find his way in the new world. At the end of the day, it would just take a more dire situation before the character from the comics would make that choice, as he did in the comic stories you linked to.

      • Fez says:

        Reading around a bit, it isn’t as unprecedented as it might otherwise seem, even if it does seem out of character.

        WARNING: Links below contain spoilers, not directly, but to what references to things hidden in spoiler tags elsewhere in the discussion.

        It’s happened in the comics (link #2), and in the movies. Though at least the previous movie bit wasn’t quite so … heavy handed with it, there can be no other conclusion as to what happened. This would be at least the third time he’s killed Zod.

    • Jethro says:

      I provided my own Kneel Before Zod moment, in that I was wearing a Kneel Before Zod T-Shirt.

      The insane amount of destruction… yeah, like I say below, maybe I’m getting old but even I was going “Uh that’s a bit much”. And I blow stuff up as a hobby!

      Why would there not be an iHop in Smallville? They’re friggin everywhere. There are over 40 in Kansas.

      You’re right about the 3D – the only part that really benefited from it was the part obviously made for it. I have to comment on your never having seen a 3D movie and not thinking you’re missing anything – I’ve seen a few and for the most part it’s a fun gimmick. There are some things that in my opinion it kinda makes worse – it can make the CGI /very/ obvious and sometimes it /ruins/ the scale. An example from Star Trek Into Darkness: When The Enterprise comes face-to-face with Evil Enterprise, without 3D I think your brain kinda fills in the dimension and the scale. But in 3D the ships are right in front of you and look like toys.

  2. Jethro says:

    Just saw it today. I enjoyed it very much despite the (self-inflicted) lack of popcorn.

    I kinda wondered if your low point would be something that bugged the hardcore people. I personally thought it was handled yell – I know enough about Superman to know how much of an impact that made.

    I did see it in 3D and no it did not need it.

    Now… maybe I’m getting old. I dunno. I mean it’s a superhero action movie, right? But I’m sitting there thinking “SOOOOOOO much PROPERTY DAMAGE!”

    I mean if there was ANYthing that Superman could have avoided it was the INSANE amounts of carnage and destruction.

    Also why not tell Zod “Hey look, there’s like TWO nicely-sized planets you can terraform REALLY CLOSE BY.” I mean they don’t even have to LOOK!

    There was actually a whole lot of stuff like that, but it was still a very enjoyable movie.

    And I hope I did the spoiler thing right! (:

  3. JD DeLuzio says:

    Different opinion here. I felt really ambivalent about this film.

    The good: I thought they made the non-linear sequences work, though at times it felt like “last season on Superman” highlights. A bit choppy. In places. You know?

    In his last film, Superman fought a continent. We had an adversary here that allowed for duke-it-out action here.

    The actors gave strong performances.

    I liked the new approach to the Lois/Clark relationship. I also liked the role they gave his parents. In particular, Ma Kent becomes more of a character than other adaptations have allowed.

    The bad: Already covered, but seriously, however personal Zod’s feelings, why not just terraform a nearby uninhabited planet? He can always get to earth once his group has built up a bit. Then again, why terraform at all? He says he doesn’t want to suffer as Clark has, but really, he doesn’t want to have godlike powers? He certainly adjusts to them pretty dang quickly.

    Also “we don’t have morality.” WTF? Yeah, nice shout-out to a certain writer who wrote about a superman, but our villains have a very developed sense of morality. That’s what makes Zod interesting. His moral standards, like Hitler’s, are just diametrically opposed to those that of most us uphold.

    I don’t want this to become an imitation of Marvel’s films, but this is Superman. It should have, you know, a sense of fun, and charm. We go full-tilt into angsty dark, childhood-issue-afflicted Clark here.

    Once a depiction veers toward realism, each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre. –David Mazzucchelli

    They did a pretty good job of a more realistic take on the Man of Steel, but that very approach creates its own problems. Clark’s disguise, for example. It’s especially thin here, and the more realistic approach calls attention to that fact.

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