Man of Steel


It’s been a long time since Superman has been relevant at the movies, but Man of Steel finally nailed it. Superman Returns had good intentions and for this fan, is fine film, but it was chained too closely to the past, not nearly as ambitious and too earth-bound to fully succeed. Despites it’s goodwill, it left audiences mostly cold. Man of Steel is bold, noisy, and full of sound and fury. A surprisingly emotional film that went places the character has never been and shows us why he is the most important of all the superheroes in the DC universe. I have been enjoying the hell out of the current run of Marvel’s greatest hits, with “The Avengers,” being one magnificent thrill ride from start to finish, but my boy has always been Superman. Christopher Reeve being the most identified with the role and selling it in the first two original films Directed by Richard Donner, which for me are still fun and are a blast in their simplistic, yet epic ability to entertain. Reeve and Kidder’s performances, humane and very funny, convince you that the absurdity of it all was real.  They nailed the Boy Scout version of Superman, the perfect embodiment of the Silver Age.  Despite its simplistic portrayal, as a kid I was hooked and never felt the character was corny or out of whack with the times. His decency and demand for justice was a something aspires to and left the perfect impression on an eager fan seeking heroes.
Man of Steel is certainly replicating the tenor of the times, according to Director Zach Snyder and writer David Goyer, this an older and wiser myth, not necessarily better, but more intuitive to the outside world than any other previous incarnations. Let it me not be misunderstood, as this is myth building at its finest and I’m sure Warner Brothers is hoping this will be the flagship to their planned superhero franchise, with the Justice League being their crown jewel; an idea that became very much a reality when The Avengers started gobbling money up like a Jewish Pac-Man.
The story is an amalgam of the first two originals; it’s an origin story and a fight to save Earth from his Kryptonian cohort’s intent on destroying Earth to remake their home world. We know the beats so I won’t repeat them here, but it’s a simple story, well told and Director Zach Snyder makes some wonderful bold moves, BUT nearly ruins it with his choice of style, a choice I don’t get -ever, especially from this Director who never used it before until now. The much hated Shaky-cam shows up and nearly takes me out of the movie. I say nearly, as I was enthralled from start to finish and was just happy to see Superman kicking bad guys into buildings and just doing what we expect from comic book movie adventures.  I won’t harp on Snyder as the film is excellent despite all that, but a swift kick in the ass is deserved for using such a cheap, lackluster style instead of traditional, superior techniques.  Let’s hope it never returns.
He does manager to assemble a fine group of actors.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane gives her the spunk and pep we expect from the intrepid reporter.  Like Superman, she reflects the woman of her times; in the 1940’s and 50’s she was akin to a “His Girl Friday,” trying to make her mark in a mostly male world, but still very capable. The 1970’s Margot Kidder, from “Superman: The Movie,” saw her as a feminist; she was Clark’s superior in many ways, having achieved the top of her profession with Perry White calling her his “best reporter.” Adams as Lois is has no need to burn her bras as she proves herself nicely and is very much her own person. She threatens to walk if the story is not done her way and Perry White listens to her and doesn’t treat anything less than a good reporter. She follows leads, hunches, hints of what makes a good story. Her discovery of Clark before he has a chance to reveal himself to the world is nice twist on the secret identity thing so often used by previous incarnations, she finds him as Superman before she ever meets Clark, which kind of makes you wonder how things will play out in the sequels once Clark joins the Daily Planet. Will she be kissed and forget or will she just keep her trap shut?
Michael Shannon had big shoes to fill as General Zod. Terrance Stamp from Superman, SII, owned the part, made a massive impression and to this day it’s his best known role; “KNEEL BEFORE ZOD! Shannon shows a little more depth as the scheming General who was once friends with Supes dad, Jor-El, but his goals are only tweaked a little- conquering Earth and if a few billion people die in the process, so are it.  The difference here, he’s a zealot, he will complete the mission at all costs, revenge will work too, but he wants his Kryptonian heritage to live! He has no choice but play the warrior, the only role he’s ever known.  Antje Traue as Faora-Ul,  easy on the eyes and makes for a great bulldog ,Hench-person. She’s part of the action and real ass-kicker with zero morality.
Russel Crow is great as Superman’s biological father, Jor-El, we get to spend a significant amount of time with him on Krypton before things turn to shit. Unlike the previous films, it doesn’t look like a happy place, maybe more evolved, but it too is mired in the politics of life.  Crow sticks around in hologram form too like Brando and offers young Kal- El  advice.  All of the support cast is good, adding human moments to an otherwise absurd situation.; Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, Rebecca Buller, and Joseph Cranford, small moments, but connect the dots to make it all hang together nicely.
Like all good reiterations of the character, he is supposed to reflect the mood of the times. THIS Superman is slow and deliberate, he doesn’t just jump out and save Lois from a plummeting helicopter,  and announce himself to the world as he did in the original films; he eases into his role as Earth’s savior which makes his dramatic entrance, well, very dramatic. Still in use are the biblical allusions; Clark travels from job to job helping where he can, seeking his purpose, trying to find the exact moment to step out.  Perhaps trying to figure out if humanity is worth saving.
Following Pa Kent’s advice, he travels very lightly and aware not to show himself too soon, fearing he will cause mass panic among the populace. One of my favorites is when he visits a small town church, asking the Priest what God might think of an Alien on Earth.  The biblical imagery is plentiful but never overdone, subtle if you weren’t already aware. While Clark is in the church talking with the priest, a very large painting of Jesus is clearly seen behind him.  Several times when he flies out to the Kryptonian spaceship, he pushes himself off; arms outstretched doing his best Jesus pose.
The original Reeve films played up his biblical allegory; a little bit of Moses and a little bit of Jesus, but his humanity stood out. Man of Steel does too, but it’s his conflict with his two fathers asking of him to look inside himself, that gets plenty of airtime. Jonathan wants him to be a good person first; to be the architect of his character in spite of his abilities, but he’s afraid for him; demands he be careful of the world around him while Jor-El suggests he uses his powers to inspire the masses.
We don’t get linear narrative, but flashbacks of his days in Smallville and we learn where his love of humanity is cultured and formed. One of my favorite scenes is when Clark is being bullied, he wants to smash the guys, but he knows he can’t.  So he takes on the stigma of pushover simply because he’d push the kids skulls in if he followed with his rage. This scene is important as it has a great pay-off near the end with Zod.
One that caused some nerd controversy and it mostly dead-wrong, only the ignorant morons who don’t know comics would object to this and also- THIS is his origin story, the Superman we are familiar with, is not quite there yet, he is slowly coming into focus.  The killing of Zod, which was a shock and needed, will obviously shape him and weigh heavily on him for the rest of his days into the sequels and Justice League movies.  I would be very surprised if the fallout doesn’t make an impression and mold him into the Boy Scout we all know. That act proved Superman is more human, (again more biblical allusions) than alien as he is prone to our faults and temptations for all the same (or wrong) reasons. The killing made a strong and important character point, that Superman would do ANYTHING to save humanity; sacrificing a bit of his soul in the process, just as Zod would do anything to further his political agenda. It also again, showed how Superman’s moral code is not quite built and formed. Sure, he’s an upstanding guy, but there is still wiggle room and he has to discover what he will and won’t do to seek justice.  As for Zod’s death, two strong personalities at an impasse, Superman was left only one choice.  Another reason the rage is wrong is because Superman HAS killed before- to say Superman has never done that is quite frankly a lie, but again, this is an origin story so what we knew as Superman is not there yet…
Henry Cavil is the films greatest and best asset. He’s charming, warm, vulnerable and tough as hell when he needs to be.  Some fans have complained that this Superman is far too serious, of course he is, he’s discovering himself; they fail to understand that Superman does have angst; he’s not bright and shiny all the time, his angst stems from his inability to save EVERYONE. From Pa Kent on down, he knows what he is capable of, yet death and injustice happens every day around him and it drives him nuts that he cannot totally stop it.  This is an origin story after all and until he figures out exactly how his powers work, it’s going to be trial time-not gee, whiz golly time.
There were a few complaints about the way Pa Kent died. It made sense. He tells Lois, “I trusted my father and he died.” Jonathan believed so much in his son, and to an extent into the fear that he would be rejected if he revealed himself too early to the world, two fathers each with opposing views; Pa Kent wanted it to be kept secret, Jor-El wanted him to be the Earth’s savior by inspiring the world and both died for their beliefs. The turmoil this creates for Clark is fascinating and Cavill does an excellent job, he embodies the character, shows how much he trusted Pa Kent, to the extreme.  He has to figure what his true purpose is and how it fits in with humanities plan. Plus, he has multiple identity issues to deal with, it’s a wonder he’s not a super psycho. His biggest obstacle is how Clark had never trusted his instincts before, he constantly looked towards Pa Kent for guidance; he learned a very hard lesson that day.
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent is excellent, he’s always been his best as an actor when he’s straight-forward and decent. The Smallville scenes in all of the movies and television series have always been my favorite. Pa Kent was a role tailored made for the actor.  It’s the small moments that show Clark full of fear and more human than he realizes and how his love for foster parents and their strong moral code is stronger than any alien bad guy could ever be that are the most satisfying to me. The characters bring fear and trepidation into an inherently absurd situation and make it real and believable.  His scenes choked me up several times when he asks Clark ‘to demand better of himself, to be the architect of his character.’
Diane Lane is excellent as Martha Kent, equally decent, imparting her quiet strength she has several stand out moments. When Clark is a youngster, traumatized and overwhelmed by his powers, he runs from the classroom, after having his x-ray vision show him the bones and guts of his teacher and classmates, locking himself inside a closet, not understanding any of it, he cries, “the world is too big, Ma!” Quietly, matter-of-factly, “make it smaller”, she says.  She’s there many more times to offer comfort, sage advice and provide the emotional anchor needed to keep the movie afloat. She’s loving, smart and kind, but a real mama bear when needed. A nice character moment occurs after the baddie melee, her house is all but destroyed, she searches through the rubble, undisturbed by the destruction, she quietly digs out the family portraits and keeps sakes.
Without Cavill’s earnest, strong performance and the emotional obstacles he encounters this would be one action porn scene after another and it would get old real quick, enjoyable, but old, but it doesn’t. He fights with Zod and smashes crap for nearly the last half of the movie and it’s wonderfully kinetic and brings to life every comic book panel ever drawn- and just when you think it’s gone into overkill, you realize, that’s’ the point, this all means something. Zod and Superman constantly test each other, each with these strange powers; they are seeing just what they are capable of; throwing each other into cars, buildings, buses. A massive leap in technology as it’s a long, long way from the Metropolis melee in Superman II.  All of this destruction does look very cool, but it’s driven by character, not plot and it never succumbs to the random chaos and noise seen especially in the last two Transformers where nothing matters and it’s just an FX orgy that bores the audience to tears and no they don’t destroy every building in town nor is Superman OK with people getting smashed up, we seem them evacuated and how he’s protective of them. Besides, I’m fairly sure this will factor in greatly with Batman’s appearance and Lex Luthor in the sequel, he will take great advantage of the damage done and do the most insanely inaccurate and lie-filled campaign since the re-election of Barack Obama to get the public on his side and smear Superman into oblivion. Taking great advantage of his strong moral character.
While building the universe, (and destroying) they have fun with the mythology and drop some familiar DC faces in for a cameo spots to let us know there are other heroes in this universe and we just might seem them in the sequels. During the alien melee, we can quickly see a Luthorcorp Tower getting pummeled by some damage; the first (and most subtle) sighting of Lex Luthor’s conglomerate’s domination is when Clark Kent is walking up to the family home after hitchhiking his way there on a LexCorp truck. During the Metropolis rumble, there is a gas tanker that gets some damage, big letters on the side, LEXCORP and a construction site where Zod and Superman battle flying the Luthor flag with a huge banner declaring “LexCorp: The Future Is Now!”
One of the best and easiest references to spot is when Clark discovers the Kryptonian scout ship buried deep in the artic. When Clark enters he looks over four cryogenic sarcophagi- three of them have skeletons, but one is empty with its hatch wide open– a gentle nod to his cousin, Supergirl.
Plenty of Smallville references too- Pete Ross is on the school bus that Clark rescues and they later meet during the IHOP melee, we also see nods to Chloe Sullivan, the Sullivan family at least, Lana Lang and Whitney Fordman.
The Wayne Enterprises logo is on a satellite that Zod destroys; another Dark Knight reference is when Zod’s tearing the building apart with his heat vision, there’s a Be Calm And Call Batman sign on the wall…S.T.A.R. (D.C’s answer to Marvel’s S.H.I.E.LD) labs and Dr. Emil Hamilton have a minor role with a few lines; this should amount to more than a cameo in the sequels as Cyborg is born from this lab, as is Superman baddie Metallo.
Lastly, this one is a bit of a stretch, but after the oil rig rescue, when Clark jumps into the sea, he strikes (another) Jesus pose to quiet his head, we see some whales in the background, sent perhaps by Aquaman to see if he’s injured.
As for the score, how does one surpass, top, honor anything created by John Williams? Superman Returns used the theme to mostly great effect, but Man of Steel chooses not to, which was probably a wise choice, although at this point, if James Bond can have his own theme, why can’t Superman have Williams score? Composer, Hans Zimmer had a gargantuan task ahead, but he pulls it off with relative ease. He will always have the hindrance of being after Williams, so of course his score is not nearly as iconic, but it’s not bad by any stretch. The main theme, although not as bombastic and uplifting as Williams, it’s emotional and slowly builds on its greatness.
I love this film for many reasons; mostly because it broke wide open the vast DC universe that we have really never seen on film before. Nolan had his stab at it, but he seemed reticent to use the rogues’ gallery and never let us get much of a peak into Gotham’s dark corners. Man of Steel seems a bit more of an epic affair, not afraid to fly its geeky flag and let Superman soar high and proud as DC greatest hero!
The film is not perfect and I would have preferred a smoother, more traditional style of camera direction to truly evoke the most iconic potential from the material, but what it is, it’s awesome and I cannot wait for Superman to meet Batman.  Marvel has scored mostly all A’s so far with their legends coming to the screen, (except for those awful Iron Man sequels) now it’s DC’s turn to continue on, don’t break our hearts with “Justice League.”

About the Author: Dan

I live for movies and hate things like Lord of the Rings. That's all you need to know right now.

Leave A Reply