Friday, June 14, 2013

Movie – Man of Steel (2013)

After the 2006 Superman Returns film failed to re-launch the character of Superman, probably because director Brian Singer couldn’t decide if he wanted to make a sequel or a remake, we now have the latest attempt: 2013’s Man of Steel.  This time around there is no doubt: this is a 100% reboot of the character.  Director Zack Snyder attracts blind hatred from critics – I read many negative reviews of Sucker Punch where they got so many basic plot points about the film wrong that it was obvious they had written the bad review without actually seeing the movie – so it’s no surprise that his latest film is currently sitting at 57% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s at 82% Fresh with audiences, though.  Man of Steel is not a must see movie, but neither is it an embarrassment.  It’s a shut your brain off and eat popcorn movie, much like the other blockbusters that have preceded it this summer.

Just about all of you know the basics of the Superman origin story: destruction of Krypton, comes to Earth as a baby, raised by the Kents in Smallville, hides from the world for a while, but is forced to finally reveal himself, reporter Lois Lane who works for the Daily Planet in Metropolis takes a special interest in him and his story.  I’m not going to go into details about those; suffice it to say that this film covers them all.

This movie does make some tweaks to other standards.  There is no kryptonite, for instance, but the story achieves the same effect in another way.  There is a sort-of Fortress of Solitude and Phantom Zone.  The biggest change is to the Superman outfit itself.  Snyder makes the same mistake that Singer made in Superman Returns – thinking he can come up with a better suit than the one that is recognized around the world.  (I’ve read that Superman is one of only five fictional characters that is literally known to every person on the planet.)  Trying to change the suit because you feel it is dated is like trying to re-do A Charlie Brown Christmas because you feel the animation is poorly done.  In both cases (dated suit, poor animation) you would be correct, but people have gotten so used to those things that any change to them is jarring.

Making matters worse is that in this film it’s established that the suit is just long underwear that is intended to be worn under Kryptonian armor.  With no armor, Superman is essentially running around in a leotard.  No trunks leaves a conspicuous bulge to delight the boy-watching members of the audience.  You just know that they must have had hours and hours of meetings deciding how prominent or not prominent the bulge should be.  An unintentionally funny moment comes when we first see the suit in a case and it is already “pre-bulged”.  It’s not nipples on the batsuit bad, but it is pretty funny.

Speaking of unintentionally funny moments there is one early on where Zod and his followers are imprisoned.  They are sent up to a ship in what can only be described as giant flying dildos.  Perhaps at this point you may think I am obsessed with phallic objects, but I’ve seen a bunch of comments on IMDB already about this same scene.  Another funny moment is when Superman just spells right out for Zod how to adjust to the sensory overload a Kryptonian experiences on Earth – while right in the middle of a fight with Zod.  Boy, that Superman sure is a helpful guy.

Maybe at this point you are wondering where the good is in the movie.  Well, Cavill as Superman definitely fills the physical requirements.  He won’t make anyone forget Christopher Reeve for his acting, but he definitely pumped some serious iron.  He’s given a great intro where you see him bare-chested and on fire where his shirt has burned away.  His pants don’t burn off, though.  He must have the same clothier as the Hulk.  They left his chest alone, hair-wise.  Instead of turning him into an emasculated Ken doll like so many other filmmakers are doing with their male stars, Cavill gets to have a hairy chest.

Ladies (and some gentlemen), how hot is Henry Cavill?

By the way, the people who bitched about Snyder “sexualizing” the women in Sucker Punch, but didn’t make a peep when he sexualized the men in 300, now get a second chance.  With the multiple bare-chested scenes, and the uncovered bulge, Snyder is sexualizing Cavill in this film just as much as he has both men and women in his prior films.  I want to hear just as much bitching from these people as there was for Sucker Punch or they are all confirmed as hypocrites.

[Gets down off soapbox.]

The best of the other major characters is Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She manages to add some depth to her character that is lacking from all of the others.  The best thing this film does is get rid of the whole “Lois can’t figure out Superman is Clark Kent because he’s wearing glasses” thing.  Lois gets to be a believable award-winning reporter.  Michael Shannon as General Zod is a raving, shouting bad guy.  The film does try to make him a little more “grey area bad” than in Superman II, but they don’t really succeed.  Instead of wanting humanity to bow down to him, he wants to turn Earth into another Krypton, which will happen to kill everyone on the planet.

There are smaller appearances from other Superman stalwarts like Jor-El (Russell Crowe), Lara (Ayelet Zurer), Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne).  Pete Ross and Lana Lang only appear briefly, and Lana only as a child.  The character of Jimmy Olson does not appear in this film, which I believe is a first in any Superman movie.

Overall this film seems to want to emphasize that Superman is an alien.  Zod wants him given to him and humans are more than happy to do so.  Several times during the film Snyder seemed to want to show Superman and Zod almost as gods.  A famous godlike shot from the Kingdom Come graphic novel is used to good purpose when Superman first turns himself in to the military.  Zod doesn’t care about humans at all; they are beneath him.  Despite supposedly caring about humanity, Superman surely kills thousands of people when he is throwing Zod through building after building in Metropolis.  The fight goes so over the top in fact, that I started chuckling.  It’s almost as if DC said, “Hey Marvel.  You think you showed a city being destroyed in The Avengers?  That’s nothing.  We’ll show you how to destroy a city.”

This leads me to my biggest negative with this film – the way it was shot.  Zack Snyder apparently drank the Kool-Aid because he goes full blown shakycam in this movie.  It’s worse than The Hunger Games ever thought of being.  It’s almost as if Snyder was trying to make Paul Greengrass and J.J. Abrams jealous with how hard he was shaking the camera.  I literally had to look away a few times.  And the fight sequences between Superman and the Kryptonians were so frenetic that it was like in the Transformers movies where I frankly couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.

This film appears to be going back to the traditional presentation of Superman – that he’s a superhero who disguises himself as Clark Kent in order to do good.  This was the way Superman was presented for decades.  In the 1980s the comics did a reboot of Superman and they flipped this.  He was now Clark Kent who disguised himself as Superman in order to be able to do good.  This was the way that the two major TV shows since then – Smallville and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – presented the character.  With this reboot it looks like they are flipping it back.  Either that or the people who made this film are only familiar with the movie versions of the character.

A few final notes on this film:  There was a “Lexcorp” oil truck that gets destroyed at one point, so they were teasing Lex Luthor, who does not appear in this film.  There was a nod to Superman II where the two other Kryptonians Superman fights are a female and a big muscleman.  Just as with the title, the name “Superman” is marginalized in the film – only being mentioned in passing.  Superman is established as already being 33 before he reveals himself.  The famous Superman score from John Williams is not used at any point that I noticed.  I was a little disappointed by this, just like I will be if Star Wars 7 doesn’t use the Star Wars theme.

If you are excited to see this film, then by all means go see it.  If you are on the fence you might want to wait until it comes to DVD/BD.  If you hate superhero movies then this will not change your mind about them.  For everyone else, if it sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. Good review Chip. Started off perfectly, only to fall further and further down the ladder once it realized it needed to be a stupid, loud superhero movie.

    1. AT some point it felt like they just said SCREW IT, WE DON'T NEED TO DEVELOP THE STORY OR THE CHARACTERS ANYMORE. And, at that point, I stopped enjoying myself.

    2. I still enjoyed it, in a mindless sort of way. I had the advantage of not expecting too much from it, but even I finally thought at one point that enough was enough with the knocking over of buildings.

  2. Finally, someone else that noticed the dildo ships!

    Great review. Looks like we're in agreement - the film hit a lot of bad notes but it wasn't a complete waste. At least, that's how I felt.

    1. I thought they were pretty obvious about the ships, but maybe others didn't notice, or don't want to mention that they noticed. Thanks.