Zack Synder’s Man of Steel was a huge area of concern for me when it was announced. As I have said before, I have not been a real big fan of the reboots. While this movie is FAR from perfect, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Before you go any further – BE WARNED – SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Now don’t say you weren’t told.
First let’s talk about what did NOT work for me. In the first 20 minutes of this movie, they borrowed so much imagery from other movies that it was really distracting. I loved seeing more of Krypton and the conflict surrounding the expulsion of General Zod, but the first 10 minutes of the movie REEKED of The Lion King, down to the sunrise on the horizon and the animals roaring at his birth. There also was a lot of imagery right out of Avatar with the winged animals and the attack ships. I also felt like he borrowed from Joss Whedon quite a bit stylistically, particularly from the Firefly series. There were just some camera angles and visual effects that really reminded me of that part of the Whedonverse.
Fast forward to his adult life and this movie is absolutely LADEN with Christ imagery, the two most overt instances being in the water and in space where he literally assumes the position of being on the crucifix. But this wasn’t just in the imagery; the story elements were like having Jehovah Witnesses showing up at your door screaming their message at you at 6 am when you are hung over. He is 33 years old, couldn’t you be a little more subtle Snyder? We are beat about the head and neck with the message that Kal-El is here to save the human race – and it is all just a little heavy handed.
Then there is the relationship with Lois – I feel like they completely botched this issue. The entire thing seemed extremely forced. The scene where they cut to Lois and Superman standing face to face in the desert – I half way expected them to start speaking French. They tried to crowbar it into a meaningful and intense relationship. Her consoling of Kal-El at the end of the film also seemed really out of place. It wasn’t earned and it did not feel real, and I believe this is going to hurt these two characters in the future of the franchise. I also feel like they got one thing really wrong about Lois – HER HAIR! Just kidding. Lois is a hard-nosed, hard hitting pull no punches investigative reporter, which they established with her line “If we’re done measuring dicks, can you have your people show me what you found?” When she agreed to keep Clark’s secret, it just felt like the most un-Lois like moment in the history of the character. I think Amy Adams’ performance was just fine, I just feel like the character was off.
And last but not least was the introduction of Zod to the planet. Really? You think Zod would have gone out and hired some kids with access to Adobe Premier to create an ominous, multicultural intro reel in which he declares to the people of earth that they are not alone? This was perhaps the dumbest and most poorly executed part of this entire film. You’d think Zod had learned from watching some of our videos!
I am unsure on how they could have avoided this last bit, but it was still an issue for me: Jenny and Perry were completely wasted characters. It just did not seem right having Lawrence Fishburne in a role that is not an insignificant one and have him simply play to being filler. And Jenny, whom it has been argued is filling the roll of Jimmy Olsen, did absolutely NOTHING but be the damsel in distress at one point and the foil to Lois’ joke at the end of the film. I am not saying I didn’t want her there as she is definitely my kind of eye candy, I just wish she had more of a role than telling people “it’s all over the news” and needing to be saved.
Now with all that you are probably thinking I hated this film, but that would be quite far from the truth. In fact, I’d say in terms of Superhero action movies this flick comes in second only to Joss Whedon’s juggernaut – The Avengers. All the preconceived notions I had about this film were wrong, and I could not be happier about this.
One of my biggest fears was the portrayal of Jonathan Kent. In the television spots and movie trailers, they told us that Clark performs a super feat and risks exposing himself to save others – very superman-like. When admonished for it he asks, “What was I supposed to do? Let them die?” to which Jonathan responds, “Maybe.” I about lost my shit the first time I heard that come out of his mouth. Jonathan Kent would NEVER say anything like that! Luckily the truth was is that little snippet is out of context. What he is really saying in that scene is “I don’t have all the answers, Clark. All I know is I have to protect you.” When seen in the context of the movie it was a rather moving and powerful scene!
I also like the way Zack Snyder begins telling us Clark’s story on earth. We see the space ship enter earth’s atmosphere and then – right to being an adult. It would be hard to imagine that there is anyone out there that is unfamiliar with Clark’s upbringing and that we did not have to sit through 20 minutes of Clark’s childhood to establish that he had to deal with his powers emerging throughout it is a major plus in my book. All of this has already been explored in the various other incarnations of Superman. This is where I feel Zack Snyder really succeeded at making this franchise his own. The nonlinear storytelling really allowed the movie to get underway, getting the audience invested in the character and only flashing back for revealing exposition as needed. We got to see where Clark was, which made you want to see how he got there. We got to see him being Super before the notion of Superman had ever entered his head. We got to see the side of Clark that always felt alone, like an outsider on his adopted home world and the effects that had on him as a person. We got to see Kal-El’s humanity develop in a meaningful way which is something we really had not gotten on screen in the past.
If that weren’t enough, we also got to see a side of some other significant characters that we have never seen before; most notably Jor-El and General Zod. I loved the brief time Brando had on screen as Jor-el, but Russell Crowe shows us an entirely different Jor-El. Brando was all scientist, Crowe shows us that when necessary, Jor-El could be a bad ass as well! When his plans to save his son are threatened, Jor-El dons Kryptonian armor and goes toe to toe with the planets military leader, General Zod himself. He dam near manages to take Zod out, but in a moment of the distraction of his son flying off into space, Zod gets the upper hand and delivers Jor-El to his death.
We also get to see what made Zod a criminal. We knew he staged an uprising and this is why he was sentenced to the Phantom Zone, but we actually get to see it this time – and we also get to see that even though Zod goes about it in a criminal manner – ZOD WAS RIGHT! Zod and Jor-El were fighting for the same cause – to save Krypton from its doomed fate. I am a real big fan of this portrayal of Zod. Here, Zod is not a madman, he is a zealot. He truly believes through and through that he has to do whatever it take to preserve the Kryptonian race. Even in the course of seeking his revenge, he has the fate of the Kryptonian race in mind, and is willing to destroy humanity to preserve it. It makes his character more compelling when you find that his ultimate goal really is an honorable one. It also didn’t hurt that Michael Shannon played Zod with such intensity and ferocity, it is easy to believe that he would commit genocide to achieve his goals.
An added treat was Antje Traue’s performance as Faora-Ul, Ursa’s replacement. This chick oozes bad ass. (I think a fight scene between this character and any of Michelle Rodriguez’s tough girl characters would be one of the most fantastic things I’d ever see!) Faora is a real warrior, and she demonstrates that not only against Kal-El, but against a human general as well. She expresses the concept of “a good death,” which has a very Klingon/American Indian vibe to it. She also gets to deliver this gem – “If history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins.” This character feels superior to Kal-El and the humans he is protecting so the line make sense. The line comes while they are duking it out in an IHOP in Smallville, Kansas. KANSAS! I have to believe that is a jab at the Kansas State Board of Education. I really loved this character and even though she was a bad guy I was sad to see her character get killed off.
In addition to great writing and great performances, this movie is packed with fan service that doesn’t in any way hurt the movie (I’m looking at you J.J. Abrams). There are so many nods to previous Superman franchises, it is enough to make a geeks head explode! When Jor-El is telling Kal about Kryptonian history, the ship carrying Kal away from Krypton is clearly similar in shape to the ship that carries the 1980’s superman to earth. In the opening of the George Reeves Superman television show we hear these lines – “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” In this movie, Kal-El gets shot a lot, gets HIT with a locomotive, and gets thrown through buildings instead of leaping over them. When on Krypton, we catch a glimpse of an exploded moon. This is a nod to the comics in which this moon, named Wethgor falls victim to the failed experiments of a character named Jax-Ur (this is truly hardcore geek fan service). In the scene where Kal-El learns to fly, we see him flying over the plains of Africa – this is a reference to Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright. I can’t be sure this is what they were going for, but the female captain who uttered the now famous line “I think he is kinda hot” is named Farris – I believe this is in reference to Caroline Farris, the love interest of Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern. (Can you say Justice League anyone?) We see a sign at one point for “Sullivan’s Truck and Tractor” – a nod to the Chloe Sullivan character in the Smallville series. Snyder packed this movie full of hidden goodies!
The climax of the film leaves nothing to be desired and has created a bit of controversy among fans. In the course of ousting Zod and his cohorts, half of Metropolis is destroyed. While it makes for some spectacular action scenes, it does call into question just how much Kal-El cares for humans after all. Previous versions of Superman went out of their way to avoid collateral damage – even to property. In this case, Kal-El seems to go through the battle without giving a second thought to all the people who MUST have died in the course of the battle. This one slight misstep also has the unfortunate result of diminishing what would have otherwise been a spectacular moment in Superman movie history – the death of Zod.
In the climactic battle between Kal-El and Zod, Kal-El is forced to make one of the toughest decisions of his life. Zod put him in a position where to save an innocent family, his only choice is to kill Zod. The moment is spectacularly brutal as Kal-El violently snaps Zod’s neck, thus saving the human family. The moment is meant to be gut-wrenching and we are meant to feel the agony that Kal-El is feeling at having taken this action. But – what about all the people who died in the fight? Kal-El doesn’t seem to shed a tear for them, which makes his anguish at killing Zod a little harder to swallow. All in all I think it was a great moment – but the surrounding events ruined it for many.
The bottom line, the action in the movie is spectacular, the writing is excellent, some of the scenes I could have done without, but all in all I think this was a really good movie and probably the best I could have hoped for in a reboot of Superman. Zack Snyder (with Christopher Nolan’s help) did a great job breathing new life into this franchise and has left me with high hopes for what is to come. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, SHAME ON YOU FOR READING THIS! Now go out and get a ticket, buy some popcorn and strap yourself in for a great 2 hour adventure.