Man of Steel (2013) – Movie Review
Man of Steel premiered in my local theater during a weekend when I was out of town. That was the only reason I wasn’t in the theater on opening night. After getting home from my trip and settling back into my somewhat hermity existence, I remembered that “Superman” had happened while I was away. With that thought, I asked my husband *Cristoph if he wanted to see this movie with me or if I should just go it alone. I had a review to write so I had a deadline and I knew he might not have the time. As soon as I got the question out, however, I realized it was silly that I had even asked.
My husband had been bursting with childlike enthusiasm for this particular incarnation of our beloved superhero, for quite some time. This movie was a huge deal for the kid in both of us; Superman was back and we were hoping Zack Snyder (Director) was going to do it right–do our hero justice.
All of us that grew up on Superman (the comic books, the action figures, the cartoons, the T.V. Shows and the Christopher Reeve movies) might have been holding this latest version up to some pretty ridiculous standards. Ironically, if you look back at those old movies from the late seventies and early 80s, they’re not all that awesome either. They’re great in ironic retrospect, but at the time and as cinematic pieces of work, they aren’t groundbreaking filmmaking. The Christopher Reeve Superman movies are fun, campy movies that will live blissfully in childhood memories and fantasyland.
I suppose what a lot of us were expecting out of Man of Steel was an updated version of Reeve’s superhero. I know I was expecting a new super suit, a new guy with black hair and blue eyes and a new Lois Lane, but not much outside of that. A successful reboot is what this franchise desperately needs in order to pull off a Christian-Bale-Batman resuscitation and because of this, I was mostly expecting to see a movie centered around the ghosts of Superman past.
What I got was a Superman with a nice facelift. Everything looked and felt right; things were in the right place, but something still seemed off. Superman had changed and that’s not necessarily bad in this particular case. When I asked what my husband thought of the movie as we walked back to our car from the theater, he uttered several half-words and then simply said, “I’m not sure yet. I have to think about it.” With that, we got into the car and sped home.
I had agreed wholeheartedly with my husband’s initial need for time to absorb and understand what we’d just seen. I’m a talker though, so we chatted on the way home about our initial impressions. It turns out we had been left wanting something; we were both unsatisfied yet not completely dissatisfied. We carried those feelings of malcontent with us last night as we made our way home and then ultimately into bed.
This morning, I awoke confused and amused from a dream of Chihuahuas climbing fences like cats. Straining to remember what had lead up to the tiny dogs scaling chain link fences in my sleeping mind, I thought myself lucky to start the day in a cloud of bemusement. Seeing as I couldn’t make any sense of the previous night’s dreams, I figured I might as well grab some coffee and begin to organize my thoughts on the Man of Steel.
Man of Steel begins on Krypton. Krypton is a dying planet and those last pivotal moments of its existence feel as though they’re transpiring all around us. Faora-Ul (Antge Traue) is giving birth to hers and Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe) son, Kal-El. As a newborn, unaware and completely vulnerable Kal-El is shot into space toward Earth with the hope of preserving his people’s existence.
A good portion of this film is dedicated to understanding Krypton. Here we finally get to know what Superman’s parents were thinking and feeling as they sent their only son (along with the codex that could be used to preserve the Kryptonian race) into space. You get a glimpse of Superman’s biological parent’s character and a better picture of where he’s from. Unfortunately, ‘where he’s from’ is about to disappear forever. As if the destruction of their home planet weren’t enough, General Zod (Michael Shannon) is threatening to overtake the ruling council of Krypton in its final moments, unleashing the type of anarchy that ends only in death.
Zod eventually kills Zor-El in his effort to usurp power from the council. For his crime, Zod and his henchmen are banished to the Phantom Zone. Unfortunately for everyone else, he and his followers are freed from their futuristic prison upon the destruction of Krypton. Once freed, Zod and his crew find their way to Earth and to Kal-El / Clark Kent (Henry Cavill).
In this movie we get a vivid picture of what it was like for Clark to grow up as an outcast, a literal alien in Middle America, suppressing everything that comes naturally to him. This Clark, while still invincible, is completely vulnerable. He comes off as a regular guy up until he starts to shoot red lasers out of his eyes.
Sadly, invincibility didn’t make Clark’s childhood any easier; he was picked on and even bullied. Whenever he did muster the strength to use his powers to save the lives of those around him (or just get even) he was called a freak. Fortunately, Clark’s adoptive parents are salt of the earth people: tough, honest and well meaning. They do their very best to raise a good man that they know is destined for something beyond their comprehension.
In Man of Steel, Clark doesn’t know who he is; all he knows is he doesn’t belong. Flash forward into adulthood and we learn that his parents, Martha (Diane Lane) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) succeeded in making Clark a good guy; patient and empathetic, Clark is always looking out for others. Saving the occasional stranger isn’t enough for him though so he sets off in search of answers about his origins. Clark’s search reveals much, but it also brings General Zod our way.
Once Zod reaches Earth, he locates and informs Clark of his plan to decimate the human race and re-establish Krypton. Clark immediately and steadfastly refuses to let Zod extinguish an entire people in order to give their race a second chance. Man of Steel is the story of the power struggle between fellow Kryptonians and our collective destiny.
Henry Cavill was an interesting choice for Superman. He brings us a Clark Kent that is vulnerable and self-aware. He conjures a superhero that is unsure and anxious most of the time. Clark doesn’t feel special or like he was put on this planet for something important. What he feels like is that an outcast. A relatable Superman is something of a novelty and Cavill makes this version a plausible reality. Through his thoughtful and layered performance, Cavill gives us a Superman that is more than just an untouchable savior.
Michael Shannon brings us a logically angry yet insatiably blood thirsty Zod. His plight is understandable; Zod just wants to give the Kryptonians a second chance at life. He just doesn’t care if he has to extinguish the human race in order for that to happen. Shannon does well in creating a menacing, logical and determined Zod. While the Superman villains of the past have been somewhat comical and even laughable, Shannon’s Zod is more threatening, calculated and passionate.
Amy Adams is a bright and fitting choice for Lois Lane; she’s almost instantly likeable in this role. Adams’ Lois is smart, relentless and empathetic. She does well at creating a witty and determined Lane, but she didn’t convey that nuanced strength which usually draws me into her work. Nevertheless, her performance is well executed. She is my favorite Lois by far.
The casting in this movie is phenomenal. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s parents (Jonathan and Martha Kent) really make the most of their characters and screen time. They make Clark’s upbringing seem warm, full of love and patience. Russell Crowe as Jor-El conveys that gravitas that I was hoping for and which really made me enjoy each of his scenes.
The first half of the movie was dedicated to reintroducing our superhero while the second half was a glorious display of the battle to save humankind. I really enjoyed having that extra glimpse into the demise of Krypton and the origin of Superman. I didn’t so much enjoy how the story and character development were abandoned in favor of the CGI extravaganza that closed out the film. Also, it really bothered me how easily Lois Lane figured out Superman’s identity.
I may not have appreciated the abandonment of the story line in favor of the visuals, but that doesn’t mean the visuals sucked. The graphics are the opposite of suck they are fantabulous. The integration is pretty much seamless (which should be the standard at this point). Also, great care was put into ensuring that the graphics enabled us to fully envision a flawed yet commanding and accessible superhero. Watching Superman fly in this movie is like seeing it again for the first time–exciting as hell.
Ultimately, the story is there one minute and then suddenly it’s gone and that was sincerely frustrating. All in all, I say give Man of Steel the time of day. This movie drags in some spots, but be patient. Don’t; however, expect a tip of the hat to the Superman of yore, because that guy is gone. Say hello to the new Clark Kent, the guy behind the superhero that might grow on you. As long as you don’t come looking for nostalgia, you might just get some.
Man of Steel (2013) – C +
C+ = This is a pretty good time and you should give it a whirl. You never know, you might enjoy it more than you think going in. It has its pitfalls, but overall worth the effort.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those innocently associated with the author.