June 15, 2013
by Derek Defoe
As, say, a completely clean slate, a total rebirth to the film franchise that's present as if to say this is the new and definitive vision of Superman, I think this is severely lacking. But as its own unique Superman adventure, I'd say Man of Steel is serviceable, and the clever thing that it does is just give us glimpses and reminiscences of Kal-El/Clark Kent's upbringing on planet Earth after his refuge from the dying planet Kyrpton. Just the Cliff Notes, just the necessary information that we need to establish Superman's sense of purpose and duty on the planet. There's so much to cover about his origin, and so much that has already been covered, such as with the original 1978 movie, an entire 10-season television series devoted to his teenage years, and let's not forget: piles and piles of comic books. In order to do it "right" I think may have required a 3.5 hour epic of some sort, so with something of a quickie version here, those who know the story up and down won't be checking their watches, and the uninitiated will be up to speed, and there's new stuff for all involved.
So there's a lot to like and a lot to keep you on your toes, the film works in a lot of elements that may work against certain conceptions one may have of the Superman character. For one thing, there's no Clark Kent. Well, there is, but you know what I mean. This isn't a series of events where Clark in his goofy glasses is hunching over by the water cooler, stammering, trying to make conversation with Lois, then DANGER APPROACHES, as it often does, Clark says "gotta go, be right back," then all of a sudden SUPERMAN SHOWS UP TO SAVE THE DAY! And no one is any the wiser. I think it's good that they avoided stuff like that, because if Lois really is the smart and resourceful reporter she's supposedly made out to be, then she'd figure it out eventually (and has), so they sidestep that completely and in fact work Lois in as an integral part of Superman's origin and self-discovery, albeit in a sort of contrived way. Superman happens upon the Fortress of Solitude- or, his Spaceship, or whatever, and at the same time, so does Lois, following him in through the snow, in that patented Lois Lane way, and she's all like "This is probably dangerous but I'm going to go in here anyway, and just climb this thing here, but wait, okay, let me just place this wonderful Nokia camera perfectly in frame first. They're available at Sears, you know. And gosh, I am hungry, maybe I'll stop at IHOP after I'm done here." But basically, the interesting thing, and what I liked and thought was a good and a nicely calculated move against the expectations, is that at the end of this all, even before Clark shows up at the Daily Planet, thick-rimmed glasses and all, Lois knows his secret, and there's a lot of possibilities to it. I won't hold my breath, though. Some kind of Amnesia-inducing kiss may await in the sequel. They say you can never top the first kiss, but girl, that second kiss could make you lose your mind.
The main conflict of the movie deals with General Zod tracking Superman back to Earth and scheming to rebuild Kyrpton on Earth, but needing to destroy all life on the planet first. So this Zod, played wonderfully by Michael Shannon, doesn't want to enslave the human race, doesn't want anyone to kneel to him, he wouldn't even give Earthlings that much of a second thought, he just wants to wipe everything clean and exterminate all life as we know it. Yeah, I know, a mad tyrant trying to eradicate complete genetic lines in order to pave way for genetic lines he feels worthy seems a little far-fetched but just roll with it. This is what I liked greatly about the movie, and what I've been craving from comic book movies: cool alien shit. We're in an age of limitless possibilities with special effects, anything can be done, any story can be told, a line has started where villains such as Brainiac or Doomsday could indeed be possible, and Zod could merely be the tip of the iceberg, and that's an exciting thought. This isn't your same old "Lex is gonna hijack some nuclear warheads" plot. It's very different, very interesting, and very science-fictiony. And for the record: Russell Crowe as Jor-El. Bravo. Give me an entire movie with him set on Kypton. I would see it.
Unfortunately, I have some serious gripes with the movie. Because of its devotion to get a good deal of origin out of the way as well as tell a stand-alone story, it feels uneven, and at times rushed, and because of the fact that it moves at such a breakneck speed but still wants to give us a satisfying action climax, while it may breeze through certain areas and certain characters (for example, Perry White was played by Laurence Fishburne but he may as well have been played by Dom DeLuise and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference, which is saying a lot because Dom DeLuise is dead I think, but hey, look, Perry has an earring, that's got to count for something), the action at the end is like a smack in the face. And really, REALLY, I have had it, ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING SHAKY CAM. I hate it. No, it doesn't give the movie and its action scenes a gritty, verite feel, it makes me fucking nauseous. Enough.
And the set-up, as intriguing as it is, all boils down to a very disappointing brawl between Superman and Zod that feels like a set piece right out of a Transformers movie. So, like, they rush through this huge CGI-filled, building-destroying battle, complete with the military looking at their computers and uttering mumbo jumbo, the camera shakes around, and they come up with a plan to stop Zod and his men, and there's stuff, and they have to put this thing in a thing, and Lois is involved and she's trying to help, and the scientist is standing there like "hmm, what's going on? put the thing in the thing so we can do the thing," and Lois is like "this hasn't happened before, it's supposed to go all the way in," and everyone in the audience is fighting back the urge to shout "that's what she said," and then the camera moves some more, and I'm really not 100% sure all that happened, then it's over. One thing I'll give to its credit: there's a very nice sight-gag involving a "Days without accident" sign that happens when they fly into a construction site.
But really, for all the effort they go through to develop the character, and his conflicts, and what he's all about, boy does this movie make it seem boring to be in a fight with Superman. Remember that scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Batman reappears in Gotham, and the villain, Bane, surprised but keeping ominous, declares "So, you've come to die with your city!" and all Batman can muster is "No, I came to stop you!" Really, Batman? Well, that's to the power of 10 here with the fight between Superman and Zod. Blah blah we can rebuild Kyrpton, blah blah, Kyrpton had its time, blah blah think of the people. Very, very, sadly bland. I think that's what the main appeal of the Iron Man movies have been. Even behind that mask and even when pretty much a fast-zooming special effect, that guy has personality. Not only does he kick ass and take names, but he asks for their home address, social security number, favourite colour, what they take in their coffee, and what they thought about the new season of Arrested Development. I try to recollect the ending battle in Man Of Steel and try to replay it in my head, having only seen it a few hours ago, and for the most part I just recall a series of blurs.
And yes, sadly, the dynamic between Lois and Superman lacks a certain charm. It should be this magical, awe-inspiring thing, to meet and fall in love with this amazing being from another planet, but the movie barely takes a moment to catch its breath, and the plot moves along like a speeding train that Lois just hops on to and becomes a part of the action unblinkingly. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams do have chemistry, don't get me wrong, but it only really meets the minimum requirements.
There are great and very intriguing elements to Man of Steel, and there are many things I admire about it, but what it offers in abundance with its interesting plot, its switches against certain expectations, its provocative themes of purpose and free will, and its top-notch special effects, it seems to lack in overall personality. I'm biased, though. I think the best and most definitive Superman movie was made in 1978 and that's just about impossible to top. I like that they've went in their own direction here, and took a firm stance on not trying to carbon copy the same magic of the original, such as the case with the failed Superman Returns. It's a daring departure, we're entering a brave new world of Superman movies. They have the right idea, but with the astounding visual effects they have today, where they can use computers to create effects of destruction, generating images of collapsing buildings with such photo-realism, pixel-for-pixel, down to every detail- just imagine what they could do if they could run the characters' personalities through the same programs.
David S. Goyer
David S. Goyer